What are Commercial and Commissary Kitchens? (+How to Rent One)
November 20, 2019
If you’re a current or soon to be food truck or pop-up restaurant owner, you understand how difficult it can be to prep and store food supplies with limited space and resources.
On top of that, it can be difficult to expand a business when there’s literally no room to do so.
Fortunately, this limited space does not have to hold you back; commissary kitchens can solve nearly all of your spacing issues, and likely offer extra benefits you didn’t even know you needed.
Throughout this article, you will learn what commercial and commissary kitchens specifically are, why they are used, how much they cost, steps how to find and rent the perfect kitchen, and pros and cons of renting commercial kitchens – giving you all the information needed to decide whether a commissary kitchen is right for you with tips on how to get started finding one.
Commissary kitchens are commercial-grade, established cooking and storage facilities that are licensed for food service providers to use for their food preparation and storage.
Similar to ghost kitchens, these spaces are rented out by the kitchen’s owner, meaning that, like any landlord, they are responsible for staying up-to-date on any health and safety regulations and paying for permits.
However, that does not mean that renters should not abide by the health and safety regulations, it’s important to be a good tenant to help ensure the commissary kitchen you’re using continues to receive good health ratings – as this can affect your brand reputation as well.
Commissary kitchens are most often used by food truck owners and independent chefs, as they are a cheaper way to gain access high-quality kitchen equipment – especially for chefs who aren’t looking to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant and have little need to actually own high-tech, expensive equipment.
There are many reasons why a commercial kitchen may be of great use to chefs all around the world.
Commissary kitchens allow chefs who otherwise would not have access to the space and equipment needed to share their delicious food with their community – which would be a loss for the chef him or herself and the bellies in the community that aren’t being filled by the tasty concoctions that chef has up their sleeves.
Some of the most prominent reasons to use a commercial kitchen are:
They’re Cost Friendly
Commissary kitchens are rented, meaning that the costs of using the facility are immensely lower than buying a space of your own, purchasing equipment, and paying all the permits and licensing.
While rent at a commissary kitchen can get fairly pricey, depending on the kitchen, the rent is still lower and much less commitment than making official purchases.
A Short-Term Commitment
Renting commissary kitchens can be short-term. Whether opening a seasonal food truck or in need of a space to cook while preparing to eventually open your own brick-and-mortar restaurant, renting space in a commissary kitchen allows you to have the flexibility to move around the country with your food truck or temporarily have access to a grade-A kitchen before you can afford one of your very own.
Size and Technology
Commissary kitchens are spacious and offer access to high-tech kitchen appliances. If you’re operating in a small space, such as a food truck, then you likely don’t have the option to spread out while cooking or purchase larger kitchen equipment.
Renting space in a commissary kitchen gives you more room to create and experiment with your food.
They Meet Food Regulation Laws
Specifically for food truck vendors, some areas in the United States have regulations that prevent the preparation of food in trucks. Therefore, food truck chefs need a place to prepare food before selling it from the truck. Commissary kitchens are an optimal place, as they give food truck vendors the freedom to relocate whenever they want without breaking any laws by preparing food in their trucks.
Renting space in a commercial kitchen offers a lot more flexibility to a chef, which is a great benefit for chefs who enjoy moving around, are just starting out on their own business ventures, and looking for something less permanent, like a pop-up restaurant.
As previously mentioned, renting a commissary kitchen can get fairly expensive. However, compared to the costs of purchasing space, equipment, and permit and licensing fees, renting a commissary kitchen is still much less of a financial burden.
It’s important to note that renting a commissary kitchen is not a long term fiscal investment in a direct sense. However, it could be a tool that helps you boost the quality of your food truck or pop-up restaurant, in turn, giving you a better reputation and bringing in more business. Then, it may become more financially savvy to lease your own kitchen, but until then, a commissary kitchen is likely the best choice.
The cost of renting a commissary kitchen, as with all rent, depends on location, size, and amenities (appliances available).
Typically, renting a commissary kitchen is by the hour and ranges from $15-to-$35 per hour.
Another cost to include, on top of rent, is the few permits and licenses you need simply for operating a restaurant in the United States – regardless of if you own a kitchen or not.
As will all businesses in the United States, you will need a business license. Registration for a business license costs $50, and the actual license can cost anywhere between $25 and $7,000 – depending on your business.
Additionally, you will need a food handlers card and product (food) liability insurance. While these might seem like silly add-ons, they are actually better for you in the long run.
Having a food handlers card proves that the other food handlers using the kitchen and yourself have all been trained, which helps prevent the kitchen from being exposed to any unsanitary handling. Food handlers cards and training are typically very inexpensive, costing up to $15.
Product liability insurance is also beneficial, as it protects food vendors from lawsuits and general liability. Liability insurance typically costs between $200 and $400.
If renting a commissary kitchen seems to be the right choice for you, it’s time to find the right kitchen for your cooking and storage needs.
The following four steps map out all that goes into renting a commissary kitchen from initial planning and research to booking time slots, renting, and signing contracts.
1. List out all of your kitchen needs
Different commissary kitchens will have various amenities and cater to different needs of chefs.
Before looking into commercial kitchens, make a list of everything you’re hoping to get out of renting preparation and storage space.
If you need somewhere not as spacious or high-tech, you don’t want to overpay for a commercial kitchen that’s more than you need.
Similarly, if you are looking for a more upscale commercial kitchen, you don’t want to sign a contract for a kitchen only to find out it doesn’t have an essential appliance you need.
Make a checklist to ensure each commercial kitchen you consider renting from marks off every box to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.
Consider what equipment you’ll need, how much preparation space you’re seeking, how much storage space you’ll need and if that storage has any specific requirements, and even how much help you’ll want or need if staff aid is available or you need room for more than one cook.
