The mayor of KitchenTown
Pea protein cookies. Candied bacon caramel corn. Authentic ramen meal kits.
These are among the food concepts cooked up in KitchenTown, a fully licensed production facility and start-up incubator in San Mateo, Calif.
“In 2014, I saw all of these food start-ups coming up with amazing ideas and passionate founders and there was no real place to scale these companies up and they would face huge hurdles,” said Rusty Schwartz, founder of KitchenTown. “We built KitchenTown as what we call a scale-up facility, where people can come in to a facility that’s properly equipped and scale up a concept and find connections and the technical expertise, stay there for a year or two years to scale up to $1 million or $2 million size ... and they get too big and we kick them out.”
Unlike other shared kitchens and commissaries around the country, KitchenTown offers the equipment and infrastructure for early-stage businesses seeking to expand, Mr. Schwartz said.
“There are forklifts and pallets of ingredients coming in, and there are pallets of finished goods going out,” he said. “So people have that opportunity to really scale it up...
“Overlaid on top of that is the education piece. People who are there need more than just a facility. They need connections. They need to understand how to build a team. They need to understand how to get their technical expertise that’s required.”
Through the project, Mr. Schwartz said he also is helping large, established companies learn from and connect with young brands to foster innovation.
“The big companies are experiencing negative growth; they can’t innovate very well because they just aren’t built that way, and then you have all of these companies that are nimble and creative and excited and passionate and are willing to take risks that these big companies just can’t because they’re not set up to do that,” he said. “They’re figuring this out and are coming around in droves and they’re trying to figure out, ‘How can we act more like a start-up? How can we work with these start-ups?’
“It forces us to be innovative ourselves in how to build systems and programs where that can happen. We’re just in the very early stages of that, but it’s a very promising space. We’re able to do a certain amount of matchmaking, if you will, with companies that are working in particular categories with start-ups that are working in those same categories, and the start-ups need the technical expertise that the big companies have, and the big companies need the innovation that the small companies have.”