Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Historic West Berkeley Building to Be Reborn as ‘Berkeley Kitchens’

by Luke Tsai
Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 1:09 PM

A long-abandoned historic building at the corner of West Berkeley’s Eighth and Carlton streets (2701 8th St.) is about to see new life as what the owner says will be a first-of-its-kind food production facility. Construction is underway on what will eventually be twelve commercial incubator kitchens under a single roof, each one leased to some up-and-coming food entrepreneur — jam makers, confectioners, nut butterers, and the like.

The tentative name for this unique facility: The Berkeley Kitchens.

Jonah Hendrickson outside the historic West Berkeley building hes reshaping into a first-of-its-kind food production facility.
  • Luke Tsai
  • Jonah Hendrickson outside the historic West Berkeley building he's reshaping into a unique food production facility.
The project is the brainchild of Jonah Hendrickson, a professional sculptor turned real estate redeveloper who previously turned an 85,000 sq. ft. building in West Oakland into a series of studio spaces for artists and other creative types.

Hendrickson, who grew up in Berkeley, said he first became aware of the demand for commercial kitchen space during his prior redevelopment project, when he got a flood of inquiries from food producers — folks who were tired of paying (quite a lot) by the hour to use a shared commercial kitchen, of squeezing into inconvenient time slots and constantly packing their stuff up in Tupperware to wheel in and out on a dolly.

As an artist himself, Hendrickson said he was especially sympathetic to those facing such challenges: “I know what it is to have your own space as a small business.”

Many of the walls dividing each individual kitchen unit have already been framed.
  • Luke Tsai
  • Many of the walls dividing each individual kitchen unit have already been framed.
The twelve kitchens will include eleven standard commercial kitchens — each between 500 and 1,000 square feet in size — and one specially certified dairy production facility, which will be leased to a maker of artisan cheeses. Each unit will come equipped with a commercial hood and fire suppression system and the standard array of required sinks. The two-story facility will also include a shared bathroom, a shared shower, and a parking/loading area.

Otherwise, the overall approach is “plug and play”: Each tenant will bring his or her own fridge/stove/tables/shelving — whatever the particular nature of his or her business requires. Each unit will be responsible for its own utilities bills and for getting certified by the health department.

Though by-the-hour rental won’t be allowed, tenants can sublease their unit, with permission, to make the cost more manageable — though Hendrickson claims that lease terms will be on par with the cost of renting a shared commercial kitchen for just a few days a week.

The site was originally home to Standard Die & Tool Company and later to the Nexus Institute, an art collective that vacated the building, amid some controversy, in 2006. During World War II, cluster bombs were manufactured there — part of the justification for the building’s historical landmark designation. For a food-themed facility, the building is conveniently located a few blocks away from Berkeley Bowl West and the Rocket restaurant supply store.

Hendrickson, in the trenches.
Hendrickson, who purchased the building two years ago, noted that the space comes with several challenges: It requires a seismic renovation and the construction of a (currently nonexistent) sidewalk, and there are limitations as to what can be done to the building’s facade because of its historical designation.

But Hendrickson said he found particular inspiration from the Nexus collective’s thirty-year occupancy of the building.

“That was a vibrant, artistic, creative community — that’s West Berkeley,” he said. “I wanted to provide a facility that contributes to that.”

As such, the space will be geared toward up-and-comers. In other words, Hendrickson won’t be courting the Starbucks or Acme Breads of the world — but perhaps the next Clif Bar: the next food startup success story. So far, those who have shown interest in leasing a kitchen include the cheese maker; a nut butter producer; a catering business; a baker; and a couple of mobile food vendors, who would use their kitchen as a prep space.

No leases have been finalized, but Hendrickson estimates that about eight of the eleven standard commercial kitchens are already accounted for. He expects construction to be completed in January.

For Amy Hamilton, the founder of the Montclair-based Just Relish catering company, the project’s most exciting element is that it will allow food entrepreneurs to have their own space without sacrificing the sense of camaraderie that comes with working side by side in a shared commercial kitchen setting.

Like many in her position, Hamilton’s business had grown to the point where sharing a commercial kitchen no longer made sense, yet she lacked the means to buy her own place. The intent of The Berkeley Kitchens seems to be to provide a happy medium — indeed, Hamilton has laid claim a 1,000-square-foot unit that will allow her to move out of the temporary space she’s been sharing.

As Hamilton put it during a recent visit to her soon-to-be-completed kitchen, “It’s going to be a fun new community of food here.”

For more information about the project, contact Hendrickson at JonahHendrickson@Mac.com.

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