CHICAGO – When it comes to increasing food and beverage production, stand-alone kitchen leases are rare to come by but needed, especially by startups that often don’t have large enough initial orders to utilize a co-packer nor the capital to build their own kitchen.

Amped Kitchens opened its doors in October in Chicago inside a 30-year vacant Zenith factory, providing lease-ready kitchens to established companies. Amped already has two locations in Los Angeles, where for the past seven years, Brian Albert and Mott Smith, co-owners and co-founders, have been helping food manufacturers expand their businesses. This includes those requiring research and development and pilot production space.

“The Amped team sees the incredible potential in bringing this facility and their expertise to Chicago, and it’s a great addition to our local food and beverage scene,” said Alan Reed, executive director of Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network. “Amped offers unique facilities to support fast-growing emerging brands and startups, as well as the quickly evolving catering and home-meal delivery categories.”

Each lease includes the amenities needed by growing food businesses: refrigerated, frozen and dry storage, as well as office space, meeting rooms, attended shipping docks, packing rooms and an on-site US Department of Agriculture office. In addition, Amped Kitchen tenants have access to expedited government approvals and easier certification pathways, including organic and kosher.

“Before Amped Kitchens was established, we saw too many good food businesses fail to keep up with growth and demand,” Mr. Smith said. “We want to provide producers a simpler way to grow.” 

Well-known companies, such as Halo Top and Beyond Meat, used Amped in Los Angeles to ramp up growth. Now in Chicago, local businesses like Two Fish Crab Shack and Soul Vegan are leasing space for commercial production. Some companies, such as Seattle-based Ellenos, are renting space to expand the brand into the Chicago region. The kitchen’s refrigerators allow for storage of product for sampling events, as well as an office for the coordinator.

All Amped spaces are inspected by health officials, and tenants may bring in their own specialized equipment and production staff.

“Growing food companies tell us the costs, complexity and time needed to secure their own permitted space are an enormous burden,” Mr. Albert said. “They need to be producing in a matter of weeks — not months or years — and Amped can make that happen.”

The Chicago location is approximately 118,000 square feet. The building had been mostly empty until Amped invested $25 million to renovate it, redeploying 63,000 square feet of the facility to include HVAC, electric and other building systems.

“Amped provides serious food entrepreneurs the ability to scale in a meaningful way thanks to their various-sized private, flexible kitchens, sizable freezer and cooler spaces, and a multi-door dock, providing the entrepreneur’s flexibility throughout their growth,” said Lance Avery, chef and founder, Avery Innovations LLC/Big Fork Brands, Chicago. 

The 64 production spaces vary in size from 150 square feet to 2,000 square feet. As of mid-October, 30% of the units were rented, accounting for 50% of the available square footage.

“Our tenants are growing companies that need agile kitchen facilities now before they decide to take it to the next level and invest millions of dollars building their own space,” Mr. Smith said. 

A focus of Amped is to revitalize neighborhoods by taking underutilized industrial buildings and renovating them for high-intensive food production use. Each Amped location provides 200 to 300 jobs when at full capacity, according to the company.

“Small businesses bore the brunt of the pandemic’s impact and they are now leading the way in the recovery,” said Meghan Harte, executive director, Local Initiatives Support Corp., Chicago.