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

Can-Do Kitchen Featured in Encore Magazine's Backstory


The Can-Do Kitchen, a food incubator that has helped local entrepreneurs launch new products, from bean dip and Brazilian bread to granola and coffee concentrate, was created because Lucy Dilley was interested in where her own food came from and how it was produced.

Eight years later, her “little spark of an idea” has grown from a Fair Food Matters pilot program operating out of a trailer to a shared commercial kitchen at the People’s Food Co-Op. Soon the Can-Do Kitchen will be its own stand-alone organization and move to a bigger facility that will allow the organization to help more fledgling entrepreneurs, says Dilley.

How did you get where you are today?

As a student in the Environmental Studies program at Western Michigan University, I learned about environmental problems and the bad things people are doing to the environment. I became interested in community gardening and eating healthy, whole foods. I got a job at the People’s Food Co-Op, which made me interested in the kinds of food we could produce here.

That path of wanting to know where my food is coming from and the intersection of food and work inspired me to develop a space where people can create foods that they can sell in their communities. I was not a business major, but I thought, "I am going to start a shared kitchen as a business." I came to realize, however, that there was more of a social mission here. I wanted to make a shared kitchen that was accessible to people who don’t have the opportunity to go out and build their own kitchens. I approached Fair Foods Matters (a local nonprofit that works to improve access to healthy, local food in the Kalamazoo community) and asked if they were interested in taking this on, and they said yes.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I wear a lot of hats. I meet with between two and four new clients a week to help them through the start-up process. I also go out into the community and develop relationships with service providers so that we can add them to the resource guide we give clients. There’s a lot of financial management, including fundraising and grant writing, as well as management of the systems that make the program function, including ensuring our facility is up to code, licensed and clean and our equipment works.

Did you see yourself doing something like this when you were a kid?

No, I thought I was going to be a veterinarian or a psychologist. There is a component of psychology to it (managing the Can-Do Kitchen), though. It's a kind of a rollercoaster mentoring and guiding new clients through their start-up process. It’s emotional, with ups and downs, and we try to be a solid place for clients to come and freak out and be there for them when they need it.

What you do you do when you work with a client?

Clients start by taking a group tour of the kitchen and learn what the program offers. They get an application, which is really a business-planning tool that asks questions about their idea, where they want to go, what they've done and their experience. It gets them thinking about things they haven’t thought about yet.

We don't want them to get into the kitchen and pay a bunch of money and make something they haven’t thought through. We want them to be at a point where it's a potentially viable business idea.

If they become one of our clients, then we become really engaged. We meet weekly to go over a checklist of what they should be working on and help them identify tasks that need to be completed, and we give them resource information for everyone from branding specialists to CPAs (certified public accountants) to insurance agents.

The Can-Do Kitchen seems to be more than just a kitchen.

The kitchen is a crucial part of it, but it’s really small-business development. People will have a recipe that others tell them is really good, and they want to make it into a business. But they find out it’s so much more than just their recipe. They have to learn how to turn that idea into a business.

What accomplishment have you had that stands out?

Our Business Builders scholarship program, which provided scholarship money for entrepreneurs in low-income brackets that didn’t have capital to develop their ideas. The program gave them the chance to try it out. The strongest scholarship recipient out of that program was Maliesha Pullano, of Mamaleelu Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. She’s got a great product and is really creative.

What keeps you up at night?

The knowledge that I, as one person, can’t level the playing field and make this opportunity available to everybody. We can offer scholarships, but there are a lot of barriers, including racial, economic and language barriers, and they are forces in the society that are beyond our control.

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Kalamazoo’s Can-Do Kitchen to split from parent organization, fine-tune its mission

MiBiz, Jayson Bussa, October 2015

KALAMAZOO — After seven years operating as one of the marquee programs for a Kalamazoo-based nonprofit organization, the Can-Do Kitchen is poised to establish itself as its own 501(c)(3).

Since opening its doors in 2008, Can-Do Kitchen has been providing commercial kitchen space, food business incubation and workshops for budding entrepreneurs in the local food industry. Until now, the Can-Do Kitchen functioned as a program under Fair Food Matters, which was established in 2001 to educate the community about food issues.

Can-Do Program Director Lucy Dilley will move into an executive director role when the group breaks off into its own organization, affording Can-Do the opportunity to hone in solely on furthering its own mission.

Fair Food Matters, on the other hand, will zero in on its other most popular program, Growing Matters Garden, which offers hands-on, garden-based learning experiences for students at Woodward Elementary School. Heather Crull is manager of that program.

Dilley said she is targeting January 2016 for the transition to be completed, but people may notice changes to the program’s identity as soon as the next couple of months.

“With [Can-Do and the Growing Matters Garden] being the two longest running and strongest programs of Fair Food Matters, it was obvious to us that the programs were meeting a need in the community, but the missions were pretty different,” Dilley said. “We learned over the years working under Fair Food Matters that the Can-Do Kitchen can be a separate organization, and we can poise ourselves to be more effective and focus on the mission.”

The mission for Can-Do Kitchen continues to evolve.

According to Dilley, the primary goal for Can-Do Kitchen is to make more local food products available to the community, but the group also has focused on removing barriers to food business ownership.

Dilley spoke about the economic, racial, gender and language barriers that might be enough to stymie would-be food industry entrepreneurs.

“All these are huge barriers,” Dilley said. “I feel like our role is to overcome these barriers.”

As a program of Fair Food Matters, Can-Do Kitchen was the beneficiary of only a portion of the organization’s money and resources, essentially limiting its potential. Dilley said that the pitch for donation dollars was a little trickier, too, simply because they were selling two very different programs under one banner.

“I would say that it was challenging to appeal to funders that wanted to fund both,” Dilley said, referring to Can-Do Kitchen and Growing Matters Garden.

For now, Fair Food Matters and the Can-Do Kitchen organizations will share office space at the Can-Do headquarters located at 511 Harrison St. in Kalamazoo.


Currently, the Can-Do Kitchen is working with 18 food businesses that find themselves in a variety of phases within their business process. Dilley said that the kitchen isn’t booked to capacity, but the numbers are still strong.

Local food providers including Mike’s Famous Michigan Bean Dip, Fizzy Bread and Dips and the Kalamazoo Pickle Company operate out of the Can-Do Kitchen.

“We don’t anticipate our business clients experiencing much of a change as we transition,” Dilley said. “We’re starting new and there is a lot of opportunity for more intentional communication on what sort of organization we want to be and asking our clients to be there with us.

“Our clients have a voice in how the organization goes and telling us what they need from us. It’s a lot of give and take.”

Kzoo Brain Food, which produces an all-organic, walnut-based snack, is one of those clients. Founder and owner Jessie Forbes, who has certifications in both nutrition and fitness, spoke highly of not just the availability of commercial kitchen space and business incubation support, but also of Can-Do’s model for helping bring her product to market.

Forbes has capitalized on both the material resources and the educational component.

“The world needs more commercial kitchens that operate the way the Can-Do Kitchen does,” said Forbes, whose product is billed as nutrient-packed brain fuel that includes coconut oil, cacao powder, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg and cloves.

“There’s never a point where I can’t find out what the next step is as far as the many roles of a food business owner and operator,” Forbes said. “Mostly what I think I’ve learned at the Can-Do Kitchen is that entrepreneurism isn’t a job — it’s a lifestyle.”

When asked to describe the main hurdles the fledgling organization will face, Dilley said it’s too soon to say.

“Ask me again in a year — I probably will never say fundraising is easy,” Dilley said. “I think what we’re doing is certainly something people are interested in and the more we can tell the story of our clients that we work with, the more excited donors can get.

“We need to continue to tell the story that we’re trying to be accessible to everyone in our community, not just those that already have access to resources (to make a food business). In that sense, we might be a little different than traditional incubation programs. That will be appealing to donors as we keep telling the stories and they see our clients’ products in the stores. That’s huge.”

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Can-Do Kitchen to Become a Stand-Alone Operation

KALAMAZOO, MI – Fair Food Matters' Can-Do Kitchen, a Kalamazoo-based incubator for commercial cooking and those trying to work their way into the food business, is taking steps to become a stand-alone operation.

"After seven strong years of supporting entrepreneurs and a vibrant regional food system with Fair Food Matters, the Can-Do Kitchen is becoming a separate 501(c)3 non-profit organization," the directors of Fair Food Matters wrote in a statement Monday.

The Can-Do Kitchen, a program of Fair Food Matters, expects to relocate in 2016 from about 1,400-square-feet of space it uses at 511 Harrison St., and expand in a two-step process. The kitchen is on the north side of the People's Food Co-op building, which has a separate 507 Harrison St. address.

"We will relocate to a larger interim kitchen facility that will allow us to do all the things we are already doing," Lucy Dilley, program manager of the Can-Do Kitchen, said of supporting food businesses. "And in two to three years, we will move to a place where we can expand."

She said the kitchen needs more room for cooking, baking and packaging. It also wants room for teaching stations, workshops, events, and links with food hub and farmers' market activities.

Dilley said the kitchen has been growing and hopes to find a permanent home with about 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of space. The People's Food Co-op is also growing, she said, and could use the space now occupied by Can-Do Kitchen inside the 6,500-square-foot building it opened in 2011.

Opened in 2008, the Can-Do Kitchen leases licensed kitchen space and basic kitchen equipment that new and existing food entrepreneurs can use to produce food products for sale. It provides resources for start-ups, including help with marketing, commercial kitchen training, formulating a business plan and help with obtaining a food license.

Started in 2001, Fair Food Matters strives to improve the physical, economic and social health of the community by improving access to healthy, locally produced food and by educating, connecting, and empowering interested people in the Kalamazoo community. Its key program is the Growing Matters Garden program, an experiential learning program at Woodward Elementary School in Kalamazoo.

By separating the two operations, Dilley said, "We can focus on our more specific mission of helping food entrepreneurs and Fair Food Matters can focus on the Growing Matters Garden program."

The Can-Do Kitchen cited nine advancements it made during this year:

-The incubation program supported eight new startups and 12 core businesses;

-It helped dozens of workshop participants learn crucial business skills;

-70 percent of its clients were women-owned businesses;

-Three clients hired employees;

-Three new clients obtained state-required food establishment licenses;

-It wrapped up the first cycle of Business Builder Scholarships, providing startup capital to nine entrepreneurs who lacked the funds necessary to start businesses;

-Four of its clients grew to distribute their products in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas and even as far as the Upper Peninsula;

-50 products were produced each week in its kitchen and sold state-wide.

-One client, Free Love Bakery, graduated into its own facility. The name of the business, a seller of gluten-free foods, is a reference to allowing people who want gluten-free products to be free to love food again. It is owned by Julie Fox, of Kalamazoo.

More about Find out the Can-Do Kitchen is available at its website:

By Al Jones | 
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