'Incubator' kitchen to open in River Forest

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Mattie Cook

Contributing reporter

Sensing a community-wide need for a collaborative culinary space, Adam Friedberg of Brand and Company, along with partners Mike Streit and John Schiess, has worked to bring local culinary artisans together in creation and collaboration through River Forest Kitchen. 

The enterprise has been in the works for a little more than a year, and combines the real estate acumen of the three business partners with the culinary and business-building expertise of clients. The venture is expected to include the skills of local culinary artisans as well as a food photographer who has signed on to share the space. 

By teaming up with local business owners such as Elizabeth Madden, the founder of Rare Bird Preserves, River Forest Kitchen hopes to provide learning opportunities and guidance for artisans based upon the culinary and business knowledge of those who have succeeded in the food industry realm. 

"We plan to help beginner entrepreneurs starting artisan businesses to grow, and then ensure that success by partnering with people like Elizabeth who have had success," Friedberg said. 

Madden, whose culinary business was launched as a result of a career change, found her passion for jam-making while studying at the French Pastry School in Chicago.

"One day we did jams and it was just sort of an 'aha moment,'" Madden said, adding that she enjoyed all aspects of jam creation, from working with local farmers to creating her own pectin.

While renting a kitchen in Oak Park, Madden got a taste for the collaborative workspace environment, and her prior experiences have helped to shape the design and development of River Forest Kitchen.

"I loved the idea of working in that incubator space," Madden said.

Madden's business has spread throughout the United States, and as one of River Forest Kitchen's clients, she is hoping to help fellow artisans pave their way to culinary success.

"We try to support people's businesses. When they come to us with their skill, together we can grow their business," Friedberg said.

The professional development and learning opportunities that will take place at River Forest Kitchen will be optional for artisans, who may take advantage of as little or as many of the opportunities as they desire. 

In addition, the River Forest Kitchen team plans to host classes on culinary subjects to provide learning opportunities for clients and community members looking to find a new hobby.

"It's kind of a fun night out if you're an Oak Park or River Forest resident and want a night out. You can learn a skill and interact with people in the community," Friedberg said. 

An onsite retail space, according to Friedberg, will showcase the products crafted by River Forest Kitchen artisans, and will provide an outlet for the small businesses to market themselves and their product.

The team approach of River Forest Kitchen spans beyond the commercial kitchen the space offers by sharing the strengths each member, ranging from social media and marketing to accounting and real estate, to develop an individual approach to each artisan's business. 

As a business incubator, River Forest Kitchen affords artisans an opportunity to create and collaborate at a central hub while not taking on all of the expenses and risks of launching a small business alone.

"It's what you might call a new wave of real estate. We'd like to provide capitally intensive resources and give local residents an opportunity to get involved," Friedberg said, adding, "We're the middle man between the bottom and the top."

After closing on the property in early June, the team plans to install additional equipment, clean the space and tweak the layout to best fit the needs of clients. River Forest Kitchen, which is expected to open on July 15, will be located at 349 Ashland Ave. in River Forest. 

"This is needed in the western suburbs. I know people will come out here from the city to work with Oak Park and River Forest," Madden said.

Artisans interested in collaborating and creating at River Forest Kitchen can get in touch with the team at www.riverforestkitchen.com. Friedberg said he hopes to provide "first dibs" on space to local artisans.

Long term, Friedberg and Madden hope River Forest Kitchen will serve as a launching pad for local businesses.

"I would love to go on Lake Street and see a business that started at River Forest Kitchen, or go out to a restaurant and ask where the bread is from and find out that it was made by a baker who started out at River Forest Kitchen," Friedberg said.

For Madden, the opportunities available to River Forest Kitchen clients could help small businesses to expand their market into local and national stores as well as restaurants, much like Rare Bird Preserves has done.

"Everybody wants to help each other out," said Madden. "That is what happens when you work collaboratively."

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