BENZONIA — Carol Vanderberg wants to grow her small granola company, but she couldn’t imagine dropping all of her eggs into one basket to build a $100,000 commercial kitchen.
“You’re talking to a woman who is 60 years old and had a career,” Vanderberg said, after an early morning session baking in the Grow Benzie Incubator Kitchen.
The 1,600-square-foot Incubator Kitchen celebrates one year of operation today at 6 p.m. with a reception and open house.
Vanderberg, like many of the seven other food business owners who use the kitchen, operated her company, Granola Empire, for the past four years in her home kitchen, where she produced artisinal granola bars. She tested flavor combinations and sold her products at farmers markets.
But the cottage food industry law that applied to her home-based business didn’t allow Vanderberg to produce and sell food for wholesale distribution. It prevented her from expanding to a year-round market by selling her products to grocery stores.
Vanderberg recently became the eighth licensed food producer to work in the fledgling community kitchen project.
“To rent a space economically ... I don’t have to employ people 24 hours around the clock,” she said.
Incubator Kitchen Manager Lisa Richter Manrow said the kitchen opened its doors in June 2013 with a flood of interest from potential entrepreneurs. Only a couple of those people immediately took advantage of the kitchen and business resources provided by Grow Benzie.
But several business owners signed up as the year progressed.
Now the kitchen acts as home base for everything from a chocolate sauce company to a bread maker.
“A lot of folks are bridging between the farmer’s market to working to develop wholesale accounts,” Richter Manrow said. “It’s a low-risk way to really test your product and your market and your business.”