After graduating from East Carolina University with a degree in marketing and communications in 2009, Becky Schultes moved to Sarasota and began looking for a job at the nadir of the recession.
In two years, she managed sales for a security company, promoted a major Florida theme park and worked as a bartender before deciding to create her own job as an entrepreneur.
Last October she launched Sweet Teeth
, a small company that taps into the current craze for bite-sized desserts. The Sarasota-based business sells and delivers cake pops (lollipops made of cake), cake bites and cake truffles -- all high-end novelties that Schultes sculpts from crumbled cake and decorates by hand -- to customers from Tampa to Ft. Myers.
In February, Schultes, 25, produced nearly 500 of the treats, which she sells for up to $45 a dozen.
Now Schultes' dream is getting a lift from another Sarasota entrepreneur’s labor of love.
, a shared commercial kitchen run by veteran baker and pastry chef Christine Nordstrom, provides a part-time home to Sweet Teeth along with seven other small food businesses, including Nordstrom's own Sift Bakehouse
. The 1,600-square-foot kitchen, housed in a strip mall storefront on Beneva Road, caters to companies that have outgrown their owners' home kitchens but can't yet afford the expense of an independent facility.
Nordstrom -- who describes herself as an entrepreneur, pastry chef and creative opportunity enabler on LinkedIn -- began hatching the plans for RISE after closing her three-year-old bakery, Wired Whisk Bakehouse, in 2009.
The concept of a shared-use commercial kitchen isn't new -- they exist in most major cities, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia -- but in 12 years of baking in Sarasota, Nordstrom had never found an affordable, professionally run shared kitchen. Prospective landlords to whom she proposed the idea said they could make more profit renting directly to chefs themselves.
"That's not what this is about,'' Nordstrom says. "People come to you for this service because they have no money.''
After closing the Wired Whisk, Nordstrom decided to rebrand her cookies, scones, muffins, granola and desserts under the label Sift Bakehouse and sell them at local farmers markets. She tried sharing kitchen space informally for two years with mixed success before finding a landlord supportive of RISE last October, when she formally established the shared kitchen. In about a third of the kitchen space, Nordstrom churns out enough Sift Bakehouse goodies to fuel booths at seven farmers markets each week. During an average week, she sells a thousand scones in flavors including bacon chocolate chip.
Turning To Retail Space
In addition to Schultes's cake pops, other resident chefs produce raw superfood snacks (made of nuts, seeds and other ingredients), BBQ and Jamaican jerk sauces, guacamole, spanakopita and tzatziki. Two food trucks use the kitchen to refresh their supplies between stops. Each renter signs a non-disclosure agreement, designed to prevent recipe stealing, in addition to a short-term lease.
In turn, Nordstrom requires prospective kitchen sharers to have a business plan, a website or logo, customers and other evidence that their company is up and running rather than a pipe dream. The veteran baker advised Schultes informally for several months, helping her to incorporate Sweet Teeth before signing the cake pop maker up to rent time at RISE, which costs around $350 per month for 30 kitchen hours.
"If I strolled in here with no logo and no client base, that wouldn't be someone she would take into this kitchen,'' Schultes says.
In May, Nordstrom plans to transform a 300-square-foot space inside RISE into a cooperative retail storefront for the kitchen sharers. The space will double as a demo kitchen where RISE chefs can teach classes to people hoping to learn specific culinary skills or aiming to become food entrepreneurs. One planned class will teach students how to navigate the Florida Department of Health's requirements for operating a food business.
"There are so many chefs and artists in Sarasota who need a kitchen,'' Nordstrom says. "This is about people creating jobs for themselves and their friends.''
Megan Voeller of Tampa is a contributing writer to 83 Degrees Media and the visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.