Bob Lepley wants you to come and cook in his kitchen. He has four of them after all and all are complete with state-of-the-art stainless steel convection ranges and matching refrigeration units.
Currently he has nine budding food businesses cooking in his kitchens and he is looking for more. Lepley operates a certified commercial kitchen called Chef’s Workshop available for rent on an hourly basis. The Chef's Workshop website points out the “convenient 5,000 square foot facility enables caterers, bakers, food entrepreneurs, and aspiring chefs the opportunity to start or expand their business in a legitimate certified facility, with minimal risk, cost, and hassle.” Chef’s Workshop is a new workspace business format called “hoteling”.
Hoteling is a version of the virtual office arrangement. It provides for a physical locale – appropriately equipped for the industry – for a smallish fee. In the case of Chef’s Workshop, the equipment includes ranges, refrigerators and freezers, with storage and party space and all for a flat fee well under what would be required if the business had to rent a full commercial space and buy equipment. And in the case of some industries - like catering where the profit margin is quite small - this service often makes the difference between the business making it or not. “Start-up for food service is so expensive” Lepley says, “that this break in start-up money expense can mean the difference between someone being able to do this or not.”
The hoteling format is becoming more and more popular for purposes of incubation and a growing trend of part-time business ownership. Advertising agency Chiat/Day is credited with the original concept of providing the transient office location back in 1994. Other hoteling arrangements in and around Birmingham include Salon Suites Alabama. Salon Suites, which opened this year, is the first such location for hair salons in Alabama and Pepper Place Market, makes merchandising opportunities available for craft people and boutique farmers in Birmingham. Before that, there were the flea markets and swap meets offering anyone a space for the day often for no charge to the vendor. Alabama boasts the World’s Largest Flea Market stretching from Gadsden, Al to Hudson, MI, a distance of some 694 miles.
The hoteling concept offers other benefits to start-ups – at least in the case of Chef’s Workshop. Start-up for food service also includes a sometimes overwhelming amount of paperwork. But Chef’s Workshop takes care of that too by having its own licensing and health certifications in place. Renters then are covered by the Chef’s Workshop licensing. Lepley observes that “some clients have outgrown their home business but are not yet ready for all the expense and burden of licensing of a stand alone business and this is perfect for them.” In addition, although Lepley is not a chef, he is a veteran business person with better than two decades in the mortgage business and is able to provide level-headed advice that helps with business decisions.