What is a commissary or commercial kitchen?

When I was in high school there was this girl that I worked with that wanted to be a full-time baker. She would spend all of her time not at work at a commercial kitchen designing and baking cakes for her clients. Funny enough we worked at Sonic Drive-In, so when she wasn’t in one kitchen she was in another. She would talk about how she rented a kitchen out for a few hours every week to do her work and that was all. In my imagination, I saw her paying rent for someone’s kitchen, just a normal, everyday kitchen that was in a storefront somewhere instead of still in someone’s. I definitely wasn’t the brightest kid, but hey we all have to start somewhere. It wasn’t until years later when my mom and I started this business that the term commercial kitchen came back up, and then came the idea or question of what they actually are and if we need to be using one.  

A Commercial Kitchen is usually a large, open space kitchen for rent that is designed with food safety regulations in mind as well as making and producing food products efficiently. They will mainly have professional, stainless steel equipment that is geared towards larger production, not just a few batches of cookies or loaves of bread.  While these spaces can be within your home, unlike your home kitchen these are inspected and licensed by your city or county. Typically a commercial kitchen is rented out by time slots, and some allow more than one cook to work at the same time, depending on the different food safety regulations of your city or county.

Do I have to use a commercial kitchen to sell food?/ Why would I need to use a commercial kitchen?

No, but it depends. Here in Arizona, we have a program that allows for cottage industries to sell food, with some restrictions. (Check out my blog post about what a cottage industry is here). However, in Arizona, if you want to sell your food across state lines (online sales to different states) then you are required to produce your food in a commercial kitchen.

Here is another resource from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that outlines the specific food codes for each state. Here you will find what the minimum requirements are for each state on selling food.

What are some things to look for when renting a commercial kitchen?

Think about your current kitchen. What is your favorite part? What is it missing? What would make your production more efficient? Now imagine the perfect kitchen. What is in it? Write down a list of those things and start with that when you are comparing kitchens. Once you know what you personally want, then look for the professional and legal aspects of the kitchen. Make sure you ask questions about the following:

  •         Hourly rate/subscription rate
  •         Storage for equipment and ingredients
  •         How often and how is the equipment cleaned?
  •         Who is responsible for the cleaning?
  •         Is liability insurance required?
  •         What is their inspection history?
  •         What licenses are required to work in their kitchen?

How much does it typically cost to rent?

There are two types of commercial kitchens: privately owned and government owned. Those that are privately owned are usually more expensive, however, they also usually have better hours (typically open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week).

Remember that when you are renting the time slots at a commercial kitchen you also have to pay the fees for your certifications and licenses which will add to the total cost. For us, we would also need to account for the gas and mileage that it would take to get to a commercial kitchen due to how far out of the city that our business is located.

 Can I make my kitchen a commercial kitchen?

Of course you can… if you have the budget, time, and if your house is in a zone that allows you to make your home a commercial kitchen. If you are to make your kitchen a commercial kitchen, however, it cannot be used for residential use, meaning you will either have to convert your kitchen and build a kitchen to use for your everyday cooking or keep yours and build a whole new separate commercial kitchen. While many food entrepreneurs do end up creating their own commercial kitchen either in their home or on their own property, this would not be ideal for a new start-up. Even though there are huge benefits of starting a commercial kitchen from the comfort of your own home, the start-up costs will not be something most budding entrepreneurs cannot afford. In the end, the ability to gain back that investment won’t be as guaranteed as when you start small and slowly build.

If you decide to build your own commercial kitchen you will also need to apply for a license from the Department of Public Health in your city or county, and once you are issued a license, it needs to be prominently displayed in the kitchen under the rules of the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. If you are interested in building your own commercial kitchen here is the FDA’s list of food codes throughout the country. This will be a good starting place for looking at what your specific city or state requires before opening up either a commercial kitchen or the ability for you to cook straight from your residential kitchen.

How can I find a commercial kitchen?

This will depend on the city and county you live in. The best way that we found was to first run a quick Google search for “Commercial Kitchen Tucson” since we know that this will be the closest city that we live to that will have one.  After running the search we wrote down a list of ones that we could tangibly see in our budget and then called to see what their openings were like and if we could tour the facility. It is very important to tour the facility. While all commercial kitchens are licensed and must follow the codes set out by the city and county Department of Public Health, you need to make sure that the facility will be a comfortable fit for you- not just while working with others that are renting out the space, but if you are also comfortable with the type of equipment they have to offer, the location and neighborhood of the kitchen, as well as what their individual policies are such as storing of food ingredients.

Here is a good overview of finding a commercial kitchen produced by Portland Mercado on Youtube.

Why we don’t use one

We are still a small-batch business. Ideally, we would like to scale and become a full-on competitor to Sally Fields but we aren’t at that capacity yet. Additionally, here in Arizona, we would need to get licensed and certified to produce in a commercial kitchen. Even though this isn’t a problem, our long term goal is to open up our own coffee shop/bakery and those licenses and certifications are not transferrable. Given our budget and the scale of our business, we don’t see using one in our best interest. It’s not that we don’t see the benefit (hello baking and mixing at lightning speed) but our situation isn’t quite right for it yet.

Do you use a commercial kitchen? What has your experience been like? Let us know in the comment section below!