ROI-NJ’s closer look at four commercial kitchens in N.J.

Food incubators and commercial kitchens represent a prime example of a growing business sector in the state.

Read our report on the sector here: Everything … and the kitchen sink: As food sector grows, commercial kitchens are helping — while growing, too

Here is a closer look at four of these businesses.

Hudson Kitchen, South Kearny

Hudson Kitchen
Djenaba Johnson-Jones of Hudson Kitchen.

Djenaba Johnson-Jones worked in business development for media brands such as Conde Nast and Hearst for more than 15 years before she was laid off.

And as she worked to create an entrepreneurial health and fitness business that also delivered prepared meals, she learned New Jersey law would prohibit it.

“So, Hudson Kitchen became more about realizing and fulfilling a need,” Johnson-Jones said.

A need that required more than just kitchen space.

“People needed a place to be with likeminded people,” Johnson-Jones said.

So, she made it her full-time mission, working closely with the Jersey City Economic Development Corp. for nearly four years, to help more than 700 food entrepreneurs launch, market and grow their businesses with consulting services, networking events, a free downloadable e-book, educational workshops (such as the Food Business Boot Camp at Hudson County Community College) and more.

“That is how Hudson Kitchen became much larger than anticipated,” Johnson-Jones said.

Now, after creating a supportive community and cushioning her savings, Johnson-Jones said she is ready to move ahead this spring with the goal of providing commercial kitchen space at Kearny Point for her members.

“I’m really excited about our location,” she said.

In addition to commercial kitchen space, Hudson Kitchen will provide on-site food truck parking and access to coworking space and a test kitchen specifically designed for cooking demonstrations, photoshoots and filming live cooking shows.

“Unlike a lot of spaces in northern New Jersey, Kearny Point offers free parking and is even allowing food trucks to park here, to have a dedicated space to house and maintain their truck as well as utilize Hudson Kitchen’s storage,” Johnson-Jones said.

Johnson-Jones said she also is thrilled to be able to offer her members opportunities in which to market themselves.

“Because of the nature of what Kearny Point does and the number of people that will be working here once the community is complete, it also will become a built-in place for my members to be able to sell their food,” she said. “These businesses all need to eat! So, we’ll be putting together programs to showcase our members and give people in our community the chance to taste the different food available.”

Garden State Kitchen, Orange

Alexandra Pais
Kris Ohleth of Garden State Kitchen.

Kris Ohleth is quite the multitasker.

After beginning her full-time career in renewable energies, she said she also worked part-time as a prep cook and manager for a variety of farmers markets.

Then, five years ago, she thought she might open a food-based business, too.

“I wanted something that was of service to the community and the local food movement,” Ohleth said.

After years of market research, site visits, business classes and more, Ohleth, founder and owner, officially opened Garden State Kitchen in Orange in November of last year.

“We are now in this tremendously supportive Valley Arts District, offering commercial kitchen rental plus an entire ecosystem of support to connect our members with whatever they need, whether that be mentorship, distribution, financing or more, through the network we’ve developed over the past few years,” Ohleth said.

Jointly sponsored by New Jersey Community Capital and the Greater New York Economic Corp., Ohleth said she manages the nearly one dozen members at Garden State Kitchen now with her husband, Rob Sommo, an independent contractor and carpenter.

“Our goal is to add a member each week until we eventually cap out at around 65,” she said.

Garden State Kitchen’s food preparation area, baking studio and two catering kitchens are available to rent by the hour ($15-30, depending on the space), or as a member, which includes discounted event space rental and workshop participation fees, print and social media promotion, access to coworking space, and storage and linen service. Membership fees range from $300 to $2,500 per month, depending on the spaces and hours needed.

“For example, Chef Flo of Eemas Cuisine, which blends Hawaiian and Filipino cuisine, simply preps everything here to take to his pop-up sites,” Ohleth said. “Another company used our space for just eight hours in the first two months we were open, whereas we have other members who use our space for eight hours every day.”

The food revolution has helped to propel membership, Ohleth added.

“The pendulum has shifted from the 1950s, when everything was frozen and microwaved, to now, when we want everything to be local and sustainable and to have transparency in our food,” she said. “Quite a few of our companies, now, such as So Fresh, So Clean, are meal prep companies who not only are responding to the fast pace of our culture, but also creating convenient services that offer healthy foods.”

Garden State Kitchen also hosts weekly workshops and a six-week series called The Formula ($199), which focuses on next-level branding, budgeting, financing, organizational and financial management and more for advanced food entrepreneurs.

But whatever event they are hosting, Ohleth said, food from local entrepreneurs always is being served.

“That is the theme of our opening and getting to where we are today — partnerships and collaboration,” she said.

Bellamy Kitchen, Union City

Keith Muccilli
Meredith Chartier of Bellamy Kitchen.

