|By NANCY VORIS
MADISON, Ind. — It is often said at family dinners and church potluck suppers: “If you could bottle this and sell it, you’d make a mint.” Or maybe, “This beats any cake at the grocery; why don’t you go into business?”
The garden may be overflowing with enough peppers and tomatoes for salsa to feed a small stadium, but even the best cooks will see red flags on the field. The ingredient list for starting a commercial food venture is as big as the recipe for elephant stew:
•A health department certified commercial kitchen
•Converting single recipes to bulk-size recipes
•Creating and designing labels
•Bottling and packaging
•Shipping, insurance and more
Many great ideas are lost on the first hurdle. In Indiana, home kitchens can’t be used to produce food for the marketplace. A commercial kitchen with strict specifications must be established separate from family living quarters.
But there is good news for food entrepreneurs willing to make the drive to this southern Indiana rivertown.
The Ohio River Valley Food Venture – the first shared-use, incubator kitchen in Indiana and one of only 14 in the United States – opened in November to allow entrepreneurs to produce their product in a certified kitchen. The Madison Area Chamber of Commerce obtained grants for its construction.
So far, 26 regional entrepreneurs have signed up to use the kitchen from Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky and Indi-ana. Caterers also use the facility, which is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day on a first come, first served basis.
“It’s just starting to pick up steam,” said Richard Mezoff, kitchen manager.
Most of the participants are seasonal, he said, coming in when produce is in season or during holidays to make specialty items. Food items include several BBQ sauces, jams, salsas, apple pie filling, pumpkin rolls, spice mixes, dry meat rubs, whole wheat pie crusts, egg rolls and an olive tapenade.
Mezoff advises entrepreneurs that their recipe should meet three requirements to succeed in the marketplace: It must be unique, high quality and healthful.
“I’ve seen many people fail by not starting with those qualities in their product,” said Mezoff, a restaurant owner, chef, entrepreneur and veteran of an incubator kitchen on the West Coast.
He was surfing the Internet last summer looking for a shared commercial kitchen to produce his own salsa, near Louisville where he planned to open a restaurant. Instead, he talked with Linda Wood, regional director of the Southeastern Indiana Small Business Development Center, who persuaded Mezoff to lead the kitchen as manager.
The kitchen is located at the Venture Out Business Center at 975 Industrial Drive, which is also the home of the SBDC. Wood and her staff are available to Food Venture participants in building business plans and financing food ventures.
The 5,200-square-foot kitchen includes baking, preparation, processing and clean-up areas. It is equipped with steam kettles, convection ovens, a six-burner commercial range, deep fryer, cooling racks, refrigeration, freezers, food processor, dough cooker that controls temperature and humidity, equipment for pumping products from the stovetop to the bottling area, an automatic bottling system and a vacuum sealer.
The cost of using the kitchen is $20 per hour during peak hours (day) and $16 per hour during off-peak hours (night). Participants must complete a three-hour training course and have a food-handler’s permit.
Mezoff is also available at reasonable rates to “batch up” recipes from home use to commercial use, supply labeling and nutritional information and provide a pH analysis.
He stressed that the kitchen is operated under FDA guidelines and is not certified for most meat, cheese and seafood items.
For more details, visit the kitchen’s website at www.foodventure.org or contact Mezoff at 812-574-4061 or e-mail email@example.com
This farm news was published in the March 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.