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Rentable kitchens make LA food businesses a reality

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Bill Radke: Let’s say you’ve always wanted to quit your day job and become a professional chef. Well there’s a business in Los Angeles designed to help the dreamer in you. Marketplace’s Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: If you ran into Chip Brown on the sidewalk at 3 a.m., you might think he’d come off a shift as a bar bouncer. But the 6-foot-5 guy with the linebacker build is headed to the kitchen.

Chip Brown: Not bankers’ hours, bakers’ hours.

Brown’s company is Big Man Bakes. His makes his delicate wares at the crack of dawn in an industrial part of south L.A..

Brown: That’s the batter.

He pulls tray after tray of tiny red velvet cupcakes from the oven, each one the size of his thumb.

Brown: The cream cheese frosting is coming — calm down.

By 5 a.m., Brown’s hustling. He’s got one more hour to bake and frost everything, then get out of the kitchen. Because it’s not his. Brown rents this health department-friendly space. He says it’s ideal for someone starting out.

Brown: Building out a kitchen is a very expensive proposition. So investors really do like the idea — basically use the store as more of a distribution center, as opposed to a place where you actually cook the product.

Brown opened Big Man Bakes last year, after he lost his job at a tech company. Andrea Bell owns the space Brown rents. It’s a culinary incubator called Chef’s Kitchens. She started it in the 1980s and it was the first business like it. There are more than 70 similar incubators around the country today. Bell’s clients pay $17 to $25 an hour, and they make everything from street cart tamales to diet meals for movie stars.

Andrea Bell: Just one individual alone who started in our kitchens now employs 200 people full-time.

Bell says incubators minimize startup cost. Cooks can jump in without much capital, or professional training, then grow a business. But she says it’s not easy to turn your recipes into a living.

Bell: I always tell people not to quit their day job. I also tell people that it normally takes at least a couple of years.

So if you’re office mates love those cheese straws you make, see if they’re willing to pay for them before you put in your notice and rent a kitchen.

In Los Angeles, I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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