A teacher for more than a decade, Meredith Chartier said she agreed to assist her friend at her pastry business at Hesperides Organica, a farm and commercial kitchen in Hawthorne, during her school breaks in 2012.

“I grew up in a family of great cooks and, in high school, I wanted to apply to culinary school, but my family talked me out of it, thinking it would limit my job prospects,” Chartier said. “But food always has played an important role in my life.”

Still, after multiple changes were made to the education system under Gov. Chris Christie, Chartier said she decided to leave teaching to entrepreneurially pursue cooking and delivering prepared meals from Hesperides Organica, too.

“My clients were local working families who knew the benefits of eating homemade, unprocessed foods, but often lacked the time and skill to prepare it themselves,” she said.

But the commute and coordination required to keep everything hot and cold from Hawthorne to where she lived in Hoboken grew more difficult, Chartier said.

So, her husband, Thomas Chartier, owner of The Chartier Group, a real estate development company in Hoboken, suggested they start looking for a property in which to build a commercial kitchen facility from the ground up.

Still, the search — plus multiple zoning, demolition and construction obstacles — took nearly five years.

So, Chartier kept busy in the meantime, attending the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts; developing in-home private chef services for some of her prepared meal delivery clients with specific dietary and medical needs; and working with a chef to ghostwrite and develop recipes for nearly a dozen cookbooks and functional doctors, as well as film four seasons of cooking videos for HealthDay Editor.

She officially opened Bellamy Kitchen in Union City in November of last year as the first full-service commercial kitchen in Hudson County, with plans to host future workshops to provide business support for her 12 current and any future tenants.

“(Though) I do not identify as a food incubator, after seeing the information that was shared with some of my tenants from Pilotworks in Newark, which has since closed, I caught a lot of mistakes, such as someone paying 10 times more for insurance than they needed to, and I realized a moral obligation to provide some level of advice based on my own experiences,” Chartier, founder and owner, said.

Bellamy Kitchen’s baking studio and two culinary kitchens are available to rent 24/7, ranging from $360 for 12 hours per month to $2,500 for 100 hours per month plus storage, with custom packages available.

“The commercial kitchen is a stepping stone for some small food businesses and, if they are in the market for opening their own retail space later on, given my experience and my husband’s 20-year experience in the construction industry, I hope we can assist them with their own build-out process in the future,” Chartier said.

Shore is Yummy, Manasquan

Shore is Yummy
Lois Roe of Shore is Yummy.

Lois Roe had been working as a field medical operations analyst during her nearly 13-year career with Bristol-Myers Squibb in Lawrence Township, but had been considering what came next, she said.

“I had been thinking for some time about setting up a baking business for myself in retirement, but I hadn’t been thinking about doing so in the near future,” she said.

Still, Roe said she took a part-time job as a bakery chef at The Grind Coffee House in Plainsboro for nearly two years, working there before her job started at Bristol-Myers Squibb a few days a week to get a sense of whether she liked the line of work.

“I really loved it, so I started taking classes with that long-term goal in mind,” she said.

At the same time, many of her friends were asking her to create gluten-free recipes due to having been recently diagnosed with medical conditions requiring gluten-free diets, Roe said.

Her recipes often were delicious enough for the glutenous to want, too, she said.

“That’s how I got into gluten-free baking for the greater good,” Roe said. “I wasn’t simply trying to bake a line of gluten-free products, but rather, trying to change the dynamics and costs for people who need gluten-free foods by baking overall delicious products for their families.”

Roe said she would unexpectedly get her chance to after being laid off from Bristol-Myers Squibb in May 2017 with a severance package — some of which she used to renovate a Hurricane Sandy-damaged space in August of last year to set up a commercial kitchen to sell her gluten-free products to local customers, farmers markets and wholesale.

Then she was hired back at Bristol-Myers Squibb as a consultant in October.

“That’s when Kris Ohleth of Garden State Kitchen sent Jennifer to me after she went to Kris looking for a spot,” Roe said.

When Roe is not there, she now rents the kitchen to Jennifer Long, owner of Simply Delightful Treats, a vegan, nut- and gluten-free baker in Edison.

“It’s been a win-win all around,” Roe said. “For example, I had an orthodontist who wanted some themed cookies for the holidays, so I baked the cookies, and Jennifer decorated them.

“It’s been so great to take my kitchen from being a pipe dream to being the launching pad for someone else.”

While Roe said she is open to sharing her kitchen with more tenants, Shore is Yummy currently is at capacity — but projects on the horizon could lead to major expansion plans, she added.

“I’ve connected with one food service company that provides meals to area schools and, through my job at Bristol-Myers Squibb, I connected with the executive chef for Sodexo USA, who said I could sign up to provide products via that company,” she said. “This business could explode in any number of directions and I have to be ready for it.

“I did let the landlords know that if any other spaces in the building become available to keep me in mind.”