The Hood Kitchen
nce, I was hired by a baking start-up to create and improve their line of vegan cookies and cupcakes. The test kitchen where I worked was a commissary kitchen in a big, scary, warehouse, located in an even bigger and scarier part of town. The ovens looked like industrial incinerators, and the walk-in freezer was bigger than my first apartment. Everything was dark and musty, and I swear the walls in the dish pit grew black mold. My allotted time in the kitchen was late at night, so I would blast Lady Gaga to muffle the creaks and groans and try to forget that I was working in a Freddy Krueger scene.
Despite my dramatic imagination, nothing bad ever happened in that kitchen, but it gave me the heebie-jeebies, so once my contract ended, I was glad to never set foot in there again.
Shelby Coffman and Christie Frazier can relate to my experience. In 2008 they owned a growing catering and meal prep service in Orange County. They needed a commercial kitchen to scale their business, but options for rentable, commercial kitchen space in Orange County were slim. They ended up choosing the least creepy facility they could find, but still, it barely met their standards for cleanliness and professionalism. On one particular night, they had 250 meals to prepare with no kitchen to cook it in. They were locked out. And so the story goes, this fateful lock-out sparked an idea.
That experience inspired Shelby and Christie to take matters into their own hands, so in December 2012, they opened an incubator kitchen in Costa Mesa and called it The Hood Kitchen.
They designed The Hood Kitchen in the vision of everything they wanted in a commercial kitchen space but couldn’t find; cleanliness, professionalism, safety and affordability, all wrapped up in a supportive and entrepreneurial environment. Today it’s home to about 65 culinary entrepreneurs ranging from artisanal chocolates made by a Certified Master Chocolatier to a husband and wife team who specialize in making edible “man bouquets” made out of beef jerky. So far, about 200 businesses have worked in The Hood Kitchen. Several have even graduated to their own brick and mortar spaces.
Its success is due in large part to consumer demand for local products. People are paying dollars and attention to locally made, small-batch, artisanal products. With a licensed and permitted kitchen like The Hood Kitchen, Orange County’s culinary entrepreneurs have a safe, affordable place to create their products and legitimize their growing businesses.
Shelby and Christie gave me a tour of their kitchen, which was the antithesis of Freddy Krueger’s kitchen that once gave me nightmares. For one thing, it’s so clean you could walk around in white socks. The cutting boards are labeled clearly and stacked neatly on rolling speed-racks. The custom appliances shine like they’re brand-new, and the pots and pans aren’t deformed from misuse. Kendra, the owner of Pernicious Pickles, gets ready to make a batch of pickled carrots in one kitchen. In another kitchen, The Manly Man team assembles beef jerky bouquets. The vibe is lively and helpful and refreshingly exciting because everyone in the kitchen knows what it’s like to be a culinary entrepreneur.
In this sense, The Hood Kitchen is like the culinary version of a collaborative workspace. Instead of Google-esque lounge areas, it features six kitchens and The Hood Studio, ideal for hosting cooking classes and tastings. The kitchen flow allows chefs from all different disciplines to gather around the proverbial water-cooler to talk shop on ingredients and techniques and discuss non-chef topics like marketing and packaging.
Orange County is home to culinary entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. Few are classically trained chefs, many had careers far from working in a kitchen, and all have great ideas that may inspire your inner entrepreneurial spirit to say I can do that too. Here’s a snapshot of six local businesses that call The Hood Kitchen home and a look at the people behind the label.
Debra Bonnefin is a researcher who turned her knack for creating spice rubs into an entire line of dry rubs, olive oil dipping spices and popcorn seasoning that pack a serious punch of flavor. She started making rubs 30 years ago as a quick way to make tasty meals for her family. They were a hit, and soon enough, her friends and family convinced her to sell her Rockin’ Rubs. Pair it with meat or veggies, listen to it pop and sizzle on the grill, and enjoy your meal family-style, just like Debra. Order them online or find them in select stores and farmer’s markets throughout Southern California and Colorado.
Red Beards Hand Crafted Hot Sauces are Carolyn and Sean Dick’s “flavorful, not painful” hot sauces meticulously perfected for over ten years. It all began with a 5lb bag of habanero chilis, a smoker and a new calling. A friend gave Sean a bag of habaneros. He needed to figure out a way to use them, so he threw them in the smoker and let them caramelize. Wings seemed like a likely candidate to pair them with, so he whipped up a balanced hot sauce that “packs heat without needing an extinguisher,” and the rest is history. Find Red Beards Hand Crafted Hot Sauces online.
Gourmet Passion Catering
Jamie Wal is a 25-year-veteran of the catering industry with the ability to craft personalized menus from small dinner parties to huge corporate events. She’s a firm believer that only good things happen when you gather around a table, and it’s this passion for nourishing her clients that fuels her to do what she does.
The Abbot’s Butcher
The Abbot’s Butcher specializes in artisan plant-based meat with a flavor and texture that could convince even the most staunch carnivore to adopt a vegan lifestyle. The burger patties aren’t just filled with ground-up black beans and quinoa that crumble upon the first bite and leave you hungry. Kerry Song, the founder of The Abbot’s Butcher, was resolved to create a meat alternative with a hearty texture, made with all-natural ingredients you can pronounce, that would leave you satiated. After a year of research and recipe testing, she created a unique line of plant-based burgers, ground “beef” and “chicken,” Spanish “Chorizo” and Italian “Meatballs.” The Abbot’s Butcher goes to show that you don’t need to survive off of rabbit-food to live a vegan lifestyle. You can still have your burger and enjoy it too. Find The Abbot’s Butcher online or in select stores like Mother’s across Southern California.
The Manly Man Company
Greg and Jacquie Murray had a problem to solve: Why wasn’t there a manlier equivalent to gifting a bouquet? Men deserve flowers too, and so Jacquie hit it out of the park when she surprised her husband with a “man bouquet” of roses made entirely out of beef jerky. And thus, The Manly Man Company was born. They make two bouquets (rose and flower) in three varieties of beef jerky (original, teriyaki, spicy), served in a nifty beer mug. They also make bacon roses with dark chocolate or caramel. It’s a great gift for any occasion, especially Father’s Day, graduations, or as a groomsmen’s gift.
Amy Jo (Valenza) Pedone was at the top of her game in the commercial real estate finance lending industry, when her world was flipped upside-down. Her dear cousin lost her battle to Ovarian Cancer at a very young age. This tragedy forced Amy Jo to take an in-depth look at her life. If she had to start over, what would she do? Her answer wasn’t obvious at first, but she drew inspiration from her 100-year-old Italian family recipes plus Mom’s turtle confections and found her passion in making authentic Italian inspired chocolates. In 2011, she completed her Professional Chocolatier Certification through Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts in Vancouver, Canada. From there, she went on to complete her Ecole Chocolat Master Chocolatier Certification in Italy. She won several coveted awards for her handcrafted chocolates which firmly stamped her name into an elite group of fine chocolatiers. Amy Jo’s chocolates are all handcrafted in small batches, always with Italian flavors and traditions.
The Hood Kitchen | 350 Clinton St, Suite A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 | 714-549-2430