Kitchentown Incubates the Next Generation of Artisan Food Makers
Silicon Valley has a storied history of incubating successful technology startups. And considering a wealth of local entrepreneurs and quality ingredients, it isn’t a surprise that Silicon Valley is now home to a growing number successful food production startups.
With the September launch of KitchenTown, Silicon Valley’s first incubator for artisan food makers, we expect to see even more successful food startups with local roots.
Located in San Mateo and founded by local entrepreneur Rusty Schwartz and food industry veteran Alberto Solis, KitchenTown aims to help a new generation of food companies. The early response has been very positive. With a lineup ranging from Belinda Chocolate and The Fifth Quarter Charcuterie to Mammoth Energy Bars, 3 Trees Nut Milks and Zepeda Salsa, over 25 makers are already using KitchenTown facilities, with more on the way.
As Schwartz notes, “We saw a need. Alberto and I consulted with smaller food companies and helped them with business plans. We kept seeing that at some point you have to be able to produce product at scale. Co-packers need too high a quantity for most startups. There is a phase where the makers are not ready for co-packing but are on the cusp of something bigger. Makers need the facility, first-rate equipment and a range of capability, and KitchenTown provides it.”
Housed in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse on the border of San Mateo and Burlingame, KitchenTown provides space along with specialized high-end equipment to streamline food production, packaging and storage. KitchenTown also has trained, dedicated staff to help the makers with production, machinery operation and shipping. To operate at KitchenTown, makers pay a $150 monthly fee plus an hourly rate.
And for food makers looking to scale, KitchenTown is a crucial partner.
“A good example is production of energy bars. An extruder costs $30,000, which is a lot for a startup,” says Schwartz. “But with that extruder you can make 2,500 bars a hour versus just 10 every 15 minutes ... and we have packaging machines that can match that volume.”
“I love the feeling here,” says Belinda Quintanilla of Belinda Chocolate. “The energy and creativity, the family-like atmosphere and the natural light all add up to an extraordinary environment.
And it’s not only about my chocolate. The fresh loaves of bread, the smell of cookies coming out of the oven, tomatoes simmering, fresh coffee from the café—all of that hard work and creativity going on under one roof is truly inspiring.”
Beyond space and equipment, what’s next for KitchenTown is business services for makers. Like technology incubators and accelerators, KitchenTown plans to give entrepreneurs support with marketing, branding, distribution and operations. KitchenTown also plans to guide successful makers with fundraising strategy to help their businesses grow.
Makers also gain advantage by having access to other entrepreneurs. “The amount of collaboration between the makers is something we’d hoped would happen, so it’s great to see so many working together on everything from ingredients to marketing and distribution,” says Schwartz.
There are also benefits for local consumers. KitchenTown has a café (open 8am–3pm Tuesday through Sunday) that serves Sightglass coffee, house-baked pastries, bread and market-inspired salads, sandwiches and tarts along with an array of products from KitchenTown makers. The café has an open view of KitchenTown’s central kitchens.
“The view is open to the public” says Schwartz. “The community can sit in the café and look through a full glass wall to see how their food is made and experience small companies at work. It gets people excited about artisan food. We also host team-building events—paella cook-offs are a favorite—and are planning cooking workshops and other community programs. It’s all very exciting, and we are already getting a great response from the neighborhood.”
Not only are they helping local entrepreneurs, it turns out that Schwartz and Solis are food entrepreneurs themselves. When they acquired the KitchenTown facility, they also acquired Anna’s Cookies, who occupied the space. Anna’s is a long-time San Francisco favorite, having been founded in 1938. Schwartz and Solis recently rebranded Anna’s and are planning on building the business along with KitchenTown. “Anna’s was just too good of a brand not to build it,” says Schwartz.