Last year was a difficult one for many businesses, but not for Arkitchen Commercial Kitchen of Little Rock, operated and co-owned by Jon Lamb.
“2020 for us has been fantastic,” Lamb told me last month. “I would say we’ve grown probably 40% — probably 25% in clientele and probably 40% in monthly revenue — over the last 10 months.” The “us” include co-owners Victoria Lamb, Jon’s wife, and his father, Bill.
When people were laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many sought to create their own businesses, and some of those have been food-related. Arkitchen, at 9813 W. Markham St., offers caterers, bakers, food truck owners, personal chefs, manufacturers and confectioners a 5,000-SF state Health Department-approved facility in which to work.
In addition to space and equipment, Arkitchen also provides cold and dry storage, adding 1,500-SF of storage space just recently.
It offers three tiers of membership — bronze, silver and gold — providing increasing hours of availability.
Lamb, born in Jonesboro but raised primarily in Spokane, Washington, has a long history in the restaurant industry, including seven years spent in the kitchen of Verizon (now Simmons Bank) Arena in North Little Rock, with three of those as executive chef.
Jon and Victoria Lamb developed an interest in the shared kitchen concept a few years ago, thinking they’d created “this cool idea” only to find that there were shared kitchens throughout the United States helping small businesses, including a Florida company, Your Pro Kitchen, that was franchising the concept.
The Lambs came aboard the franchise and opened their commercial kitchen as Your Pro Kitchen in July 2017, but a contract dispute led the Lambs to disassociate from Your Pro Kitchen. They started doing business as Arkitchen in February 2018.
They invested $250,000 to $300,000 initially to get the kitchen up and running, with about $100,000 to $150,000 of that going to kitchen equipment, Jon Lamb said.
Arkitchen has about 30 members, with three or four of those “on-board” members, whom Lamb is helping get established. His members include Cocoa Belle Chocolates, food truck businesses Afrobites Arkansas and Delta Biscuit Co. and Black Swan Catering Co.
“Graduates” of the program, who have left Arkitchen for their own brick-and-mortar headquarters, include Teaberry Kombucha Co. of Little Rock, Guenther Apiary of Roland and Keto Brick of Bryant, producer of a ketogenic-friendly performance bar.
Members of Arkitchen, which is available 24/7 year-round, go online to schedule their time at the facility. It also offers one private suite.
Arkitchen is also something of a business incubator. Its website is explicit in what it expects from members; for example, it requires them to be certified in the ServSafe food safety training program and to obtain liability insurance. But it also educates members about what they’ll need to establish a successful food service business.
“While we’re onboarding our clients, we also help them out with their permit process,” Lamb said. Arkitchen also does a bit of marketing for them. “We can help them out with strategy, just help them get their business going.”
“We are able to anchor tenants into our system, and we’re happy to have them stick around,” he said. “We also get very excited when they graduate out of our program. It’s a big sales point for us.”
Caterers, for example, might stick with Arkitchen, but food manufacturers requiring specialized equipment might choose to graduate into their own quarters.
The need for greater capacity can also cause a member to leave Arkitchen for a bigger space, Lamb said, citing Certified Pies, which joined up only in September. “They’ve exploded and they are about maxing out what we can do out of our kitchen,” he said. “They’ve got a great story. They’re Arkansas’ first Black-owned pizza business.”
Once their lease has expired, Lamb said, he expects Certified Pies will be getting its own space. “We’re awesome for small businesses,” he said.
And he’s proud that Arkitchen has been of particular help to women- and minority-owned food businesses. Just starting out, such entrepreneurs may lack a track record, a relationship with banks or family money on which to rely. “Most of our businesses can get started for about $1,000 once you consider ServSafe training, getting their own liability insurance, the deposits, and once you pay your first month’s rent,” Lamb said. “That’s much easier to obtain than going and getting a loan for $100,000 to start your own kitchen.”
“There are so many creative things coming out of our kitchen,” he added. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”