Cooking everything in your food truck can be a problem, and prepping everything at home probably isn’t ideal.
In this article, I’ll cover commissary kitchens and how you can use them to your advantage.
What is a Commissary Kitchen?
A commissary kitchen or a shared-use kitchen is a place where food service companies can go to prepare and store their food. Commissary kitchens come fully prepped with all the equipment that you could require to prepare your food. Of course, there are some that have more and better equipment, but usually, these come at a higher price.
Some commissary kitchens cater specifically to food trucks while others are businesses that rent out their kitchen to anyone in need, so the equipment can vary. It’s a smart idea to check the commissary kitchens at your location to see which one is the best fit for your needs. Use websites like The Kitchen Door which lists the commissary kitchens located all around the US, and you can even filter your searches by state or city.
Types of Commissary Kitchens
There are four different types of commissary kitchens. All of these options stand up to food standards so choosing the right one comes down to your needs and wallet.
Private Commissary Kitchen
Private Commissary kitchens are the most expensive of the four but for good reason. These allow you to work alone in a fully equipped kitchen environment. Most of them also have dedicated fridges for each of their users. Furthermore, you don’t have to worry about most of the cleaning, as this is done for you. A private commissary kitchen is a good idea if your food truck business is expanding and you need more space for preparation. It is also an excellent choice if you have several food trucks or locations because you can use it as a central kitchen. If you serve the same food at every location, a central kitchen can ensure that you provide the same quality and menu everywhere. Unfortunately, all of this luxury comes at a very high expense and would probably make your food truck considerably less profitable.
Shared kitchens are very similar to private kitchens. The main difference is that you work alongside other foodservice people at the same time, therefore, it becomes cheaper. This does mean that you have to work around each other, which can be a hassle. Fortunately, many of the shared kitchens provide assigned storage space and time slots for the renters. Moreover, a shared place gives you the opportunity to make new friends, learn new recipes, and improve your menu (unless your competition is using the same kitchen).
Many restaurants don’t use their kitchens in the mornings or at lunchtime. Therefore, you can make a deal with restaurants to use their kitchens in their off-time. This is a great option for restaurants as they’ll be making money from essentially nothing. For you, it is a great compromise between a shared and a private commissary kitchen as you will have the whole place for yourself but it won’t cost you a fortune. As restaurants have set hours, you always know in what time slots you are able to use the kitchen.
However, renting a restaurant’s kitchen means that you will need to do the cleaning yourself and meet the restaurant’s standards. Moreover, a restaurant might not offer you the same amenities as a commissionary kitchen (e.g. parking and storage). Additionally, many restaurants are unaware of this option, so you might have to reach out to them personally to negotiate a deal.
The last option might sound weird but can actually be the cheapest: using locations that have kitchens with small footfall. This includes everything from schools, churches, retirement homes, and even prisons. These places are usually government-owned and hence can be used extremely cheaply and are guaranteed to meet all food health and safety standards. Unfortunately, if you’re preparing specialty food this can be an issue as most likely they won’t have any special equipment such as a sous vide.
What to Consider When Using a Commissary Kitchen
Ideally, the chosen commissary kitchen should be located close to your food truck and customers so that your food’s quality won’t decline because of the long transportation time. It’s beneficial if the commissary kitchen is close to main roads or highways. Keep in mind that many commissary kitchens chose a suburban location or a place outside the city center because real estate prices are lower in this areas. It means lower rental costs but more money and time spent on transport.
Many commissary kitchens offer amenities like parking or waste disposal. The latter can include water disposal areas, grease traps, garbage bins, recycling and composting which are essential for meeting health code regulations. Some commissary kitchens make you pay extra if you want to use these facilities. If you have to chance, double-check if the waste areas are separated from the food preparation, storage and water supply sections so that there is no risk of contamination.
When using a commissary kitchen, storage space is a crucial aspect to think about. Ask how much space you get to store and refrigerate your food. If you choose a shared-use kitchen, it is also important to know whether you can lock away your ingredients and food items.
Commisary kitchen rates depend on the state and the location and costs can range between $15-$40 per hour. It’s smart to calculate the long-term costs of your investment as it might not be as economical as it seems. Check more commissary kitchens and compare their prices before you decide.
If you opt for a shared-use commissary kitchen, you will have to adapt to their schedules. Although usually everyone gets equal time to use the kitchen, there might be time slots that are rather inconvenient for you like early mornings or late nights. Get familiar with the scheduling conditions and available intervals.
If the facility is accessible 24/7, security is an important factor to consider. Make sure to choose a kitchen that has clear security policies and protects the renters and the property. The best is to check the indoor and outdoor safety features when selecting a location.
Advantages of Using Commissary Kitchens
So now that I’ve covered what commissary kitchens are, and the different types, it’s time to discuss why you should use them.
If your commissary kitchen is close to your food truck location you can make excess food and take a short break to restock from it. Thereby you can serve more food in a day and make more money.
If you use a dedicated commissary kitchen then you’ll have access to some great equipment. Therefore, depending on what food your serving, you might be able to prepare some of your food in advance. Thereby, you won’t need as much equipment in your food truck which gives you more space to utilize to make more profit.
Many commissary kitchens provide overnight parking which is beneficial in big cities where parking spots are expensive or difficult to find. If the facility offers parking, check how secure it is and whether it is open or covered.
Some commissary kitchens offer additional benefits like a mechanic who can help you with the maintenance of your food truck or a manager who can help you out in business questions. Moreover, commissary kitchens are excellent networking
opportunities that might result in new job opportunities.
To sum up, a commissary kitchen can be highly beneficial. To find out if it’s worth it for you will entirely depend on your food truck and business model. Have an ask around, see how much it costs, what you have to gain, and if it’s more profitable in the long run. It’s as “simple as that”.