HANDS-ON HELP: CommonWealth Kitchen Executive Director Jen Faigel works alongside Marta packaging cups for Minus the Moo, a lactose-free ice cream company out of the food incubator in Dorchester. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO
By ALLISON HUBER
DORCHESTER—Commonwealth Kitchen is serving up more than artisanal chocolates and handcrafted dumplings. It’s creating jobs and launching successful food startups in one of Boston’s most under-resourced neighborhoods.
Since 2009, CommonWealth Kitchen has been focused on combatting social and economic equality through inclusive entrepreneurship and sustainable employment, says co-founder and Executive Director Jen Faigel. The kitchen was only one of five local nonprofits that won $500,000 in grant money from the Cummings Foundation in May.
Faigel’s career in real estate inspired her to transform the former Pearl Meat Factory into a fully operational food startup hub, she says on a recent tour of the facility. After teaming up with the Dorchester Bay Economic Corporation in a $15 million-dollar redevelopment project, the kitchen relocated from its original 2500-square-foot location in Jamaica Plain to the 15,000-square-foot, industrial-style space on Quincy Street in Dorchester.
Since then, the co-working food incubator has provided shared kitchen space with four separate work stations and office space for nearly 50 startup organizations. CommonWealth Kitchen has seen exponential growth, from three staff members and a budget of $300,000 in 2012 to today’s count of 14 members and $1.6 million. The kitchen has employed approximately 115 people, half of whom can walk to work. This is all part of the organization’s mission to bring traffic into low-income areas and create full-time jobs with benefits and training, Faigel says.
“Regardless of skin color, CommonWealth Kitchen is the place that recognizes that where they are is where the struggle is, and instead of closing the door, they open it,” Anthony Caldwell, executive chef and owner of 50Kitchen, tells FoundersWire in an interview.
Caldwell launched 50Kitchen, a personal chef and catering service, in 2016 after working with CommonWealth Kitchen to find the right market, differentiate his service and form partnerships. Since its founding, Caldwell says he has connected and collaborated with a diverse range of startups from Jamaica Mi Hungry, a Jamaican food truck, to Blonde on the Run, another private chef and food catering service specializing in small, bite-sized dishes. Through CommonWealth Kitchen, Caldwell says he’s had the opportunity to cater events for the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and serve such public figures as Mayor Marty Walsh.
“Jen and CommonWealth Kitchen have been phenomenal. For those who are challenged with finding a job, they get a second chance when everyone else is telling them they’re a failure,” Caldwell says. Nearly 75 percent of CommonWealth Kitchen’s founders are women and minorities, Faigel points out.
According to Faigel, the kitchen provides support in manufacturing and production to help its member organizations grow, even if it means labeling tens of thousands of ice cream cups daily for Minus the Moo, a lactose-free ice cream company, or helping Fresh Truck, which provides fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods, with its deliveries. “With these companies, because they pay by the hour, we’re working with them all the time to be smarter about their production,” Faigel says.
CommonWealth Kitchen also transforms would-be waste produce as apples and tomatoes into new products. In turn, the organization sells these products to places like Harvard, with whom the company is currently negotiating to sell 8,500 gallons of tomato sauce. The kitchen’s only income, however, currently comes from the $35 hourly fee tenants pay for using the kitchens. Faigel says the nonprofit is in the process of developing a discount profit-sharing model with its graduate startups, including Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Exodus Bagels.
CommonWealth Kitchen’s popup, The Street, will be open in Chestnut Hill serving up local treats from sauce to cookies until late June. On June 22, 5 percent of the proceeds earned by Whole Foods will be donated to CommonWealth Kitchen to continue creating opportunities in under-resourced neighborhoods. Faigel says the kitchen is always looking for volunteers, mentors for their companies and their variety of catering.
In the meantime, the kitchen continues its mission to provide business support for some of Boston’s most promising food startups.
“Our focus is creating real companies. We’re not interested in hobbies,” Faigel says. “We’re interested in finding the people who are out there that say, ‘I have a passion, I understand what it’s going to take, and I’m ready to dig in.’ ”