Co-Op Kitchen

The 3 key components of the co-op are the farm, the kitchen, and the store.  
The kitchen processes goods from the farm and elsewhere to be sold in the store.  The processing can be as simple as washing potatoes from the farm or as complex as preparing a full menu of entrees and side dishes for a supper house operation.  Using the kitchen for production of Value Added Goods would be one of the first steps in redirecting spending to our own company.  Examples of VAGS include mashed potatoes from our farm potatoes, fresh bread from purchased ingredients, and roasted, sliced turkey breast cold cuts sourced from anywhere in the supply chain, purchased or raised, raw or precooked.

Any food service operation marketing products through the store will require core equipment such as a stove or oven.  As we develop the abilities of our staff and add new products, we can expand our menu and repertoire to offer a wider selection, some of which will require specialized equipment.  For example, rotisserie chicken would require an expensive rotisserie oven.  

Barebones startup with land and a residential home is limiting.  While a residential home on the farm can handle a snack shop, lunches for a small work crew and dinners for perhaps a couple of dozen people, if we are to redirect a significant portion of the group's current grocery spending and attract the general public, a commercial kitchen is required.

A commercial kitchen capable of handling the volume of several hundred families will require at least the following:
    Walk In Cooler    $5-15k
    Walk In Freezer    5-10k
    Stove    2-5k
    Oven    4-5k
    Hood    4-8k
    Sink    1-2k
    Stainless Steel Tables    2-5k
    Shelving    1-4k
    Pots and Pans    1k
    Mixer    1-3k
    Slicer    1-3k
    Ice Machine 1-3k
    Cutting Boards    
    Portion Scale
    Digital Scale with Printout
TOTAL    $35-60k

These prices are for new equipment.  Used restaurant equipment is less expensive by as much as half.  The poor economy these last few years has seen plenty of restaurants close down.  An abundance of supply favors the buyer. 

The exact specifications would be dependent on what we want to do, how many people are involved, the population of the town, and if the equipment is new or used.  There will likely be renovation and utility improvement costs involved.  The food service industry is an important sector of the economy.  Equipment is widely available in a range of sizes and style suitable for our needs.  The market for used equipment is enourmous, giving us the ability to upgrade from a 4 burner stove to a 6, 8, or 10 burner stove and recover much of the cost of the stove being replaced.  Equipment such as the hood and walk in refrigeration are installed rather than placed.  The nature of the work going into upgrading these items makes it cost effective to get larger units that we can grow into, rather than smaller units that we outgrow quickly.

Essentially a room-sized refrigerator, the walk in cooler is the backbone of our cold storage.  The value of the inventory contained demands reliability.  Food safety demands certain products not be stored above others.  The volume of products such as milk, meat, and produce can fill  a cavern.  While used compressors are available, the savings vs new can quickly be lost with a single service failure.  The price range of $5-15k would give us a single 10' x 20' unit.  A great many food service operations have more than one unit.  If one breaks down, product can be moved to the other.  Planning ahead can save us a small fortune.  Space design which makes use of a common wall between the store and the walk in cooler allows placement of reach in doors.   

This is an option at the start, but essential later on.  It may be practical to have it in place at the start, even if not put into service immediately.  There are foods such as ice cream which require frozen storage.  We'll have plenty of items to develop first which will not require frozen storage.  A small unit in the 100 sqft range will handle most of the projected volume for quite some time.  Adding an additional walk in cooler or freezer is possible at any time and, if need be, can be installed outdoors.

Used for preparing sauces, stews, pasta, prep items, as well as individual requests.  The number of burners will determine our limits as well as the size of the hood.  These are relatively inexpensive for their versatility, even with several burners.  Stoves with ovens are out there and make efficient use of the space.  Large units, say, 10-12 burners, can be a challenge to move and install, even with lots of help.  6 burner stoves are manageable, offer the versatility we need, and are large enough for a full size oven.  We would need 1 at least.  2 units offers the capacity to handle most of our needs, with the 2nd stove being purchased a few weeks down the road.  At 3 units, the size of the hood becomes cost prohibitive in the initial stage of kitchen development.  

Stoves and oven will require gas fuel and the infrastructure to bring the gas for the source to the appliance connection.  Public utilities use natural gas.  Containerized gas can be propane or natural gas.  The appliances need specific internal hardware dependent on the type of gas used.  Electric stoves and ovens are not cost effective to operate, generating too little heat for too high a price.

