New Leopold Center toolkit looks at shared-use kitchens

Monday, September 22, 2014

AMES, Iowa – It’s not easy to start a food business. Shared-use kitchens offer a safer venue for food entrepreneurs to launch new enterprises and participate in the economic development of a community by creating jobs and markets for local products, and retaining money within the community. A new resource from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is designed to help community and organization leaders make informed decisions about starting shared-used kitchens.

The “Shared-use Kitchen Planning Toolkit” is a 44-page guide written by Leopold Center Program Assistant Alice Topaloff in collaboration with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The guide discusses what should be included in a feasibility study, business plan and other key considerations, licensing and insurance regulations in Iowa, and sample rental agreements.

“Because of the increase in demand for locally processed food, many communities, organizations and nonprofits have considered starting their own kitchen incubators,” Topaloff said. “Many shared-use kitchens have been created, yet not all are successful and relatively few become self-sustaining.”

Shared-use kitchens are facilities where entrepreneurs can prepare and process products without the expense of setting up their own private commercial kitchen. The facility usually is rented by the hour, and can be an affordable venue for farmers, caterers and food cart vendors to start or grow specialty food businesses. Some facilities also offer business support, marketing resources and financial assistance, making these shared-use kitchens real business incubators.

Topaloff wrote the report after researching shared-use kitchens and interviewing managers of five successful facilities outside Iowa. She also conducted extensive interviews with food safety experts and regulatory officials, and individuals who hope to open shared-use kitchen facilities in several Iowa communities. Currently, no shared-use kitchens operate in Iowa.

Shared-use kitchens help develop the local food system by incorporating food processors, which are often a missing link between a producer and a consumer. These facilities also participate in economic development and job creation. La Cocina, a shared-use kitchen with extensive business support in San Francisco, reported that it supported 39 businesses that created 110 jobs and $3.35 million in revenue in 2012.

The number of shared-use kitchens has increased rapidly in the United States. There were a dozen such facilities in 1999, and more than 130 just 15 years later.

Find the publication on the Leopold Center website at:


Alice Topaloff, program assistant, (515) 294-8530,

Craig Chase, Marketing and Food Systems Initiative leader, (515) 294-1854,

Laura Miller, communications, (515) 294-5272,