Commercial Kitchen 305: A Community for Culinary Entrepreneurs
When we talk about being successful in Miami, or in any other city in the world, one word that rarely makes the list of notable attributes is “selfless.” Climbing the ladder of any industry, culinary or otherwise, requires a certain amount of getting comfortable with the idea that someone will be left behind along the way. For Commercial Kitchen 305, that scenario just would never fly. Nestled just down 79th ST from our neighborhood, the culinary incubator space and commercial kitchen has helped dozens of now household favorites find their way to success, often putting their own on the back burner. Basically, “selfless” is their middle name.
Kefren and Maria Arjona have been in the food and beverage industry long enough to know just how fickle the market is. Tastes change, teams don’t mesh, and even the greatest concepts don’t make it off the ground. What many restaurants and entrepreneurs lack when first starting out is a proper launchpad, a place where experimentation can happen freely and muscles can be toned enough to make it. That’s where Commercial Kitchen 305 comes in. It’s a transitional period for businesses until they’re strong enough to find their own place. The Eastside kitchen provides a co-working-style space for nearly 30 small businesses to taste and make their products outside of their own home, and with Kefren’s insurance, marketing, and business background, these business owners have every tool they need to succeed.
Chances are, you’ve tasted the products of one of their tenants. Beloved eats like Wynwood Parlor, Viv’s Waffles, Artichoke Foods, and Pamela Wasabi all use their kitchen to concoct their delicious goods. And of course you’ve heard of The Salty Donut, one of their very first tenants and a business they saw grow from a team of two, to one of 6, and eventually until they could take over a production space of their own. But to the Arjonas, it isn’t a regular tenant-landlord relationship. This is a partnership and they see themselves as early investors in each one of these businesses. He’s personally put in capital to see them strive. Take Pamela Wasabi for example, he purchased two additional ovens specifically for her product and demand growth, without ever increasing her rent cost. “Everyone here has a story,” he said “and we help them tell it.”
And while they’ve witnessed and played a key role in the entrepreneurial success of their tenants, their story is less joyful. After attempting several restaurant concepts in the space to no avail, the couple was left in substantial debt while figuring out their next move. Meanwhile, the kitchen sat unused until several catering companies reached out to use the space for food production. Then came the female entrepreneurs looking to start their own sweet lines. This is when the Miami Herald came calling, spotlighting the space as the first and only incubator kitchen in the state–let alone the city. While the small businesses were beginning to gain strength, Kefren and Maria were still dealing with financial struggles of their own and had to make a personal decision: sell their house or keep their business. Five years later and they still don’t own a home of their own.
The loss was significant, but Kefren saw no other choice but to help these business owners in their hour of need because to them, the kitchen is their “chance to give back to the community.” They’ve created a pop-up window, currently occupied by Wynwood Parlor and Mexican concept Bad Hombres, for the tenants to sell to consumers directly from the property with a zero-stress access to market. They’ve helped businesses like healthy prepared food tenant Athletic Fit design a kitchen now that they’re ready to have their own space. “To me, that’s the greatest reward,” said Kefren. They’re starting a culinary intern program for high school students interested in working in the industry. They’ve even purchased the neighboring location and are currently transforming it into a full-scale production bakery and taqueria for his dessert tenants and Mexican concept “because I have faith in what they’re trying to do.”
You can hear the pride in his voice as he gushes about his tenants (which he respects as artisans), like a parent about their children. You can feel the love and comfort as you walk into the kitchen, Pamela Wasabi whistling in the corner as she makes her famous cookies. Everything at Commercial Kitchen 305 feels like home to these people, and rightfully so. “This is all built on trust,” he said. The production kitchen might be modeled off of similar culinary incubator concepts like San Francisco’s La Cocina, but the place is entirely Miami. It’s fresh, friendly, and full of flavor. The most important thing to everyone involved here, tenant or owner, is family. And that’s exactly what they’ve built.
Although job creation is their strongest goal at the kitchen, they’ve seen little help from the city, county, or state. They don’t even know how to apply for a grant. After years of putting others first, it’s time the neighborhood and the city know their story. Swing by and say hi, reach out for a helping hand, or just share this story so we all can play a role in a potentially good piece of news for a change. It’s time we follow by example and help those who need us the most. They certainly have.