Commercial convection ovens have the capacity and heating ability to handle a massive volume of product.  With a pair of 6 burner stoves we would have a pair of full sized ovens, but these are not usually convective.  While they can be upgraded to convective, we have much use for both styles.  The stove ovens are well suited for long cooking times found in roasting: roasted potatoes for our deli, roasted meats for our cold cuts, baked lasagna for our supper house.  Stand up convection ovens serve a baking operation tremendously well.  Convection ovens recover heat from opened doors very quickly.  Short baking times will require frequent staff access.  Stove burners on top puts much foot traffic in the way of our access.  

Convection ovens can be single or double stacked.  The cost is not quite double.  Being stacked there is a slight increase in energy efficiency.  One oven can be turned off when not in use.  As with the stoves, these are remarkable low priced for their versatility.  While we can start with a single oven in order to save money, our volume can quickly reach a limit.  A double stack at the start may be the better decision.  Adding another double stack oven will require a larger hood.

This is essentially a box to contain hot air which is removed by a ventilation fan.  The price for a new hood is in the range of $300-400/linear foot, plus installation.  Used hoods are available.  The hood must cover high temperature heating devices such as ovens, stoves, deep fryers, large rotisserie ovens, griddles, braising pans and steam kettles.  To reduce the risk of grease fires, these hoods have traps which require frequent emptying and cleaning if we are preparing deep fried foods or cooking foods on the stove top which splatter.

Kitchen design needs to account for business expansion and the addition of more cooking appliances.  Common kitchen designs are to have all cooking appliances in a straight line or back to back, with 2 cooking lines sharing a common back wall.  At the start we would do well with a pair of 6 burner stoves and a double stack convection oven.  It is foreseeable that we will need another oven and perhaps another stove.  If we maximize production from 2 double ovens and 18 burners, further expansion would not be hindered by cost.

A standard 3 bay sink, stainless steel with a sprayer will run perhaps $1000.  Gotta have it.  Might need a couple of them.  These require hot and cold potable water supply and a drain.  We'll have pots and pans to clean along with smallwares.  Some of these pots and pans get pretty big.  The sink will also be used for washing produce, filling pots, draining and straining.  

Stainless steel worktables are required for commercial food service.  They can be sanitized, scrubbed, pounded, and take massive abuse.  Some have shelves underneath, some have sides and backsplashes, some are designed to hold equipment.  Standard sizes are 2 through 8 feet.  Workspace required depends on the work being done.  4 feet per worker is a fair measure to project required table space.

A work table inside the walk in cooler would allow handling of meats without exposing them to room temprature.

Inside the walk in refrigeration, stainless steel wire shelving is the only way to go.  It's not particularly cheap, but it is durable and does not absorb bacteria-harboring moisture.  Wire shelves are required for pots and pans to dry.  Solid shelves, as found under the steel tables discussed above, are suitable for storage.  Ingredients and dry goods can be store in some jurisdictions on wood shelving.  We can fashion wood shelving in our own workshop.  We'll need vast amounts of shelving for ingredients, non ingredients, pots, pans, smallwares, supplies, cleaning products (which must be segregaed), equipment, and dishes if we get into dining.  The figure listed is conservative.  We'll need to add shelving as we grow.  Kitchen design must account for shelving space and access.

Sheet pans, soup pots, sauce pans, stock pots, roasting pans, skillets...the equipment is dependent on the products we will produce, their volume, and in some instances, their chemical reactivity.  Aluminum is a common material.  Stainless steel is available and is expensive but superior to aluminum in every way.  There will be instances where cast iron is the appropriate material.  As with shelving, the figure above is conservative.  As we grow, so will our need for cookware.

Same thing as that stand mixer you have at home only larger and more durable.  This is a labor saving device, making quick work out of handling volume.  A bowl with a capacity of 20 quarts (5 gallons) will serve most of our needs.  Bowl attachments include a dough hook which allow large batches of bread dough to be produced, a wisk which is useful for blending liquids, and a paddle used for blending butters and thick liquids.  These mixers have an attachment port  Common attachments include slicer, shredder, and meat grinder, all of which would be invaluable to us.  The slicer is useful for vegetables, but does not have the precision of a meat slicer.   There are larger units available should we grow to the point we need another.  

