Perhaps the most impressive part of the new Gays Mills Community Commerce Center is the 2,450 square foot shared-use kitchen, known as the Kickapoo Culinary Center.
The purpose of the community kitchen is too encourage food business start-ups. The Director of the Kickapoo Culinary Center is Brad Niemcek.
Niemcek reports to the Gays Mills Economic Development Association, which has a one-year contract with the village to run the community kitchen. Niemcek’s interest in creating a community kitchen began before there was any interest in having one in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center.
Niemcek remembers thinking about starting a shared-use kitchen in the vacant grocery store building is Soldiers Grove. However, in the process of working on the community kitchen, he received a call from a Gays Mills village trustee. From there, it was a whole lot of meetings about creating and managing a community kitchen in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center.
As the design progressed, it was substantially enlarged. The 2,450 square feet will allow more than one operation to be conducted in the kitchen simultaneously. When the 12’x8’ walk-in freezer and 12’x10’ walk-in cooler were added, the architects altered the plans to have the walk-ins added outside the walls of the building to preserve the large working space in the kitchen.
Then, there’s the equipment, Niemcek and others lobbied for a large amount of high-quality kitchen equipment to insure the kitchen could accommodate the food business entrepreneurs it would serve. Their wish list was largely granted. The kitchen currently has over $550,000 worth of top-notch commercial equipment and more is on order.
What does the kitchen have to offer?
There are really two parts to the kitchen—catering and food processing. At points, the separation blurs a bit. As for equipment, well there is plenty of it and it’s “spectacular,” according to Niemcek.
First, there are the convection ovens. The two units can bake things in a half to a third of the time required in a standard oven. The ovens are big enough to bake 10 large cookie trays at once.
There’s another conventional oven on the catering side that is very large and has six range elements on the top.
There is a large griddle capable of handling three-dozen hamburgers at once. There is also a Charbroiler that can handle steaks, chops and more.
There is a large braising cooker that tilts to empty and is capable of being used as a very large and efficient canner.
Although the dishes have yet to arrive, when they do, there is a Hobart dishwasher waiting to clean them.
There is a dough sheeter to produce thin sheets of dough quickly and an industrial-sized Cusinart called a Robot Coupe used in processing vegetables. That’s just a partial list of the equipment in the kitchen.
The entire kitchen is nothing but stainless steel. A special polymer wallboard makes the wall impenetrable and easy to clean. The kitchen has five floor drains.
The kitchen cost $175 per square foot to construct, while the rest of the building averaged $100 per square foot to construct.
Niemcek explained the kitchen is designed to have multiple users working simultaneously. The kitchen’s director believes in a peak month, probably during the fall harvest, the kitchen may make $12,000 per month in rental income.
At this point, state inspectors have not licensed the kitchen, but that should happen in the near future. While some equipment has not been received, it is expected to arrive shortly, according to Niemcek.
Who will use the kitchen?
There are both caterers and food processors interested in using the kitchen. Niemcek is also establishing a co-packing team, which would be available to pack producers fruits or vegetables for a fee.
Among those who are definitely interested in producing their products in the kitchen are the Austins. The couple has a steady presence at the Gays Mills Farmers Market. During the past season, they have used shared-use kitchens in Mineral Point and Viroqua to produce three canned products, which are now available at six stores locally.
Others that have expressed an interest in using the kitchen include a local woman interested in making wedding cakes in the kitchen and a local catering firm.
Niemcek also has fielded inquiries from a person interested in bottling artisanal soft drinks and is currently negotiating rates with the young businessman.
Another woman believes the time has come for locally produced lefse to be sold commercially. She sees the kitchen’s dough sheeter as the equipment that can make it possible, Niemcek explained.
A Gays Mills orchard sees the dough sheeter as a way to cut costs in their bakery operation.
Currently, the kitchen rents to local individuals for $12 per hour with a four-hour minimum ($48) and the time includes cleanup. Outside users would pay $15 per hour with a four –hour minimum ($60).
What might happen?
A large co-operative, which markets fresh vegetables, has contacted the kitchen with an interest in seeing if produce grown by its members could be processed in the kitchen into a food product. Most meet the standards for fresh produce because of cosmetic blemishes.
The Kickapoo Culinary Center has even received an inquiry from a firm based in London, called Food-to-Work. The company uses the creation of elaborate meals as a team-building exercise for companies or organizations looking for an exercise to enhance their employees or members performance.
How much will Niemcek be paid to act as the Director of the Kickapoo Culinary Center?
It depends. The plan is that the director will collect a $50,000 annual salary, but there’s a catch. The salary will only be paid, when the kitchen operation is producing enough money to pay it. That means Niemcek is not currently being paid nor has he been paid for all of his work to this point. In fact it may be some time before the director is paid.
“If we’ve done the financial projections properly and we hit our numbers, we should be able to pay the salary in seven or eight months,” Niemcek said. “Fortunately, I don’t need it.”
Niemcek believes the $50,000 salary will be a necessary component when the kitchen goes to replace him at some point in the future.
“I don’t want to do this forever,” the kitchen’s director said. “I already retired once.”
Niemcek will retire when the facility is “up and running.” He’s thinking that might be in about two years.
What’s the Kickapoo Culinary Center’s goal?
Brad Niemcek has an interesting way of explaining the goal of the shared use kitchen.
“The best food available in the area is now available in private homes,” Niemcek said. “I know I’ve had it. My goal is to have food equal to what the fine family chef’s produce available to the public.”
Niemcek believes there will be a demand for the unique food created in the area and it will allow businesses to be created to meet that demand.
Anyone interested in using the community kitchen or being part of the process can reach Brad Niemcek at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 608-624-3409.