Shared kitchen cooks up new food ventures

The CookSpring at 1025 West Rudisill Blvd. boasts 4,800 square feet of cooking space in four kitchens.

Together, it’s size and purpose make it a powerful place for culinary entrepreneurs.

It’s licensed through the Allen Country Department of Health as a commissary, or shared kitchen—a place where food truck owners and chefs of all types come to prepare and store food and take their ventures to the next level.

Many food truck owners, like Hetty Arts, use CookSpring for additional workspace.

Located at The Summit Complex, CookSpring is not the only commissary in town.

There are others at places like churches, says CookSpring’s kitchen coordinator Troy Tiernon. But “not to the scale as ours,” he adds.

As a space manager at the Summit Complex, Tiernon oversees the shared kitchen, and his work keeps him busy.

Most of his morning is spent managing the facility. If the multi-purpose dining hall isn’t set up for an event, his job is to correct that. Round tables are put out for weddings. Team building exercises are held there. And before every Sunday, the dining hall has to be set up for a church service, Tiernon says.

“Kingdom First (Church) is using it currently,” he explains.

The kitchens used for CookSpring also keep him busy.

CookSpring has had as many as 31 members.

Tiernon’s afternoons are often spent managing CookSpring, giving tours to members, and dealing with paperwork like invoices.

He handles questions about obtaining permits and equipment at the kitchen. too.

On top of the usual accouterments, CookSpring has bigger toys for chefs to create with, and that’s part of what makes the space special.

“We have a vacuum sealer. We have a 20-quart mixer,” Tiernon says, listing off some of the unique features.

The kitchen also offers “how to” reference materials to its members, in case they need help operating the equipment on hand.

Culinary entrepreneurs store materials in lockers at CookSpring.

CookSpring is a philanthropic arm of the parent company Ambassador Enterprises, which is a community-focused investment firm, serving for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Membership and all the perks that come with it start with an application on CookSpring’s website at cookspringfw.com.

To rent the space, culinary entrepreneurs also need to have their own insurance, but Tiernon says the program works with a local insurance company to keep the price cost-effective for new ventures, which play a large role in the program’s mission.

The space often serves as a launch pad for entrepreneurs to test their ideas.
 

Hetty Arts prepares pastries in the CookSpring kitchen.

From shared kitchen to storefront

The roster of CookSpring members varies in size and scope.

Members range from a small Fort Wayne startup called Kams Café that specializes in eggrolls to the gourmet food truck Fork and Fiddle, which offers a full menu, and drives all the way from Auburn to use the space.

“We deal with those who have never cooked in a commercial kitchen to those who have (used a commercial kitchen) their whole lives,” Tiernon says.

As of January 2018, the program has 23 active members with continual growth since its first year.

CookSpring also extends their partnerships to work with community collaborators outside of the Summit.

For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters uses the shared kitchen for a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program to teach its participants how to make healthy grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese.

In addition to its community partners, CookSpring is creating local businesses, too.

So far, Affiné Hospitality is its most storied graduate.

After starting the Affiné Food Truck and cooking in the shared kitchen for about a year and a half, the company moved into its own storefront and launched Junk Ditch Brewing Co. at 1825 West Main St.

CookSpring’s goal is to graduate more members to their own storefronts, Tiernon says.

It’s a mission shared by other support networks for entrepreneurs, like the nonprofit Start Fort Wayne, which operates the Atrium coworking space in downtown Fort Wayne with a similar hope for helping entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

Together, Start Fort Wayne and CookSpring are collaborating at The Summit Complex, too.

Mr. Koffee Cakes is a food truck that services antique shows, specifically, and it launched thanks to the combined efforts of Start Fort Wayne, the Summit, and Brightpoint.

Chefs at CookSpring mark their items with tags.

Continuing the trend of shared spaces between eateries and breweries, Tiernon says two more CookSpring members are graduating and opening storefronts around northeast Indiana, as well.

The Ragin’ Cajun Food Truck has partnered with Chapman’s Brewing Co. in Columbia City to open a restaurant there.

The Sol Kitchen Food Truck is partnering with Birdboy Brewing Co., to create their restaurant Soul Bird, featuring a Latin-infused menu, too.

For some, CookSpring is a start; for others, it’s an opportunity to start over.
 

Makayla Coonce with Hetty Arts Pastry works at CookSpring.

From storefront to shared kitchen

Bridget Jones, the owner of Savannah Soul food trailer, owned a storefront restaurant back in Fort Wayne in the early 2000s.

She operated BJ’s Seafood Heaven out of the strip plaza that rests at the corner of Rudisill Boulevard and Lafayette Street on the South Side, cattycorner from Arbys.

“(I opened during) the early stages of the recession, right around 9/11,” Jones says, explaining that she closed shop in 2005.

After several moves around the country, Jones moved back to Fort Wayne a few years ago and wanted to re-enter the cooking business, but this time, without a physical location.

“If I go back in, I’m going to go back in a little frugal with something that doesn’t have as much overhead expenses,” Jones says of her decision to start a storefront-less business at CookSpring, inspired by the food truck craze in Fort Wayne.

When she made the decision, Jones reached out to Brightpoint (formerly CANI) for a loan to purchase a trailer for her food business. But in the meantime, she entered Taste of the Arts in 2016 with only a tent and a fryer to get started.

Even so, her chicken and waffles were so well received that she came back to the annual food event again in 2017, and she was slammed with customers all day.

Today, she takes her Savannah Soul food trailer to events around the city, and while her 2018 schedule is not set yet, she says she will be parked at Sweetwater Sound’s Gearfest over Father’s Day weekend.

Bridget Jones with her Savannah Soul food trailer.

She uses the kitchen in her trailer for most of her cooking needs, but she still uses CookSpring for bigger jobs.

CookSpring has four main kitchens, and Jones utilizes the refrigerated storage there. She also stores dry goods and prep materials on site.

“I do the heavy lifting at the commissary,” she says.

While she could also use her church’s kitchen at the New Zion Tabernacle for cooking, she says the downside to that option is not being able to reserve a fixed time to cook and having to work around the church’s schedule, which can be unpredictable.

At CookSpring, she knows she has a place when she needs it.

“24-hour access (to CookSpring’s kitchen), that’s the beauty of it,” she says.

 

Read more articles by William Bryant Rozier.

William Bryant Rozier is the managing editor of Fort Wayne Ink Spot newspaperThrough his own fortuitous set of circumstances, he now writes, takes photographs, designs stuff, and makes short video projects for a living. He’s written for Frost Illustrated Newspaper, Indian Country Today, and Ebony.com. He’s photographed for USA Today, Getty Images, and Black Enterprise Magazine.
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