The “incubator kitchen” at the Island County Fairgrounds continues to hatch even as 4-H exhibits swirled around it during the recent Whidbey Island Fair.
The plan to renovate and expand the commercial kitchen inside the Coffman Building moved another step closer to reality last week.
Island County commissioners agreed at a Wednesday work session meeting to support a $137,500 grant request to overhaul the kitchen. It was submitted by the Port of South Whidbey District, new landlord of the fairgrounds.
Commissioners agreed the plan fit the criteria for Island County Rural Economic Development Funds.
Incubator kitchens are typically shared and rented at lower costs to help launch start-up food businesses.
“It’s all return on investment,” Commissioner Rick Hannold said.
Commissioner Jill Johnson said she supported it, but noted the district had other funding requests too.
“This is a big ask,” she said. “I don’t have concerns about granting it other than the fact that I don’t want a big ask next year.”
The total Coffman kitchen renovation is estimated to cost $275,000.
“We anticipate that the port’s cost will be at least $137,500,” said Angi Mozer, outgoing port executive director.
The port district is also researching building an additional incubator brewery space, at an estimated cost of $350,000, to rent to start-up brewery businesses or wine producers.
A few local food outlets and farms already rent time and space within the Coffman commercial kitchen to cook, bake and prepare products, including Mutiny Bay Blues blueberry farm, which makes its own granola and other food items. The port entered into a memorandum of understanding with Goosefoot Community Fund to expand the kitchen.
“Since both of our missions include economic development, it’s a perfect partnership,” commented Marian Myszkowski, Goosefoot director of program and fund development.
The plan is to triple the size of the active kitchen space and purchase additional equipment so more enterprising cooks have access to commercial space, a commodity in short supply on Whidbey.
“With a very active local food system here on Whidbey Island, the time is right for another commercial kitchen offering the necessary equipment and storage to facilitate the development of new food businesses,” Myszkowski said.
Designing, remodeling and construction will be funded by the rural economic development grant, Mozer said.
“We also have recently received news that we have been awarded a $30,000 grant from the USDA Rural Business Development Grant for the purchase of two commercial hoods for the kitchen space,” she said.
Coffman kitchen has been used for baking and cooking during the Whidbey Island Fair. Saturday, Madison Thompson created a blueberry pie as her grandmother looked on. Thompson entered the pie in the 4-H pie-making contest.
While the port deals with property renovations, Goosefoot is ready to provide essential cooking and baking needs. It will also manage the kitchen, providing marketing, rental agreements and oversee the kitchen’s schedule.
“Goosefoot will be purchasing the additional commercial food processing and baking equipment necessary, including the walk-in cooler,” Myszkowski said. “There will be a separate baking kitchen added and space for dry storage.”
Goosefoot’s purchase of commercial kitchen equipment is estimated to cost between $75,000 and $90,000.
The kitchens will be available for rental by the hour, with discounts for heavy usage. The current Coffman kitchen is about 342 square feet.
“We plan to expand that to about 1,204 square feet of active kitchen space, the square footage of which would include a walk-in cooler and dry storage,” Mozer said.