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Commercial kitchen could be boon for Haywood entrepreneurs

Haywood Chamber president CeCe Hipps (center) talks to a group of local food producers Nov. 18. Cory Vaillancourt photo Haywood Chamber president CeCe Hipps (center) talks to a group of local food producers Nov. 18. Cory Vaillancourt photo

A recent property donation to the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries could help create jobs, add value to agricultural products and feed the hungry in Haywood County, if local agricultural and food service sectors can demonstrate there’s a need. 

“The idea is to have something on that property that would be a benefit to the community,” said Dr. Alan Rice, a consultant for ABCCM, of the 4.8-acre parcel located on the northwest corner of Jones Cove Road and Recycle Road. 

On Nov. 18, Rice met with almost three dozen farmers, bakers and other food entrepreneurs to discuss the possibility of constructing a commercial kitchen on the parcel that would allow for more sophisticated, large-scale food production. 

“It would be a place where you could go and have the kitchen for an hour or two or three and have access to the equipment,” he said, opining that a $20 or $25 an hour charge for facility rental would be likely. 

As the executive director of a nonprofit called Rural Faith Development, Rice said he’s been involved with three similar facilities, one in Warren County, one in Wilkes County and another in Buncombe County. 

“The primary costs would be the land and the soft costs including surveying, engineering, architecture, consulting and then the cost of the facility,” said Rice. “On top of that is FFE — furniture, fixtures and equipment, and for a commercial kitchen, that’s a pretty big number.” 

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Since the $338,000 parcel has been donated to ABCCM, the commercial kitchen venture wouldn’t have to come up with the money for that, and the parcel already has water, sewer and electricity, making the barrier to entry lower than usual. Still, facilities like this don’t come cheap. 

“I would say it could be as small as 1,000 or 1,500 square feet, but it could be larger than that,” said Rice, who added that such a facility would probably cost anywhere from $115 up to $175 per square foot. 

Rice helped get USDA grants for two of the commercial kitchens he previously consulted on, and said that long-term low-interest loans or even private donations could help fund construction costs. 

Judging by the reception Rice received at the meeting, such a facility is not only warranted, but would be welcomed.

“I’m not looking to go commercial, but if it took off, great,” said Linda Clark, who owns a small apple orchard in Worley Cove, near Canton. “The culls, the ones that are imperfect, I usually have to find someone to take those. I make a lot of apple butter, but right now I can’t sell that apple butter because I don’t have a commercial kitchen.”

Canning is especially difficult for small producers because of strict regulations on where and how it can be done. 

“You go through the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and they come out and inspect your kitchen, they check your water supply, you can’t have any pets in the house. There’s some pretty rigorous details that you have to meet,” Clark said. “If we had a place where we could go do that at one time, it would be great.”

Jim Geenan, also in attendance, said that his group would benefit from the ability to preserve foods. 

“There are a lot of problems with the nutrition in this community,” said Geenan. “Haywood Gleaners collects about 30,000 pounds of produce during the gleaning season. We glean but a few months a year and we’re looking forward to doing some food preservation more seriously than we have in the past so folks have access to healthy food, year round, and this entity would be good for that, I think. We don’t have a facility per se to do canning and freezing.” 

Debi Hall, owner of Just Simply Delicious, is a baker who isn’t necessarily interested in canning, but is interested in being able to mass produce some of her products. 

“We do a host of turnovers and hand pies now. They’re fruit filled and we’re hoping to get into meat filled hand pies in the future,” she said, noting her pies have become quite popular. “We have a facility on Branner Avenue, but our kitchen is small compared to what we want to do. We want to expand into the frozen market so people can take them home and bake them.”

A survey available online seeks to learn what sorts of equipment would be essential in such a facility to ensure it can meet the needs of both commercial and nonprofit enterprises, large and small. 

Those fixtures could include utensils, bakeware, broilers, convection ovens, dehydrators, fryers, griddles, grills, microwaves, and more. 

The survey results will also indicate if there are any ancillary needs, like storage, meeting space and administrative services that might be helpful as well. 

Rice said that the immediate goal of the commercial kitchen project is to have a good idea of what such a facility might look like by February, so plans can move forward quickly if the facility is warranted. 


Take the survey

If you or someone you know could benefit from a low-cost commercial kitchen to engage in food preparation — anything from catering to canning — filling out the survey below will help Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries determine if one is needed in Haywood County, and what type of equipment it might contain. The survey is designed for both current and prospective food entrepreneurs and businesses.

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