Telissa Ward, the program kitchen manager at The Enterprise Center, is enthusiastic about what’s cooking in the center’s shared-use commercial kitchen.
And she’s even more enthusiastic about opportunities outside the kitchen.
The kitchen, which is currently at capacity for tenants, is part of the S.G. Atkins Community Development Center (S.G. Atkins CDC). And Ward, who was hired with a grant from the City of Winston-Salem, is a key ingredient to the success of that kitchen. After a career as an entrepreneur and a kitchen hospital manager for Cone Health, Ward is uniquely qualified to shepherd food-service business owners through the potential hurdles of writing a business plan, government regulations, ServSafe certifications, and sales and marketing.
“The demand has been amazing. This resource has been needed in this community for several years, and we could accommodate so many more businesses if we had the space,” says Ward.
While she hopes for more shared-use kitchen space to accommodate the more than 20 businesses on the waiting list, Ward is working to provide educational and marketing opportunities for the seven current tenants, a mixture of food entrepreneurs and caterers.
Carol Davis, executive director of the S.G. Atkins CDC, says Ward grew up in southeast Winston-Salem, and “her heart is for service to her community. She’s very nurturing and gives the tenants her complete attention to promote them [and] increase their confidence and skill level. They love her.”
“And I love them,” Ward says.
Sharing more than space
In addition to caterers, other food-service companies use the shared-use kitchen, and when baker Susette Marot of Defining Desserts was ready to start her business,
she struggled to find a commercial kitchen that would enable her to move out of her home kitchen.
“I thought about converting our garage to a commercial kitchen and looked at other properties to buy. There were shared spaces
in other cities, but not in Winston-Salem,” says Marot.
This is a common problem among food entrepreneurs, Davis says.
“This space has allowed chefs to come
out of the shadows and be official,” she adds.
Crissy Faison of LeanBack Soul Food found more than a kitchen at The Enterprise Center. She found a mentor in Ward and a support system among her fellow chefs, a differentiating element from other shared-use kitchens she has used.
“I don’t feel like I’m on my own anymore,” says Faison.
Her business has grown from catering four events a month to five events a week. Because The Enterprise Center supplies pantry staples as well as linens and chafing dishes, Faison is able to invest more of the income she’s earning back into the business. She hopes to open a takeout restaurant next year — the LeanBack Shack.
The shared-use kitchen works on six-month contracts so tenants like Faison, who have built their business and are preparing for their own space, have the flexibility to leave, Ward says. It also gives new businesses, like Camel City Catering, the ability to test the marketplace since restaurant startup costs can be overwhelming and can easily derail food entrepreneurs’ dreams of opening their own space.
The men behind Camel City Catering, David Foster and Charles Paynter, have had extensive careers in restaurants, and they understand the high overhead that comes with starting a new business. Foster is grateful to have a resource like the shared-use kitchen functioning as a business incubator, eliminating the overhead.
“It’s been a wonderful facility to allow us to get off the ground,” says Foster.
“And Telissa is dynamic,” says Paynter. “She’s helping us build our client base. We’re not just handing over a check each month for rent. It’s like we have her as a team member.”
“We’ve created this synergy between all of the businesses at The Enterprise Center,” Ward says. “The chefs are buying vegetables from our community garden, then catering events for the businesses, and catering community events at our conference and banquet center. We’d like to expand this idea throughout the city.”
To introduce the chefs to the broader community, The Enterprise Center has held cooking demonstrations on-site, and rented space this spring for the chefs at Winston Junction Market on Trade Street. Now, Ward is seeking businesses that will invite the caterers to host a pop-up restaurant for their employees.
Ward believes that pop-up restaurant events have a lot of advantages over permanent restaurants for the shared-use kitchen’s tenants and the community:
• First-time chefs can begin to build a presence and reputation, and seasoned culinary artisans can test new concepts and create a space for creativity and freedom that might be lacking in an established space.
• Pop-ups can test a location and determine foot traffic in a potential space before chefs start their own brick and mortar.
“Most of the chefs here want to have their own restaurants one day. Increasing their catering clients and adding pop-up opportunities are all a part of their growth process,” Davis says. “There is nowhere else in Winston-Salem like the shared-use kitchen. Our chefs here have access to high quality organic produce, which is absolutely delicious, and the proceeds go back into our nonprofit operations.”