Peter Fehr was looking to expand his sauce-making company when he discovered The Open Kitchen last spring.
Now the gourmet chef and entrepreneur attributes the growth spurt of his business Gourmet Inspirations to having come here to bottle his product.
“It’s been a valuable stepping stone in growing my business,” said Fehr whose finishing and dessert sauces last year won his company a spot on the Top 10 new companies list from Food in Canada magazine.
The Open Kitchen, a food-processing plant for rent on the outskirts of Winnipeg, gave him the extra space he required after outgrowing the site he’d been in, but not yet ready to put up his own plant.
“I didn’t have to take on so much risk in building my own facility. It’s been valuable in upscaling and helping me grow my business.”
The Manitoba chef was first of now about half a dozen clients of The Open Kitchen, a 1,800-sq.-ft. site in Warren, just a few minutes northwest of the city. It’s fitted with a huge electric kettle, coolers, pneumatic piston fillers, storage space and other technology primarily for the processing of fluid products.
The fully certified government-inspected site is Manitoba’s only privately owned, rural state-of-the-art processing facility. It opened its doors about a year ago.
A rent-a-kitchen concept wasn’t exactly what they had in mind when they built it five years ago, says Doug Langrell, co-owner of the site.
He and his siblings had planted a five-acre orchard here in 2008, started a small company DDJs Saskatoons and needed a place to process their berries. The building was built in 2012 with other saskatoon growers joining in to use it to clean, sort, and process fresh their berries, as well as freeze and dry berries for ingredient-buying customers.
They soon realized they had more space than they could ever use themselves, said Langrell.
“It was around 2016 it occurred to us that we were using this building for saskatoon processing for about two weeks out of 52,” he said.
That’s when Manitoba Agriculture suggested they open it up for other processors too. There was especially demand for inspected, equipped facilities to produce and package things like sauces, chutneys, syrups and vegetable concentrates, they were told.
The Open Kitchen offers flexible hours, allowing smaller entrepreneurs to upscale product when they’re at a point they want to grow their company but not ready to build facilities of their own. It especially appeals to those selling at farmers’ markets or needing to produce larger volumes of product for retail sales, said Langrell.
“I’ve used the analogy that the Food Development Centre (at Portage la Prairie) is kind of like the maternity ward where a lot of these recipes are born,” he said.
“This is the nursery.”
Numerous Great Manitoba Food Fight participants have brought their products here including emerging businesses like Cheeky Chutney making a tamarind and mango chutney and CanFarm Foods Ltd., which produces a line of artisanal cold-pressed canola oils.
The site is all on ground level, has storage space so users don’t have to haul supplies back and forth and offers flexible hours to users, said Langrell. Some use it monthly, others bimonthly, or just for two or thee days at a time. It’s just a matter of booking, he said.
“It is, as we say, the open kitchen. It means to be open to people’s schedules too.”
The site itself is fully approved and certified by Manitoba Health, but users must also get their own stamp of approval for the process they’ll be using in it, explains Langrell.
“That process is a simple one,” he said. “A Manitoba Agriculture inspector comes in and watches your entire process from beginning to end, comments on that and then makes suggestions for improvements.”
It’s an exciting time for food processing in Manitoba with so many emerging food companies and they’re glad to offer this support to it, Langrell said.
The whole intent behind this and the rest of the province’s network of commercial kitchens is to make processing sites more widely accessible and help spur development of these companies, he said.
“There’s a lot of different smaller towns that have community kitchens that locals can use to make their foodstuffs, rather than having to go into Winnipeg or Brandon or Portage la Prairie,” he said.
“This is helping spread it out to yet another rural location.”
More information about The Open Kitchen including fee schedules is found at: https://theopen-kitchen.com.
Cash for kitchen equipment
The province recently announced $84,000 in funding for community-based kitchens around Manitoba to buy new equipment such as labellers and date coders, and other commercial-grade kitchen technology to support local food entrepreneurs.
A directory of all commercial community kitchens available for rent in Manitoba plus more information about using them can be found online at the Government of Manitoba website.