Mapping out your specific requirements will help narrow down your search and find the right commissary kitchen faster.
2. Search for local commercial kitchens
Once you have all your preferences written down on a checklist, you can start searching for commercial kitchens in the surrounding area you’re looking to prepare and store your food.
You can narrow down your search even further by filtering through not just the commercial kitchens that fulfill your cooking needs, but the ones in convenient locations for you.
Once you find your best option or options, you can compare pricing to find the best bang for your buck.
This is also a good time to ask further questions or about any extra perks than can help sway your choice, like classes, demos, company culture, etc.
Some questions to ask include:
– What are the health and safety inspection ratings?
– Are cleaning facilities included?
– Are dumpsters and waste/recycling included in the amenities?
– Is any specific insurance required? If so, what kind?
3. Time slot availability
Another consideration when searching for a commissary kitchen is when you’re looking to use it.
Decide what time of day you’re planning to prep food and how many hours this will take.
This can also help narrow your options if time slots are only available to your preference in one of your final options.
4. Sign the contract
Finally, once you’ve found the commissary kitchen of your dreams and decided when and how long you’ll use it, it’s time to sign the contract and start prepping.
All commissary kitchens offer the same idea: Rented space to a chef who needs more room or equipment to prepare their food. However, there are various types of commissary kitchens to choose from to help each chef acquire their specific needs.
Depending on preferences and needs, different types of commercial kitchens offer diverse benefits.
1. Shared commercial kitchen
A shared commercial kitchen is often the best option for chefs cooking for smaller audiences and require less product storage at a time, such as food truck or pop-up restaurant owners.
The space is just as it sounds: shared. It’s a fully equipped kitchen that fulfills all your cooking and space needs. However, if you don’t need an outstanding amount of space, it’s likely the kitchen is way too big for just you, so it’s shared with designated spaces for each renter at a time.
This is a cheaper option, as you aren’t paying to rent the kitchen entirely on your own. As it is cheaper, it also can be more difficult to find a slot that fits your preferences and needs timing-wise. So, finding a shared commercial kitchen can be a bit trickier to find, but when found, be worth the search.
These types of commissary kitchen are similar to the concept of central kitchens.
2. Private commercial kitchen
A private commercial kitchen is essentially the same as a shared kitchen, except the entire space and storage is yours. However, this also means that the entire lease is yours, so private commercial kitchens are often more expensive.
A private commercial kitchen is best for chefs who need specialized equipment, a lot of space, or longer periods of time in the kitchen.
Some instances when a private commercial kitchen may come in handy include owning multiple food trucks or pop-ups around the city where food preparation and storage is needed for all of them – the private commercial kitchen can then act as a hub for all food prep and storage needs.
3. Renting a current restaurant’s kitchen
If your prep hours don’t overlap with a restaurant near your desired location that is renting out its kitchen when closed, renting an operating restaurant’s kitchen before opening or after closing may be the right choice.
This gives the benefit of having a private kitchen at a lower cost, but it does mean working around the primary restaurant’s schedule and will likely not offer the amenities of a commercial kitchen built specifically to rent out.
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4. Non-traditional commercial kitchens
If you can’t find a good option from typical commissary kitchens in your area, consider looking into less obvious kitchens that may offer everything you need.
Community centers, schools, religious hubs, and other buildings with large kitchen may be unconventional, but all meet the health and safety requirements needed and may be willing to rent out their space during off hours.
These off hours may be more flexible than another restaurant’s, and it will likely be cheaper to rent in one of these facilities as well. However, similar to renting from another restaurant during off-hours, amenities will not be as fancy as in a commissary kitchen built for rentals.
Renting a commercial kitchen can offer many benefits for chefs in need of prep and storage space that are on a budget.
The most notable benefits of renting commercial kitchens are:
- Cost is less than long-term purchases.
- There is much less commitment both financially and time-wise.
- Location can be catered to your preferences with multiple options likely available in the surrounding area.
- The equipment available is ideal for any cooking prep needs, as the kitchen can be chosen based on its appliances.
- Commercial kitchens offer safe storage space that prevent chefs from losing food before it can be used to make tasty meals.
- Many commissary kitchens offer parking, which can be ideal when bringing bags or boxes of products in to prep and store.
- Many commissary kitchens provide additional amenities, such as cleaning and maintenance supplies, demos, etc.
- Shared commercial kitchens create a community of chefs, which can be a great way to share ideas or build connections in the food industry.
While renting a commercial kitchen can be a wonderful thing and help many chefs, there are a few downsides to consider.
Some of the most notable downsides of renting a commercial kitchen include:
- While cost is lower than purchasing space and equipment of your own, it is still fairly expensive to rent a commercial kitchen, and not all start-up chefs may be able to afford it.
- While having the freedom to find a commissary kitchen in your ideal location is a major perk, a lot of commissary kitchens happen to be outside of city centers due to cheaper real estate. Therefore, finding the perfect kitchen in the perfect location can be tricky.
- If you aren’t looking to rent a private commercial kitchen, then you have to consider the difficulty in scheduling time slots among shared kitchen chefs or between a working establishment and its renter.
Finding the perfect kitchen in the perfect location with time slots at a convenient time for every chef can be difficult to find, but if it can be found, then it’s all worth the research and negotiations.
Get Renting, and Get Prepping!
Commissary kitchens have clear pros and cons for chefs of food trucks, pop-up restaurants, those those just starting out, and on.
However, if you’re in need of more food prep and storage space and looking to find a kitchen where you can join a community and build your business to create more success in the future, renting a commercial kitchen could be the best short-term investment you can make for your business.
It’s time to map out your dream kitchen and start searching for a new place to create all your delicious meals. Bon Appetit!
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