The Culinary Studio Provides Resources to Startup Food Entrepreneurs

Recent years have seen a surge of home-based food entrepreneurs looking to take their family recipes and turn them into a retail business, selling their products at farmers markets and area grocers. But, with minor exception, most food entrepreneurs need to prepare their foods in a licensed commercial kitchen in order to be compliant so that they can take those products and sell them to the public. And this is where many of these would-be food entrepreneurs get stuck.
Cassandra Morrison, a personal chef, was looking for a commercial space in Oakland County where she could cook. She would get referred to churches – which typically have limited access hours and are not necessarily stocked with all of the professional equipment a retail food producer might need – until finally she heard about a shared-use kitchen in Chicago. She shared the idea with Jo Coleman and they visited the Chicago kitchen, and that was the beginning of The Culinary Studio in Southfield.
“The Culinary Studio was born out of a need,” Coleman says. “There were no other shared use kitchens renting out by the hour in the area. Cass realized that there’s a lot of other food entrepreneurs that had the same needs she did and there were no other places in metro Detroit [offering that].”
Additionally, she says, “People who are on regular production schedule need a business dedicated to them so they can pump out their products.” Commercial kitchens, inside churches and other community organizations, are not always available, which can negatively affect a production schedule.
They started working on the concept in April 2010 – at the time, there were no other organizations working to connect fledgling food entrepreneurs to commercial kitchens. (A comparable organization, Detroit Kitchen Connect, was still a few years off, and even now relies heavily on community kitchens with the same limitations that Morrison initially dealt with.)
Morrison and Coleman found a space in Southfield in a former Curves gym, and completely renovated it to build out two brand-new state-of-the-art commercial kitchens dedicated to food entrepreneurs that are available to rent by the hour 24 hours a day. The 2,400 square foot space includes two fully equipped kitchens, a commercial scullery, a walk-in cooler and freezer, a small seating area for meetings and private events, and office space. The Culinary Studio officially opened for business in February 2011.
Located in an active shopping plaza right off of I-696 and the Lodge Freeway, the Studio is easily accessible for people throughout metro Detroit and has a huge, well-lit parking lot that clients feel comfortable accessing any time of the day or night.
Morrison reflects back on the last four years and the sheer number of new startups they have created out of that space. “There [have been] some very, very successful food entrepreneurs, and there was no way they would have been able to get their dream started if it hadn’t been for our Culinary Studio.”
Some of the success stories include Scotty O’Hotty Sauce, Wallace Scones, Amy’s Divine Baked Crisps, Jen’s Gourmet Salad Dressings, Pure Blend Granola, and Urge Juice, which recently moved into their own brick and mortar space in Berkley.
In addition to providing the needed commercial equipment, Morrison and Coleman also provide invaluable guidance for new food entrepreneurs, guiding them through the whole process of what they need to do in order to start their businesses – navigating the process of working with the Oakland County Health Department or going through the Department of Agriculture, what kind of licensing and insurance is needed, getting ServSafe certification, and so on. For those starting out with nothing more than an idea and a handful of recipes, this kind of guidance allows a business to go from an idea to reality.  
“We realize now that we’re more than just a facility, we’re kind of an incubator,” Coleman says. “We’re proud of the economic development we’ve done out of this space.”
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