Linda Gilkerson has a lot cooking at Indy’s Kitchen — but she’s not actually serving anything.
Despite the name of the business she launched last summer, Gilkerson said food is not really her forte. “I’m not a kitchen person. I’m a business person.” And she knows a good business idea when she sees it.
In fact, the former executive director of a local nonprofit was looking for a business opportunity when she had an “aha moment.”
While toying with the idea of a cupcake company, her husband asked, “Where would you make them?” Gilkerson recalled. “I thought, ‘Here is a real need in the city.’ “
That led her to create Indy’s Kitchen, a licensed commercial kitchen that food entrepreneurs can rent by the hour.
Located at 2442 Central Ave., Indy’s Kitchen provides work space for caterers, bakers, food truck owners and farmers market vendors. It also offers dining space for special events.
Local entrepreneurs use the space to create everything from cakes and pies to pizza and barbecue.
“The response from the community has been so positive,” said Gilkerson. Nearly 40 local businesses now use the kitchen.
“We could handle more,” said Gilkerson. “I’d love to see us get to the point where we’re out of space.”
She definitely spotted a growing trend. The specialty food industry is a $30 billion-a-year business, and shared-use commercial kitchens are opening across the country to help entrepreneurs tap into the market.
According to the National Business Incubation Association, there are about 1,200 business incubators across the country, though only a small percentage focus on food.
Bluffton, in Wells County, has proposed a regional specialty food incubator. Two others currently exist in the state: the not-for-profit Bloomington Kitchen Incubator and the Ohio River Valley Food Venture in Madison, part of the Venture Out Business Center.
Indy’s Kitchen, which opened a year ago, is a for-profit venture, with 2,360 square feet of space, complete with storage, a freezer and walk-in cooler.
In addition to renting kitchen space, Gilkerson and partners William Powell, Paul Pickett and Tom Abeel offer business and marketing guidance to their food entrepreneur clients.
While many Indy’s Kitchen clients are seeing considerable success, such as “graduate” Kris Parmelee, who recently moved her carry-out business Avec Moi to a stand-alone location, Gilkerson knows that not all those who attempt a food business will be successful. Indy’s Kitchen offers aspiring entrepreneurs a way to test the market and build a clientele before they launch their own brick-and-mortar location.
“It allows people to try something without taking that big risk.”
Such help has made a big difference to Keme Henderson. A social worker who has been cooking and baking since high school, Henderson said the advice and critiques have helped her build her business, Somethin’ Sweet.
“It is the key,” said Henderson, who uses Indy’s Kitchen to prepare baked goods, such as strawberry-lemonade cookies. “They offer so much to us.”
And thanks to a $17,000 grant from Develop Indy, they can offer more.
The grant funds will help Indy’s Kitchen clients with technical assistance and small loans of $500 to $1,500.
Even the smallest food businesses can face start-up costs of $1,000 to $1,200, Gilkerson said.
The first loan will help Shantel McMichel start selling her Rocken Rolla Spring Rolls at the Binford Farmers Market, said Gilkerson, who meets regularly with loan recipients and understands how difficult those first steps can be when launching a business. Indy’s Kitchen wasn’t an easy sell.
“We got rejected by 13 banks,” she said. Even though she and her partners had a unique idea, a strong business plan and good credit, they had a tough time getting a bank to OK their project.
“It was new,” she said, “and they just wouldn’t pledge on it.”
Eventually, she said, a bank that had originally rejected them saw their success and offered a line of credit.
Gilkerson sees the business continuing to grow and is pleased to be helping Indy’s Kitchen clients make their business dreams happen, too.
“That’s what I’m doing, too,” she said. “Their small business is getting started, and so is mine.”