The still-struggling economy is stifling the business aspirations of would-be entrepreneurs who do not have the access to capital necessary to get an operation up and running. This is especially true in the quick-serve industry, where the costs of leasing a space and building out a kitchen can be too much to afford.

A new Durham, North Carolina, venture hopes to give restaurant entrepreneurs a shot at their dream business by taking care of the kitchen part of the equation. The Cookery offers services that will be useful for wannabe quick serves—especially food trucks.

Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and Rochelle Johnson launched The Cookery last week in a historic Durham building that formerly held the Durham Food Co-Op. It offers cooking space to culinary hopefuls who can rent the facility’s bakery and production kitchen by the hour.

“A buddy of mine called me up and asked me if I knew of a place where he could rent commercial kitchen space,” Hawthorne-Johnson says.

“It got me thinking, ‘I bet there are other people that could use that.’ As I thought about it, I realized it was the perfect opportunity for me to be involved in helping people create something that they can then take off and do themselves that will contribute to the food scene here.”

The food scene in Durham is growing quickly and earning national attention, and food trucks are lending to the reputation. Nearly 20 trucks prowl the small city’s streets, serving everything from Korean barbecue to gourmet pizzas.  

To benefit those trucks, The Cookery features a loading bay area for easy food-truck access. The venture’s debut was even celebrated with a “food truck rodeo” that collected several trucks in one spot for an evening.

Still, Johnson makes clear that food-truck operators are not the only entrepreneurs who can take advantage of The Cookery’s 1,100-square-foot facility.

“I think we’re misconceived as a food-truck facility, [but] we’re open to all sorts of different businesses,” she says. “There are this many [trucks] starting right now, and we’re the only facility in Durham to fit that need. [And] I think there are going to be a lot more coming up in the next year.”

Interested entrepreneurs must apply to become a member of The Cookery and, once a member, pay an annual membership fee. Members then have access to The Cookery’s online scheduling service, and can rent the facility for between $15 and $30 an hour, depending on the hours. The Cookery will be open 24/7.  

The Cookery will also have an Incubator that will provide members with seminars and workshops on marketing, branding, and design, among other things. Industry professionals from across the country will lead the workshops, and the Incubator will also help members develop relationships with local businesses and organizations.

“Right now people are out of work, they’re looking for things to do, trying to be creative—people with not a lot of capital,” Hawthorne-Johnson says.

“The goal is to be able to encourage people to cook, encourage people to be involved in food, encourage people to take seriously the idea that they could open a food business. With this it makes it accessible and conceivable for people that don’t have either immense capital or access to credit.”

By Sam Oches

Back of House, Design, Growth, Menu Innovations, News, Restaurant Operations