Jon Lamb’s Arkitchen in Little Rock gives aspiring restaurateurs and others in food-related businesses an affordable opportunity to try out their dreams of entrepreneurship.
As a veteran of the restaurant industry himself, Lamb, Arkitchen’s founder, owner and operator, understands those dreams. “I have been a chef most all of my life, and I have always wanted to work for myself,” he said.
When he left his job as executive chef at Verizon Arena (now Simmons Bank Arena), he considered opening a catering business. “But when I left the kitchen and I started to look into starting my own business, I saw what it takes for small businesses to start, and it’s a lot of money.”
Although he didn’t have a lot of money, he had enough to open a kitchen sufficient for his needs. But the realization of the cost to start a food-related business struck him and his wife, Victoria, “as really a hardship on folks that just want to get out and make some food.”
That started them thinking about establishing some kind of cooperative kitchen, offering paid memberships to use the space. “We thought we were geniuses for a second, and then we looked it up on the internet,” he said, laughing. They learned they were not the first to conceive of a commercial kitchen.
But Arkitchen, opened in July 2017 at 9813 W. Markham St., is one of only a handful in Arkansas. It is co-owned by Jon and Victoria Lamb of Little Rock and Jon’s parents, Bill and Nancy Lamb of Maumelle.
The 5,000-SF space is equipped with convection and conventional ovens, range tops, a flat-top griddle, charbroiler, custom smoker, steamer, several mixers, “just general commercial kitchen equipment, that as a chef, through my 25 years of cooking, I thought were really essential pieces of equipment.”
In addition to providing space and equipment, Lamb also provides “general coaching” and advice on things like pricing, permit and certification processes, finding insurance, maintaining cleanliness standards — the numberless essential steps to launching a food-production small business that might not be front of mind to many people intent on realizing a dream.
Arkitchen serves, in essence, as a business incubator.
Lamb signs nondisclosure agreements with Arkitchen members allowing him “to talk intimately about their pricing and anything else anyone wants covered.” The nondisclosure agreements protect the businesses from Lamb later seeking to claim a percentage of their enterprises.
Arkitchen has seven workstations and one private suite available for 24/7 use, allowing eight businesses to be at work at any one time.
Membership is offered at three levels: bronze, silver and gold. Bronze membership entitles members to use the facilities 10 hours a month for $230; silver, 40 hours a month, $530; and gold, 80 hours a month for $1,000. But Lamb is flexible and the more hours a business uses, the lower the price. “So businesses can get in here really on the cheap compared to setting up your own brick-and-mortar.”
Lamb spent about $125,000 equipping Arkitchen. Revenue last year was between $130,000 and $150,000, and the business has about 23 members with four in the pipeline, he said.
Lamb said 10% to 15% of the members do “pretty well.” He noted that the food-production sector is “a high-risk, low-profit business.” But with the average cost to open a restaurant in the U.S. at $375,000, according to a survey by restaurantowner.com, giving a would-be food entrepreneur a shot at their dream without taking on huge debt should they fail is a service in and of itself.
Among Arkitchen’s success stories are pizza restaurant Certified Pies; Cheesecake on Point; Teaberry Kombucha; ReadtheLabl, which makes sauces including marinara; and Smackey’s BBQ.
Although Arkitchen is “not a huge money-making opportunity, it’s one of these labors of love,” Lamb said. “I really love helping these businesses out and passing on my knowledge as a chef and a business owner.”