New Mexico is home to delicious and distinctive foods and to one of the largest commercial kitchen incubators in the country.
Albuquerque’s South Valley Economic Development Center— a collaborative effort of Bernalillo County and the Rio Grande Community Development Corporation — houses a 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen that’s available to entrepreneurs who want to turn their cooking skills into money-making ventures. More than 60 small businesses share the nonprofit Mixing Bowl Community Kitchen at any given time, and 200 potential entrepreneurs hatch their food-based businesses at the incubator every year.
The center, in partnership with the local environmental health department, opened six years ago. Things were slow in the beginning, with startups taking as long as two years to move from concept to market. But, contrary to the adage that “too many cooks spoil the broth,” more cooks in this case meant more creative collaboration. Entrepreneurs shared marketing advice and introduced colleagues to their contacts among local growers, food distributors and retail store buyers.
Those powerful internal peer relationships fueled the project’s growth. And external connections with food distributors and retailers like Whole Foods, La Montanita Co-op, John Brooks and other New Mexico and Colorado establishments made it possible for companies to shorten the gap from concept to consumer to six months.
The South Valley Economic Development Center is an economic development catalyst for the South Valley unincorporated area, but center managers want to reach beyond the local neighborhood to share what Mixing Bowl Community Kitchen participants have learned about how to run an efficient and sanitary kitchen, how to schedule and bill clients and how to turn a bunch of companies into a vibrant culinary community.
Unused — or underused — kitchens can be found in churches, schools, hospitals, shuttered restaurants and government buildings all over the state, which means that any community willing to open a shared kitchen can do it at minimal cost. The Mixing Bowl wants to help great cooks in rural communities start their own businesses with an eye to creating a New Mexico brand that identifies high-quality, artisanal foods produced by network partners.
The Mixing Bowl network can connect aspiring community kitchens to its own funding sources at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and the Economic Development Department or help them find financial support from local foundations interested in fostering business growth. The Mixing Bowl’s business consulting partners can provide business infrastructure and its retail partners offer outlets for new food products. Sometimes just introducing entrepreneurs to their peers is all it takes for creative synergy to be sparked.
For more information about The Mixing Bowl project, visit the SouthValley Economic Development Center’s website at www.svedc.org.