Used to slice meats and cheeses cleanly and precisely, with thickness adjustable to 1/100 of an inch or better.  

With a farm operation, the importance of an ice machine is found in the need to keep beverages cold.  The hot sun combined with hard work makes an abundant ice supply a mandatory operational element.  Ice is used in the kitchen for water bath cooling, rapid chilling, and in the storage of seafood and some types of produce.  Ice can convert a long container into a makeshift cold table.  In the store, if fountain drinks are being served, an ice machine is indispensible.

We'll use a variety of minor equipment, chief of which are cutting boards, knives, storage containers, small wares such as spoons and ladles, portion control devices such as measuring cups/spoons and a scale.  A digital scale with printout allows us to accurately portion and label steaks and other goods.  Labor saving devices such as a guerney and hand truck makes for easy handling of bulky items.  

Clearly, a kitchen operation is a major investment dominated by cold storage and cooking appliances.  The figures above are quite flexible, allowing some components to be brought online in different order of priority.  A solely baking operation can begin with a single oven, small hood, and reduced workstation, shelving and smallware needs.  Reach in refrigeration in place of walk in units can handle some production, including meats which offer high productivity and enable a smaller initial investment if the situation restricts complete development.  

This is only the major equipment.  Production of specific items will require further investment in essential minor equipment.  Bread and baking will call for bread pans, cooling racks and a proofer.  The cost of this equipment is measured in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.  Loaf pans can be had for $5-10 each and we would need perhaps 2 dozen units.

It is entirely practical for some of this equipment to serve double duty.  A walk in freezer accessed from the walk in cooler is energy efficient, and offers an emergency backup cooling unit by cracking the door.  Cooling racks for baked goods would be used with several products.  Sheet pans are universally functional.  Roasting pans can utilize steam table inserts that are not in use.  The walk in cooler could have one side shared with the store, rather than purchase separate display coolers.  Refrigerated shelving on wheels can offer greater use of limited space.  Cutting boards placed across a sink form an effective work station and one which is greatly appreciated when slicing onions.  

The space required for the equipment above is on the order of 500 square feet.  This does not include walk in coolers, pantry storage, equipment storage, or dish washing and storage.  To allow future expansion and room for training, as much as 1000 square feet could be allowed.  1000 square feet would be a tremendous space, and we can surely make use of it.  If we put all of that space to work, further upgrades should not be an issue.  Keep in mind that not everything needs to be inside.  The walk in cooler and freezer are self contained.  They can be outside, around the corner, or down the hall, although shared with the store is best.  Some equipment can be stored in a shed when not in use.  It's good practice to wash them when they enter service regardless of storage location. 

By starting with as complete a kitchen as possible lets us move ahead with enough projects and products that we have a better ability to generate income.  We're not stuck waiting for the next piece of equipment to come online and limping along with a partial kitchen, partial product line, and partial store.  The kitchen and store offers immediate cashflow for the company and immediate savings for co-op members and the publc.  A farm will take time to develop and raise crops.  A kitchen has products ready to market as soon as they are cool enough to be packaged.  We've got an army of people to work with and an army of customers begging for products.  We can best serve our objectives by starting off with a complete operations.

With the core equipment in place, we can develop a food service operation with only a handful of additional, specialized equipment.  A bakery calls for a proofer and cooling rack.  A pizza shop requires a pizza oven.  A deli needs cold display units and is enhanced with a steam table.  A sandwich shop can be developed with the equipment already in place for the deli.  A supper house is a deli with a steam table and an alto shaam.  A restaurant is a supper house with a dining room, dishes, dishwasher station, and a cooks line with hot and cold storage units.  Commercial wholesale products need packaging and a vehicle for distribution.  A buyers group makes use of cold storage, shelving, tables and portion control equipment. 

A licensed commercial kitchen presents opportunity for cottage industry to move ahead.  Anyone would be able to rent use of the kitchen.  There are rental kitchens out there.  Pay an hourly fee, you can use the kitchen and it's equipment.  A small company would be able to produce their product in a licensed establishment for sale elsewhere.  For example, Jack has a small business which makes and sells his secret hot pepper sauce.  It would not be cost effective for Jack to set up his own kitchen just to produce a few small batches every now and then.  With a rental kitchen, Jack can bring in his own ingredients, mix up a batch, bottle it, label it, clean up and take his product to market.

Items we can make with the core kitchen equipment.


Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline