The Can-Do Kitchen Sets Up Business in a New Location

Kathy Jennings, Michigan's Second Wave, May 19th, 2016

Special event: 

The Can-Do Kitchen is having an Open House from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 20. The public is invited to tour the kitchen, enjoy food samples made in the Can-Do Kitchen, and learn about the organization

When your name is Can-Do there’s a certain expectation you will live up to that name. 

The Can-Do Kitchen, the area’s first food business incubator, is ready to show the community what it can do now that it’s moved into a larger space and what it hopes to achieve next.

For the past five years, the Can-Do Kitchen has shared space in the People’s Food Co-op building with the PFC deli. Soon after the two moved in together, the deli business grew to the point that it was routinely using one of the two cooking stations available.

Both the deli operation and the number of Can-Do clients continued to grow.
Special event 

The Can-Do Kitchen is having an Open House from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 20. The public is invited to tour the kitchen, enjoy food samples made in the Can-Do Kitchen, and learn about the organization

So about 18 months ago, the Can-Do Kitchen started a search for a location that would have more room for its clients. “Oddly enough, there aren’t that many commercial kitchens out there,” Can-Do Kitchen executive director Lucy Dilley, says with a chuckle.

Earlier this year, it found a space at 3501 Lake Street. It’s still sharing. This time with C&M Catering. C&M uses the space from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then is out at catering events. That leaves a lot of time in the 24-hour operation of the kitchen for Can-Do clients to get their cooking or baking done.

Dilley expects the kitchen will be able to increase the number of companies it assists in the new space considering it has gone from a 1,300-square-foot space to one with 2,500 square feet and access to two separate stations.

“We can have two companies working at one time,” Dilley says. At its previous peak, usually in summer during Farmers Market season when food companies are getting their products in front of market goers, the Can-Do Kitchen served about 25 clients and has consistently had at least 15 clients.

The experience of working with People’s Food Co-op was a positive one, but at times it was confusing. Some people thought the Can-Do Kitchen was part of the Co-op. “Which was not a bad thing,” Dilley says. “But with this location, we expect it will help to clarify that we have our own organization. It will make more sense to people.”

The move to Lake Street was in part possible because the Co-op purchased equipment from the Can-Do Kitchen. Cabinets and the color scheme came with Can-Do to the new site. Since then, C&M Catering has been very helpful in explaining its equipment and sharing the space, Dilley says.

Moving its physical location is only one move made this year for the Can-Do Kitchen. In April, it received its 501c3 status as a nonprofit. It formerly was a project of Fair Food Matters; the two organizations separated in January.  

“By becoming an independent nonprofit organization and moving into the new space, the Can-Do Kitchen has more capacity than ever to serve our community by working to increase the availability of local food products and removing barriers to help small food producers succeed,” says Bailey Mead, board treasurer.

The Can-Do Kitchen has launched a lot of businesses since its beginnings during the summer eight years ago when clients used the kitchen in a trailer on the Kalamazoo County Fairgrounds to get their start. Then, two years in the kitchen of First Baptist Church preceded the move to PFC’s new building. Through the recent changes, the kitchen tried to keep the disruption to its clients to a minimum though the kitchen was shut down for nine days as the move was made and the state licensed its new location.

The services they offer will not change with the move, though some are evolving as the kitchen gets more assistance with translation in meetings with clients for whom English is a second language. Spanish and Mandarin translators are now working with the kitchen.

“It’s so helpful,” Dilley says, “when you start to understand in a deeper way what they are saying and it’s because they are saying it in their own words, their own language. And it’s more than language. It’s cultural barriers. We are going to bump up against those and do our best to see our way through those.”

What else does it mean when it says it is working to remove barriers for small food businesses? In weekly meetings with clients, the Can-Do Kitchen staff goes through requirements for food safety and labeling. It helps clients understand branding and why it’s necessary. It assists them in making connections with the Small Business Administration for its financial planning expertise. There’s a lot of marketing advice, from how to approach buyers, how to get the most out of sampling events, and how to break into markets with well-established brands.

“We learned early on that when clients come to us they know their recipes inside and out. But the recipe is only 30 percent of it when you're starting a small food business. We provide the help they need with everything else they need to do.”

One piece of advice for the new food entrepreneur is that they are embarking on an emotional roller coaster. There will be huge ups and downs at different phases of the business’ growth. “We want them to know they are not alone,” Dilley says. “It’s not because they are doing anything wrong. That’s just how it is.”

An advisory board of six members in various parts of the food industry or with knowledge of the business also assists the fledgling companies. And Can-Do Kitchen staff works to make sure the new business owner knows who to connect with  for their business to grow.

Even though the Can-Do Kitchen just moved into its new location, the organization recognizes this is an interim space. Eventually, it wants to have a location with space not only for cooking, storage, and offices but room for classes and other aspects of the educational side of its work. A capital campaign to raise funds for its own location could be in the works. 

Dilley does not yet have a timeline for such a fund drive as there is some preliminary work that needs to be done. The Can-Do Kitchen board of trustees needs to grow from its current size of three members. Strategic planning to further identify the needs the kitchen should  serve will also be done. 

Then again, one need she already has identified is assistance for businesses that have outgrown the incubator kitchen but are not ready to move into their own production facility. Dilley says food business incubators across the country are realizing the need for some kind of assistance for businesses making the intermediate step.

“We’ll need a variety of people at the table to figure it out because it will take outside the box thinking,” Dilley says.

What won’t change is the Can-Do Kitchen’s commitment to helping businesses grow, even if the spotlight on startups that currently is shining brightly goes out in the future. As Dilley says, “I want to keep building things that are structurally sound, that will last, and that is not about following the next trend.” 

Can-Do Kitchen client businesses

These are clients currently working in the Can-Do Kitchen.
The Adventures of Barb & Tammy--They make eight varieties of premium home style granola: Cherry Pecan, Just the Berries, Apple Spice and Everything Nice, Nutty Maple, Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry, Lemon Kissed Berry, Ginger!....Honey!, and PB&J. It also offers two nut mixes--Fruit and Nut with three fruits, three nuts, and dark chocolate chips, and No Regrets, which has almonds, walnuts, blueberries, apricots, and dried plums. Barb & Tammy biscotti flavors are: Cranberry Pecan and Lemon Pistachio.

Ageless Pantry--Ageless Pantry L.L.C., is a family company. It’s Zenuine Brew teas are adapted from recipes the founder’s family has enjoyed for generations. Its goal has been to bring customers herbal teas made from the highest quality organic and natural ingredients.

Crazed Cravings--Makers of salsa, Bloody Mary Mix, and gourmet chocolates. Crazed Cravings offers recipes, support, and a place to upload your crazed creations to share with the company, and the snacking community.

DoughChicks--This mother and daughter team create tasty, nutrient dense, and convenient food for busy and active people, including the Chia Crunch, Midnight Crunch, and Kara Comet.The latter is made from raw natural ingredients including gluten-free oats and cocoa.

Fizzy Bread  & Dips Co.--With  a 12 oz. carbonated beverage and a bag of Fizzy Bread mix, the company say deliciousness is inevitable. Use any type of beer or soda pop to create a  flavored bread of your choice. They also have four kinds of dips for that freshly baked bread.

Kalamazoo Pickle Company--When Derek Richmond and his daughter sampled 15 different brands of pickles and were disappointed with all of them, they decided to make their own. In April, their first pickle, the Richmond, became available in limited quantities at Water Street Coffee Joint locations.

Kzoo Brain Food--In 2002 Jesse Forbes, in a nearly fatal car crash, broke her neck, fractured her skull and was in a coma for seven day. Remarkably, she had an extremely rapid healing process and swift rehabilitation that doctors accredited to her healthy lifestyle. She came out of it determined to help others live well. Her Original Brain Food Walnuts and Brain Food Seasoning is part of that plan.

Mamaleelu Cold Brew--High quality, organic, fairly traded coffee is used to craft Mamaleelu Cold Brew. “Cold brew”, also known as “cold press”, is brewed without heat over a long period of time. The company’s small batch, hand crafted Cold Brew begins by steeping freshly roasted coffee in room temperature water for 18 to 24 hours, using a double filtration process to procure the end result: a smooth, buttery, balanced brew with a low acidity. 

Mike’s Famous Michigan Bean Dip--Produced by Kalamazoo’s Clara’s Kitchen by Michael Kruk, who got his start offering his bean dip to friends at parties and potlucks He got serious about making it for retail with the assistance of the Can-Do Kitchen.

Perfect Blend Coffee & Desserts--Company owners say when you combine the soothing blends of unique coffees mouth-watering desserts, you have a Perfect Blend. It offers a variety of blended coffee recipes to create a unique  taste. Some of our blends have Biblical names which provides the company with a way to evangelize and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Season for a Reason--The company creates handcrafted seasoned salt. It likes to describe its products as "salt with a kick." They encourage customers to try it on anything you would normally put salt on.

Learn more at