Blue Oven Kitchens helps local food entrepreneurs get started

Troy Parson and Taylor Daugherty, both 25, prepare popsicles using the industrial kitchen space provided by Blue Oven Kitchens.

Troy Parson and Taylor Daugherty, both 25, prepare popsicles using the industrial kitchen space provided by Blue Oven Kitchens.

Among the wild mushroom, sunflower, raw milk, and fermented tea stands of the Union Street Farmers’ Market, Taylor Daugherty stands at his Pop Stop — a small cart filled with natural popsicles concocted hours ago in a kitchen on Main Street.

Call it unconventional, but these pops aren’t cherry flavored or injected with Red 40.

“They’re well received,” Daugherty said. “But some of the flavors seem a little scary.”

To first-timers, he recommends the pineapple. For the more adventurous customers, vanilla and orange basil are up for grabs.

Daugherty was inspired by popsicle vendors in bigger metropolitan areas like Atlanta and wanted to bring the idea to Gainesville. His friends from the Jones Eastside, a local eatery, told him about a new non-profit organization that could help him.

Enter Blue Oven Kitchens (BOK), which matched him up with an inspected kitchen that he could have access to 24/7. It’s all part of a bigger mission to nurture and support local food entrepreneurs.

According to Forbes Magazine, start-up costs for a new business can range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on how elaborate the plans are. Then comes the fun part — property, licenses, permits and tax forms.

“You have to do it in an inspected kitchen,” said Val Leitner, one of the founders of BOK. “So unless you’re going to build it yourself or serendipitously form your own relationship with an inspected kitchen that’s owned by a restaurant, and you’re a very resourceful person who’s willing to look up all of the regulations and do all the research yourself, it’s a pretty formidable process.”

BOK, along with affiliates like Hogtown HomeGrown, the Citizens Co-op and the Center for Innovative and Economic Development at Santa Fe College, works to encourage a local food economy.

BOK’s future goal is to raise enough money to build its own inspected kitchen. But for now, it is actively matching renters like Daugherty with already existing inspected kitchens in town via the Referral Service Program. BOK also has “Lite-Fare” workshops to teach prospective businesspeople or curious cooks the inside scoop of the culinary trade.

“We play matchmaker,” Leitner said. “We don’t charge for it, but we do ask for donations.”

The idea took off with Leitner, Maya Garner and Stefanie Hamblen. They visited existing kitchen incubators across the U.S. to get ideas and saw a helpful model from Blue Ridge Kitchen Ventures in North Carolina. The basic goal is to serve the community by making farm fresh local goods more widely accessible.

“You can’t go into a restaurant and get a local egg,” Leitner said.

BOK is working with its partner, Slow Food Gainesville, to provide the tools via the Farm-to-Restaurant Initiative that small farmers need to educate themselves on getting their local products to family dining tables.

BOK is currently fundraising, planning workshops and introducing cooks to kitchens, and it only looks to expand.

From farmer to kitchen and cook to consumer, fresh food shouldn’t be so hard to find. And BOK is looking to turn that concept into a reality for North Central Florida.

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