Ordinance for Operators

September 7th, 2010 comments 0

Last week, we posted the complete shared kitchen draft ordinance, as well as a summary of how it will affect shared-use kitchen users.  That’s just half of the story, though, as the ordinance also affects shared kitchen operators, such as Kitchen Chicago.  Here are the major points:

  • Operators must get a new “shared kitchen license” (previously, operators were licensed as retail food establishments).  Additionally, a “retail food establishment supplemental license” must be obtained to allow in any normal business activities previously falling under retail food establishment.
  • There is also a new “shared kitchen supplemental license” for businesses seeking to operate a shared kitchen in addition to some other primary business activity (e.g. restaurants or bakeries renting off-hours).
  • Shared kitchens will always be classified as a Category I facility, meaning highest risk, and therefore more frequent inspections.
  • Operators are responsible for all municipal code violations that occur on the premise, including any licensing and/or health code violations committed by a user.
  • Operators are required to keep extensive records (e.g. user activity, including dates & times reserved & used, sanitation managers on duty, discontinued use, etc).

Again, this is just our best effort at capturing the main points.  We’re happy with the progress made so far.  The new draft ordinance is an important step in creating an environment with clearer definitions in which shared kitchen operators and users can do business in Chicago.  Based on over 5 years of experience running a shared-use kitchen, and some great feedback from others, we’ve put together comments on the draft and look forward to working with key sponsors of the draft ordinance in the upcoming weeks.

9 Ordinance Pages in 11 Bullet Points

September 1st, 2010 comments 2

Last weekend we posted City Hall’s first draft ordinance for shared kitchen operators and users. We know not everyone enjoys nine pages of municipal code amendments, so we’ve attempted to distill the major points for shared kitchen users below. This is presented as our best effort interpretation of the draft, without commentary.

  • Users need a new “shared kitchen user” business license
    • Two types: long-term (2 yr, $330) or short-term (90 days, $75)
  • You do not need a retail food or wholesale license. The shared kitchen user license allows for business activities covered by those
  • Shared kitchen users must have a sanitation manager on duty during all shared kitchen use (we already require this)
  • The shared kitchen user license can be used at any shared kitchen, including restaurants w/ a “shared kitchen supplemental license”
  • New record-keeping requirements
    • Users must have a signed agreement (“affidavit”) w/ each shared kitchen used
    • Users must maintain a log of dates & times any shared kitchen was used
  • Application process for a shared kitchen user license
    • Submit a menu and a form identifying any special equipment (presumably not already part of the shared kitchen)
    • Must have a consultation w/ a health department official

One area that remains unclear is liability for health code violations. The draft ordinance clearly holds operators liable, but doesn’t detail any responsibilities (or non-responsibilities) for shared kitchen users.

Hope this helps to summarize the nine page draft for users.

Chicago Produces Shared-Use Kitchen Draft Ordinance

August 28th, 2010 comments 0

As we closed out a busy week at the kitchen (four health inspections, one of which was actually our own), we received an email from the BACP late on Friday with a draft ordinance proposal for shared-use kitchens:

Shared-Use Kitchen Ordinance — Draft 8/27/2010

Honestly, with the busy summer season, and all the food truck goings-on, we lost a bit of visibility about where this was at in City Hall. We’ll be digging into it a bit more this weekend, but after a cursory read, we can say we’re happy that things are moving forward. Give it a read, let us know what you think. We’ll be getting back to the City by 9/3 with comments.

Update: Read our follow up posts on the highlight for shared-use kitchen users and operators.

This Conversation Never Happened

March 25th, 2010 comments 0

If you’ve never browsed the City of Chicago Municipal Code, take a look (the section on Farmers Markets might be of interest).  You don’t have to spend much time with it before realizing that its confusing, sometimes self-contradicting, and often alarmingly open to interpretation.

We decided to ask for clarification.  Since we’ve been in contact with the Director of the CDPH,  and the Deputy Director of BACP, it seemed like a good opportunity to get a straight answer.  Our question was, “If a vendor is only selling at Farmer’s Markets, does that vendor need their own retail food establishment license?”.  Surprisingly, we got a fairly small, business friendly response.  If you are only selling at Farmers Markets, both were in agreement that no license is required, and vendors are able to work out of shared-use kitchens for the purposes of those markets.

The only problem is that it was a verbal response, and a quick follow-up email to confirm the answer has gone unanswered for a week now.

