Partner Spotlight of the Month: The Kitchen Network
Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities.
ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight shines a light on partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents and beyond through our real estate investments and community assets.
Congratulations to our October 2021 Partner Spotlight of the Month: The Kitchen Network.
The Culinary Arts buildings at the Park Hill Campus (former Johnson & Wales University) is a world-class asset in the heart of Denver. The building contains 13 state-of-the-art culinary kitchens with a wide range of specialties, including industrial ovens, dining rooms, and even microbiology hoods that can be used for gastronomy. So when Urban Land Conservancy acquired the East side of the Campus, we knew we had to find the perfect partner to utilize this culinary asset. In the summer of 2021, ULC successfully signed a lease with The Kitchen Network as the lead tenant.
The Kitchen Network is Denver’s longest-running shared kitchen, with 24/7 operations. Each year they incubate more than 150 specialty food businesses, most of which are run by people of color. Their primary kitchen operates in the Westwood Neighborhood and is a 12,000-square-foot facility that includes 11 private commercial kitchens and a 2,500-square-foot commissary. With the Kitchen Network’s expansion to the Park Hill Campus, they have significantly expanded their operational capacity on the Northeast side of Denver.
“The Kitchen Network has anchored economic development in the Westwood neighborhood, so when we heard about the opportunity to program the Johnson & Wales University culinary buildings, we knew we had the community-focused model to create inclusive economic development for east Denver,” said Jose Esparza, Executive Director of BuCu West, which is the nonprofit that operates The Kitchen Network. “Being in the Park Hill neighborhood will allow us to reach communities in Aurora, Montbello, East Colfax, and more.”
The Kitchen Network is a case study of workforce development and a kitchen incubator that forms a support business ecosystem. They guide culinary business hopefuls throughout the whole process of starting a business: starting with an idea and ending with a career. In addition, they offer assistance with tedious and often tricky requirements like government processes, scaling, permitting, business planning, and more. They believe that great chefs and innovative ideas will thrive in today’s food-savvy market, which is why it is their objective to make starting a specialty food business accessible. Starting their consulting process with educated and experienced staff provides culinary hopefuls with a premier commercial kitchen that allows them to scale production while also providing the flexibility to absorb the risk of starting a new business.
Another perk of The Kitchen Network’s move to the Park Hill Campus was hiring Jorge de la Torre. Jorge was the Dean of Culinary Education at Johnson & Wales University for 19 years. ULC was able to put Jorge in touch with Jose, and now Jorge is now The Kitchen Network’s Director of Culinary Arts.
“I’ve always loved the culinary world,” said Jorge de la Torre. “Over my experiences, I’ve realized my passions expanded past the restaurant world. I started teaching and loved it. I love sharing my passion for the industry and helping others find their way.”
Jorge is playing an integral role in bringing new programs to the Park Hill Campus and is building a true hub of culinary support. For example, Work Options (formerly Work Options for Women) is a program that helps hard-to-employ individuals overcome personal barriers and obtain employment in the foodservice industry and has been operating for more than 20 years. Work Options is now operating out of the culinary arts building in one of the kitchens and is provides lunches to students at St. Elizabeth’s School on the Campus. Two former Johnson & Wales students are also training Work Options staff.
Another partner in the building is Food Business Consulting, which offers a wide range of food consulting services to clients in the food industry. Like the Kitchen Network, their highly talented team helps take food business hopefuls from project concepts to commercialization. In addition, they have mastered food product development, including manufacturing, regulatory compliance, marketing, sales, and distribution. Steffen Weck (President) and Jessica Cristadoro (COO) are thrilled to be at the Park Hill Campus as well.
“We were set to move into another building before COVID hit, but luckily for us, those plans were put on hold,” said Jessica Cristadoro. “We are feeling fortunate to be in the culinary building here and have access to such incredible kitchen spaces.”
Food Business Consulting (FBC) also has several Johnson & Wales Denver graduates working on their team. Emani is a food scientist and product manager who graduated from JWU with a degree in Baking and pastry and experience in food nutrition and food science. Noah graduated in 2018 with a degree in Culinary Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics and now works as FBC’s regulatory specialist. And finally, Jenna is finishing an internship with FBC to complete her degree at Johnson & Wales.
“It was a bit of a shock when I heard the campus was closing,” said Jenna. “I still had a semester left and needed to complete an internship to graduate. Luckily I’ve been able to finish my classes online and am interning with Food Business Consulting in the place I took so many of my classes!”
The Kitchen Network truly enables a network of support and resources at the Campus to open businesses to new opportunities. ULC is excited to watch the culinary buildings continue to grow into a nexus of culinary career development.
If you are interested in learning more about Kitchen Networks programs and partnerships, contact Jorge de la Torre at Jorge@kndenver.com.