It’s the first line in Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” and must have been the take-home reading assignment for the NC General Assembly in 2015. After years of widely varying county-by-county interpretations of North Carolina’s murky shared kitchen regulations, the legislature’s recent changes to NC laws make the guidelines crystal clear: thou shalt be allowed to share commercial kitchen space.
“This is a really exciting development and opens the doors to more food businesses of all kinds to operate in Wake County,” said Sara Merz, executive director for Advocates for Health in Action (AHA). “It means many existing, and potentially new, businesses can operate in Wake County now rather than having to prepare their food in a county that previously interpreted the law to allow shared kitchens. This is a huge economic development opportunity that removes a barrier for our local foods businesses.”
Existing or aspiring food truck owners or food makers (plus a waitlist for those just generally interested in the local food scene) are invited to a gathering of Triangle Food Makers “In Search of a Kitchen” 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14 at HQ Raleigh. As of publishing, 110 people had registered and the event will be capped at 120.
Hosted in partnership with Community Food Lab, HQ Raleigh, Downtown Raleigh Alliance, AHA and RDU Mobile Food Association with support from the City of Raleigh, the event features samples of “local bites,” an overview of the law’s changes, updates to the health department permitting process and common scenarios for food makers, food truck operators and kitchen owners.
“We’re so appreciative of the support and leadership of County staff who are co-presenting and helping our local food businesses to navigate this new opportunity,” Merz said.
Event organizer Jill Epner Willett created the Triangle Food Makers Meetup group last summer to “strengthen the sense of community among food makers and to begin connecting people who are involved with/supportive of our local food system and its producers.”
Active in the Triangle’s Capital Area Food Network, a policy-oriented group, Willett is a “recovering food entrepreneur” who started and ran a food business before coming to Raleigh. Merz credited Willett with “bringing great energy and leadership” to local food issues.
“Being a food entrepreneur was exhilarating for me, but it could also very lonely and isolating at times,” Willett said. “Food makers need support from their peers and from the ecosystem of local food advocates in their community in order to be successful. Based on the incredible response for these gatherings thus far, I can tell you it’s an exciting time to be an aspiring food maker in the Triangle!”
Another food entrepreneur has been celebrating shared kitchens in a different way over the past few months. For Shonna Greenwell, owner of the Berkeley Cafe, sharing isn’t about the food maker scene, it’s all about #TakeoverTuesday.
The Tuesday events began in August 2015 shortly after she and her partners purchased the Berkeley. A veteran of numerous Tap Takeovers and owner of Rebus Works, Greenwell has been a longtime fan and supporter of food trucks at numerous events, and the combination triggered an idea.
“I thought, why not host a Kitchen Takeover?” Greenwell said. “And food trucks were a logical source of chefs.”
She first spoke with Chef JP Murcia of KocinA. He, like many other chefs, had stopped working for other people in restaurants to strike out on his own in a food truck. “During our conversation I asked if he would ever want to work in a restaurant again and he responded ‘only if it’s my own.’ I followed up by asking whether his answer would change if it were just for one night and he liked the idea.”
Joe Choi of Bulkogi Korean BBQ was next on her list, and he suggested Tuesday as a good night since it is typically a slower day for trucks.
“I already knew that I wanted to work with JP and Chef Ryan Jacobson of Manna, but I needed a few other chefs to complete the rotation. After Joe made a few suggestions, I contacted Andy Schaumann of Sol Tacos and Sean McCoy of BamPowChow to determine their interest.”
These five chefs got the series rolling and now Greenwell is opening Takeover Tuesday to other chefs.
“I have approached selecting chefs in the same manner I approached curating exhibitions for my gallery. I choose an artist/chef because I admire them and enjoy working with them. They are then given the freedom to create while I function as the facilitator; originally providing the gallery, and now a kitchen, to showcase their talent.”
It’s also an opportunity to expand on some of the food trucks’ tried-and-true favorites in ways that are a whole lot easier to eat sitting down.
Jolie Rollins, the front half of the CockADoodleMoo food truck, calls the approach “coopertition.” The Berkeley provides the wait staff and the visiting chef provides the food, often preferring to either work alone or with their own kitchen staff.
Chef Doug Rollins, the back half of CockADoodleMoo, takes over from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12. It’s a three-course meal for $25, offering diners a choice between three starters and three entrees plus a dessert of warm bread and butter pudding with a whiskey creme anglaise and almond cookie.
Triangle Explorer’s blog describes Rollins’ ribs as “life-changing” and has the full mouth-watering menu featuring Raleigh Brewing Company Hidden Pipe Porter and Raleigh Rum. Other local ingredients include Walk Ahead Farms chicken, greens from Sweet Peas Urban Garden, Shroom 2 Grow mushrooms and Heritage Farms pork belly.
While not required, reservations are strongly encouraged since not only do they secure a time for guests to dine, they also provide useful information for chefs as they prepare their Takeover. Seating times start at 6 p.m. until all available seating has been filled. Email [email protected] with the number of people and a preferred reservation time. Bar and patio seating is also available; those seats are on a first-come first-served basis.
Choi takes over on Jan. 19. He and his mother owned a Japanese Izakaya restaurant in the Chicago suburbs for 11 years, and he’s bringing those favorites to the Berkeley. Izakaya is a Japanese bar serving a simple menu of small plates with complex flavors. Like tapas, each dish is meant to be shared, so it makes senses to order a few and make friends with your fellow diners. We’re back to sharing, again.
Sharing is where we started, but what’s the last thought in Fulghum’s poem? Be aware of wonder.
It’s a wonder it took this long to really figure out shared kitchens in NC, but we’re here now, and for our local food entrepreneurs that feeling might be almost as good as warm cookies and cold milk. Long live the kindergarten spirit.