Colleton county to open a commercial kitchen for food makers food is heartburn a symptom of early pregnancy

Now, though, a massive shared commercial kitchen is on the brink of opening in a former downtown supermarket. The building has been physcially joined to the county museum that sponsors the twice-weekly market, so Best and fellow vendors have been able to keep an eye on the $1 million facility’s progress.

Food artisans and food truck operators across the state have devised a slew of creative arrangements to keep their products legal. Like Best, they cook in restaurants after hours, or rent space from catering companies. In Charleston, Duvall Catering’s commissary kitchen hosts a dozen local manufacturers, including Mrs. Sassard’s. But none of those venues function as true kitchen incubators, providing clients with the guidance they need for their businesses to flourish.

By contrast, as the first government-supported shared kitchen in South Carolina, the Colleton Commercial Kitchen is aiming to invigorate the Lowcountry economy by nurturing food entrepreneurs and creating a new destination for culinary tourists.

“South Carolina has just sort of put its toe into food manufacturing,” says Gloria Kellerhals, co-chair of a group planning to open a publicly funded shared kitchen in Chester later this year. “There’s a lot of money to be made in good food.”

The connection between money and food is well-established: Americans annually spend more than $1 billion on food. And a study commissioned last year by the Specialty Food Association showed one in four food dollars is spent on “distinctive foods, often made by small or local manufacturers,” such as oils, baked goods, ice cream and salty snacks.

Yet it’s still not entirely clear whether incubators reliably bridge food producers and money. “Little data exist on the performance and impact of incubators, in part because most do not collect any,” the authors of a 2013 industry survey wrote. “In addition, the large majority of facilities are very new.” According to the report, issued by a Philadelphia consulting firm, most of the nation’s 135 kitchen incubators were launched in the five years leading up to the study. (A few prominent incubators that got an earlier start have since folded.)

Despite a mixed record of success, more than half of kitchen incubators operate as for-profit enterprises. That’s the model at DER Kitchen, which became the state’s first shared commercial kitchen when it opened three years ago in Columbia. “I owned a building and had an idea,” says owner David Roberts. The number of renters fluctuates, but now stands at around 20. Roberts says the biggest problem he’s encountered is producers failing to stay in business. “We try to get people to plan,” he says, sighing.

At Blue Ridge Food Ventures in Asheville, which served as inspiration for the Walterboro and Chester projects, users are referred to a range of existing entrepreneurial development programs. Unlike many nonprofit incubators, though, Blue Ridge Food Ventures doesn’t insist that clients leave the nest after a certain number of years. One of the 70 businesses now using the facility, UliMana, has been headquartered there for a decade.

UliMana makes organic raw chocolate truffles. Other Blue Ridge Food Ventures clients turn out kombucha, tempeh, natural energy bars and spent brewers’ yeast snacks. One prospective Chester client is now traveling to Asheville to produce her brownies for body sculptors. “She said,‘It’s flax seed,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God, how do I put this sucker down?’,” Kellerhals recalls. “It was the best brownie I’ve ever had.”

Among the niches that the Colleton Commercial Kitchen intends to fill is lunch service. The eating options in downtown Walterboro are currently limited to a hot dog joint, a pizzeria, a soda counter famed for its fried bologna and a squib of a sandwich shop tucked into a Christmas store. Kitchen manager Chad Carter, whose resume includes a cooking stint at McCrady’s and a graduate degree in food science from Clemson University, is developing a cafe in the kitchen’s 5,000-square-foot front room.

As well as serving wraps, smoothies and other items not on the menus of existing restaurants, Carter hopes the cafe will carry meats, produce and baked goods supplied by market vendors and shared kitchen users. He’s also setting aside a retail space for South Carolina products, such as honey, grits and Charleston Gold rice, which he suspects could lure travelers off nearby I-95.