Seven years ago, Iso Rabins ignored regulatory red tape and set up San Francisco’s Underground Market. His goal — to give local makers and food producers an unlicensed platform from which to operate.
After three years “down and running,” the Underground Market was shut down by San Francisco regulators. It re-opened for a time under tighter constraints, but was eventually shut down completely. Even if it had endured, though, the market still fell short of Rabin’s vision to grow the local food economy and fully support the chefs, makers, and producers who comprise it.
What Rabins really wanted to provide for Bay Area food makers wasn’t just a space to sell, but a space to create — a space where they could access the resources and support necessary to take their foodie home projects and culinary dreams to the next level. After years of planning and months of searching for a location, the team is setting up shop, not in their original home in San Francisco, but in a built-out new space in Uptown Oakland.
Rabins may be best known as the founder of forageSF, a “not only for profit business” that was originally designed to support local foragers and to “create a situation [where] foraging could become a viable full time profession,” according to the organization’s website. forageSF grew into multiple projects, including a roving underground supper club called Wild Kitchen and, of course, the Underground Market.
“I loved the Underground Market as a place where we could present people with a platform for their stuff,” said Rabins. “But then I couldn’t provide anything beyond that. We didn’t have the capacity to really do anything else.” This realization led to the concept for Forage Kitchen — a culinary co-working space owned by Rabins and his business partner and cousin Matt Johansen (one of the founders of Hayes Valley’s Biergarten). Forage Kitchen will provide members with access to not only a kitchen space, but also a community of support.
Located in a 2,700-square-foot warehouse at 478 25th St., the project is slated to open in the next few months, and will provide forageSF with its first formal home base. They’ll still hold foraging classes in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area, but all production will be based out of Oakland.
“Over the years I’ve just used shared kitchen spaces,” said Rabins, who gained valuable experience while bouncing from one spot to the next. “This [will be] the space that I always wished all of those spaces would be. I’ve seen all of the things that really don’t work at those spaces and they’re actually pretty easy to fix.”
One example? Having a dishwasher on staff. It’s important enough to Rabins that you’ll see this fact pop up on the website more than a few times. “It’s like when you have roommates and there’s always one roommate who leaves their dishes in there,” he said. “If there was just someone whose job it was to wash that one plate, everyone would be so much happier.”
Forage Kitchen will primarily serve three groups of people: chefs and small business owners, makers and non-professionals, and the local community. The building will include a 32-foot cook line, plenty of prep tables, ample storage space, offices, personal mailboxes and a small café in which chefs can sell their products. It will join an ever-growing line-up of co-working kitchens in Oakland, including Kitchener, Uptown Kitchen and Port Kitchens.
Rabins isn’t yet sure how many members will be signed on to use the space each session, but estimates 30 businesses total, with 20-25 individuals utilizing the space at any given time. The target chef/owner is a small food producer — a cookie company, a cheesemonger, or a jerky maker. Over 500 businesses have already shown interest, all of whom are committed to using local hyper-ingredients to make amazing food.
“We want to really focus on people who are going to use the space long term, rather than people who are just coming in for a day,” said Rabins. There’ll be some of those one-off projcects, of course, but the first group of chefs and makers are being carefully selected to set the standard for the model.
Chefs and business owners can sign up for professional packages, which range from $1200-$2500 a month depending the number of hours of cook time (anywhere from 40-100 hours) and include resources to help owners develop a home for their business. They will also be able to hold three-month residencies as guest chefs in Forage Kitchen’s café. The three-month time period is intended to be long enough to benefit the individuals, but brief enough to allow for variety in the rotation.
Participating chefs will not only have access to the industrial kitchen space with top-of-the-line tools and a co-working office space complete with a business address and mailbox, but also will be able to form connections to local farmers, meat purveyors and other small food businesspeople. They will also be able to bulk order ingredients, which helps lower the cost of high-end ingredients. And, of course, the dishwasher.
Over time Rabins wants to build in additional support, such as staff accounting and business classes. “We have a lot of people who approach us and just want to help out,” said Rabins. He hopes to implement an “ask a lawyer” hour where once a week a lawyer will be on hand to answer quick questions. A number of professionals in the food world have also offered their skill sets and experience in an effort to support the local food movement and its members.
In addition to the traditional users of a shared kitchen space, Forage Kitchen will also sign on maker members. “[These are] people who are just interested in cooking more or who want to cook all of their food for the week in a professional space,” said Rabins. A maker member might be an industrious home cook who has the ambitions of a chef but only a studio kitchen to cook from, or someone who wants to make cheese or can jam but lives with four other people.
For $99 a month, maker members will gain full access to the kitchen all day on Sundays. One or two staff members will be available in case members need help or have specific questions. “If you’re a little intimidated by doing big projects, it’s a great space to make that happen,” said Rabins.
Maker members will have access to many of the benefits given to the chef residents — they’ll have the same kitchen in which to work, and the same ingredients and connection-making possibilities. While they won’t have access to the co-working office space, they will get dry and cold storage and first dibs on Forage cooking classes.
The third (and arguably most important) piece of the Forage Kitchen puzzle is the local community and the local food economy. Not only will Forage Kitchen’s members stimulate the economy by sourcing the vast majority of their ingredients from local farmers, fishermen and ranchers (Forage Kitchen’s website states: “If you can get it local, we find it local”), they will also be providing consumers with quality local products made by members of their own community. Shared resources and ingredients will also result in less energy and food waste across the board.
And there’s sure to be plenty of tasty results coming out of a co-working kitchen space. Plans for an adjacent café will give chefs an immediate outlet for their culinary inventions. The café will primarily consist of a counter and outdoor seating, and will include a small storefront space in the front of the kitchen where consumers can purchase a curated selection of maker products.
Forage Kitchen will be at 478 25th St. (between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue), Oakland. Connect with the kitchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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