Amai rents a space at the Artisan Baking Center in Long Island City to do our baking. It has been a wonderful way to get up and running quickly without having to sign a long term lease or invest in commercial equipment before we were ready. The Artisan Baking Center (also known as Mi Kitchen es Su Kitchen, a program run by organizer Kathrine Gregory) was featured in the New York Times dining section today, complete with a big picture of me in a hair net. I was at the kitchen that day working on new recipes for the store. In the picture you will see some test ingredients for Earl Grey & Currant scones (which came out delicious), and Green Tea Ganache tarts (which failed).
As the article hints at, I have mixed feelings about the kitchen that we use. When I first started the company I had no idea how to produce our products in a large scale, legal way. I didn’t even know if the concept would work, and I needed a way to prove it was worth pursuing. Finding the kitchen was a dream come true. It wasn’t too far from Manhattan, we could rent it only on the days we needed, and it came fully stocked with big commercial baking equipment. We got our permits and started production right away.
As time went on and we got more customers, it became harder and harder to work in a shared space. We have to keep our ingredients and equipment in a separate storage area, and that takes about 2 hours a day to set up and tear down during each shift. It makes working efficiently almost impossible, not to mention expensive, considering storage is charged separately from kitchen rental. The kitchen is also used as a cooking school, which limits our access. We have to work at nights or on the weekends, and that is not practical for a regular production schedule. I’m not comfortable having my employees work late at night in Long Island City, yet we can’t always wait until Friday to bake. It requires some creativity and planning to keep orders flowing smoothly, and it often comes at the expense of sleep and/or weekends.
The kitchen is used by a wide variety of food companies. As the article also mentions, I have had a hard time sharing refrigerator space with companies that make pickles and salmon. At the same time, I have really enjoyed sharing the space with other bakers and confectioners like Debbie’s Soulful Sweets and Mr. Kuusisto, a Finish bread baker. Debbie’s family is in there every weekend with us, and it has been a pleasure to smell her wonderful cakes and talk with her about her experience at the Harlem Farmers Market. I also hope to use Mr. Kuusisto’s bread for sandwiches at our new store.
Overall, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to use the Artisan Baking Center. It helped Amai grow in a legal, productive way. We have truly used the space as an incubator, and are now ready to move out on our own. All baking and packaging will be done at the Gramercy store once it opens. I was hoping that would start in August, but with plumbers not showing up recently and delays in flooring, we’re behind schedule. Luckily since we can rent the Artisan Baking Center as we need, we can still keep the company going until the store is ready, and that’s not a luxury most new businesses have.
Thanks to Russ and Matt Halpern for letting me know the article came out today!
When Cooks’ Dreams Outgrow Their Ovens
New York Times Dining In Section
August 8, 2007
Full article here (may require log-in)