With the growing interest in handcrafted, small batch food products, River Forest Kitchen at 349 Ashland is a facility designed to serve those with food-oriented business plans.

Adam Friedberg owns River Forest Kitchen. Since opening last summer, this culinary incubator space has helped grow over 15 local food businesses, giving them the space they need to flex their culinary imaginations, test their food concepts and then produce those foods for a larger market. River Forest Kitchen is good for start-up businesses, and it’s also helping raise the level of food quality in the Village and the Chicagoland area.

We had some questions for Friedberg about how River Forest Kitchen works and how it benefits local entrepreneurs and the larger community.

Who is served by River Forest Kitchen?

River Forest Kitchen (RKF) is a fully-equipped shared commercial kitchen and culinary incubator space that serves artisan chefs and aspiring entrepreneurs. Our facility is an excellent resource because we provide the platform for artisan chefs to grow their businesses without the steep learning curve and start-up costs – including those related to expensive real estate and culinary equipment – normally associated with starting a food business. 

During your first year of business, what were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered?

Like any new business, we had some initial challenges coordinating and scheduling tenants.  We decided early on to switch our scheduling and payment software to a totally web-based platform. It has been smooth sailing ever since. Tenants can easily see the schedule and book times when they’d like to use the kitchen.  

What makes you most proud about what you’ve been able to do with RFK in the past year?

As a real estate developer, RFK has been the most rewarding project I’ve worked on.  It’s been a gratifying experience helping new companies blossom and directing them along the way.  We regularly meet with our tenants and try to provide them with resources that other cannot.  Just last week we hosted an event with Whole Foods Market in which all of our chefs were able to spend 30 minutes meeting with the Whole Foods’ Regional Buyer and Forager.  It was a terrific experience for our chefs who received tons of feedback on their products and learned what they need to do to get their products onto Whole Foods’ shelves. 

What are some special equipment options offered at RFK?

RFK has top-of-the-line commercial kitchen equipment including a six-burner gas range, 20-quart mixer, induction burners, two commercial convection ovens, reach-in coolers and freezers, stainless steel prep stations, and dry storage racks.  

Why is River Forest a good location for this business?

RFK is located in the heart of River Forest on a beautiful tree-lined street with easy access to the expressway.  The location serves as a neighborhood meeting space and a great venue for cooking classes and other events.  RFK also hosts markets every few months and invites the public to sample and purchase delicious local delights. 

Before there were places like RFK, how did entrepreneurial cooks and bakers start up their businesses?

Before RFK, artisan chefs would need to cook in restaurants during off hours or build out their own commercial kitchens. For the most part, any food product that is retailed must be made in a commercial kitchen. RFK changed the opportunities and accessibility for artisan chefs and entrepreneurs.

Who are some of the people or companies who’ve used RFK and what products have they developed?

We have a diverse mix of tenants, including catering companies, chocolatiers, jam makers and gluten-free granola companies. Nearly every company that has joined RFK has grown at an incredible pace and utilized all of our resources. 

Maya’s Kitchens, for instance, started at RFK this past August and planned on catering to day care centers.  After one month of working at RFK, they were up to 300 meals a day (working in the kitchen from 4am to 8am, they were then on the road to deliver meals by 8:30 am).  Only 10 months later, Maya’s Kitchens is serving nearly 2,000 meals per day and has expanded their business to day care centers throughout Chicagoland.  

The Happy Apple Pie Company is a terrific business that works with disabled children from Oak Park and River Forest to create absolutely delicious pies.  Michelle Mascaro, the owner, began at RFK this past fall and has been a hit at every market.  The Happy Apple Pie Company has developed a terrific brand and now has a large local following.  In fact, they’ve grown so fast that they’ve outgrown RFK!  For us, this is great and we’re happy to partner with them in opening their own retail location at 226 Harrison in Fall, 2016.  

While the Happy Apple Pie Company is the first business to outgrow RFK and move into their own storefront, we know they are just the first of many.  Several of our tenants are continuously expanding their businesses. They will do the same. 

Note: it was recently announced that Happy Apple will be moving into the former La Majada space on Harrison in Oak Park.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...