Ten years ago, when Alonzo Coates had the idea to open a shared commercial kitchen in a northeast Philadelphia garage he owns, he couldn’t have predicted the project would test the limits of his patience.
He hired an architect to design the facility off Bustleton Avenue in Mayfair and applied for a zoning waiver in 2014. The zoning took two years and several lawyers to obtain. It took three more years to get funding and permits from the city. A faulty building foundation delayed construction. Then COVID-19 put everything on ice.
“It’s been a journey, man,” said Coates, 55, who also owns residential rental properties and a janitorial business, which kept him afloat as his commercial kitchen concept simmered in a slow cooker. bureaucracy.
Coates finally opened Kitchen Korners earlier this year. And on Thursday, an entourage of state officials who provided a 15-year, $220,000 low-interest loan in 2018 under the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority (PMBDA), visited the site to pop a cork and celebrate. They were joined by Coates’ family, friends and two of the chefs who hire out the kitchen to produce their culinary creations.
While there are many commissioners in the region, Coates’ concept of providing a safe space for start-up chefs to develop their products fits perfectly with the PMBDA’s mission, said Cathy Onyeaka, executive director of the authority. Kitchen Korners is the “first private, minority-owned commercial kitchen in the state,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the PMBDA.
Coates impressed his lenders with his work ethic and provided them with frequent updates as the pandemic delayed the construction and delivery of kitchen equipment. “The pandemic has really lengthened the project,” Onyeaka said. “But at the end of the day, everything fell into place. He really is a wonderful borrower. He’s my dream borrower.
Coates, who has an economics degree from Penn State, has worked her way up the ranks over the years with jobs in shoe sales, car rentals and mortgage financing. In 2006, he invested in a franchised commercial cleaning business, which led to contracts to manage medical and dietary cleaning services for a 15-bed palliative care unit and a 30-bed respiratory special care unit.
“That’s what gave me the idea for Kitchen Korners, because I had to get certified in the kitchen and I was like, ‘Man, running a kitchen isn’t a bad idea,'” he said. -he declares.
Coates said many shared commissioners are designed for more established leaders and require longer-term commitments. Kitchen Korners caters to short term customers – recently an out of town chef came in just to bake a wedding cake. Longer-term customers, who obtain a membership, get dedicated on-site storage for their food and tools.
Trained to clean healthcare facilities, Coates or an employee sanitizes the kitchen after each use to meet hospital standards. It sets the bar high when it comes to hygiene.
“He’s a bit compulsive about cleanliness,” said Helena Geraldine, who owns a catering business called Cheat with Mee Desserts and rents out the kitchen for about 30 hours a month, at around $50 an hour. Using the two convection ovens and the industrial mixer in the kitchen, Géraldine can produce around 360 cupcakes in half a day.
In addition to a 10-burner gas range, gas grill, griddle, walk-in refrigerator, and freezers, Coates also cheated out the 650-square-foot space with a killer sound system. Chefs can immerse themselves in their work, surrounded by their favorite music, without having to worry about the wandering eyes of rival chefs in a larger communal kitchen.
“It’s really a comfortable place,” said Geraldine. “Alonzo is warm and welcoming.
Persistence seems to be a common thread in Kitchen Korners.
Mary Muse, 60, whose career in corporate communications ended after a 2006 car accident caused a traumatic brain injury, has developed a range of vegan desserts and soul food that she has sold from a food truck, at catered events and at pop-up pie sales under its brand, Ma Dookz. She is currently fine-tuning the commercial production of a gluten-free frozen salmon cake at Kitchen Korners.
Muse, who has seven adult children and lives in Bryn Mawr, produced vegan dessert pies for Villanova University’s food service and also struck a deal with Brown’s ShopRite stores to sell the frozen salmon cake year-round. next. She calls the salmon cake the Patty Patty in honor of WDAS radio host and personality Patty Jackson, who had a stroke in 2015 and, like Muse, underwent treatment at Moss Rehabilitation.
Muse, whose storytelling skills rival her talents as a chef, has developed an impressive network of supporters. She called Earl Harvey, a publisher and booster of Black companies that died in 2020, her “angel investor” who urged her to host an event at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
She said Harvey also introduced her to VestedIn, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in Philadelphia that nurtures entrepreneurs in disadvantaged communities.
Although VestedIn is a lending agency, it recognizes that some entrepreneurs, such as Muse, need more than capital to get started, said James Burnett, a former banker who heads the nonprofit. “We realized that Ms. Muse really needed to understand where her opportunities lay,” he said. She was not “ready for the bank”.
VestedIn referred Muse to Temple University Small Business Development Center, which provided training on business fundamentals, such as financial statements and increasing production. She is also enrolled in Santander Bank’s Cultivate Small Business program, which supports start-up entrepreneurs in the food industry, with a focus on businesses owned by women, immigrants and people of color.
What set Muse apart – and the same could be said for Coates, her owner at Kitchen Korners – was determination.
“We recommend a lot of companies,” Burnett of VestedIn said. “And some of these companies go out and do them. And for those who don’t, we don’t really pursue them.
“Ms. Muse keeps calling and wants feedback,” he said. “She’s taking advice, and not just from me. She’s incorporated those ideas into her business. nobody.