We’ve been burned before.  Answers from the City have a nasty habit of changing depending on who and when you ask.  Therefore, making business decisions based on those answers should be taken at one’s own risk.  We’ve been advised to always document names and conversations when dealing with City officials.  In fact, that advice was from the same director from whom we’re now struggling to get a written confirmation.

Of course, even with documentation, answers can still just be wrong.  That means that as a micro-business trying to navigate municipal code, you better watch out for (1) arbitrary interpretation, (2) a reluctance to provide definite (documented) answers, and (3) wrong information.  How would you mitigate these risks?

If You Support Shared-Use Kitchens, You May Also Enjoy..

March 16th, 2010 comments 0

This past Friday, the second day of the recent Family Farmed Expo, was the Food Policy Summit. It was a sort of joint event between Family Farmed and the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (CFPAC), both great organizations. A late addition to the day’s working groups was a discussion panel titled “Creating Policies that Support and Expand Shared-Use Kitchens”.

If you had trouble finding it, you weren’t alone. The last-minute addition didn’t seem to be well advertised, and starting 30 minutes late didn’t help either (other than perhaps giving people time to find the room). Nonetheless, a good group of about 30 people stopped by for the panel with Kitchen Chicago owner Alexis Leverenz, Zina Murray of Logan Square Kitchen, and Jim Javenkoski, food scientist and local food system advocate.

The meeting covered a lot of ground regarding what’s been happening in the past month and a half since the “Kitchen Chicago incident.” It’s difficult to summarize in a short space, but Martha Bayne posted a good write-up in the Chicago Reader.  Topics ranged in scope: terminology (shared-use, contract, or incubator kitchen?); education and oversight of the health department; strategies for policy change (Is there a status quo? Should shared-use kitchens fit into existing policy, or is there a need for new policy?).  Each of the topics covered could certainly be an entry on its own, but here’s the biggest question: what’s next?

There’s no shortage of passion behind improving food policy at all levels, but there are also a lot of food policy movements going on right now (urban ag, backyard chickens, snout to tail, and farm to fork are just a few getting a lot of attention in the last few days). Throw in support for local economies & jobs, school lunches, and maybe the US obesity rate and its hard to know where to start, or sometimes where to stop in scope. They all inter-relate, and they all need to be addressed.

However, there seems to be a danger of splitting our collective voice and losing some organization.  Deciding what to focus on, and maintaining that focus while figuring out the best path forward will be the challenge.  These discussions are great, but the real work lies ahead.

Shared-Use: We’re Stealing it Back

March 6th, 2010 comments 0

If you missed it, KC owner Alexis Leverenz was on a segment of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight discussing the licensing flap.  It was unfortunate that BACP and CDPH couldn’t make it, but they did send a written response.  However, we take issue with some of their statement:

…Each business owner requires his or her own individual business license.  There are other shared kitchens in Chicago that are operating accordingly.

[...]

We do not see very many shared kitchens, however there has never been any question to what the licensing requirements would be in this case.

There is a learning process going on here.  A few weeks back when we met with BACP and CDPH in person we shared some details about how we run our business.  Providing some visibility into a shared-use kitchen seemed to be appreciated, and I’d venture to say it eased their minds a bit about our operation.

However, based on the statement above, the City still seems to be lumping a lot of business models together, and that’s bad for making good policy decisions that support small businesses.

Based on our previous conversations with City reps, their idea of “shared kitchen” includes kitchens supporting multiple, non-rotating tenants.  Let’s call them “multi-tenant” kitchens.  These are places that have multiple businesses running out of them, but aren’t in the business of seeking new users.  For example, a group of individuals starting together, or a restaurant/bakery renting out time during off-hours.

This is different than a shared-use kitchen.  We are constantly seeking and accepting new users, and expanded our facility to support more of them.  Our customers use the kitchen as needed, which could be monthly, weekly, daily, or seasonally.  Some use us for years, some we only see once.

While the inspection & licensing policy approach for a “multi-tenant” kitchen can probably remain as is, the approach for users of a “shared-use” kitchen needs to be streamlined.  Its unfeasible (and unnecessary) to expect the CDPH to have the resources to re-inspect a shared-use kitchen on a potentially weekly basis as new users start.  Nor does the $660 (2 year) retail food establishment license make sense for many micro-business users of our kitchen, when they aren’t opening a kitchen establishment: they’re just using one.  And it certainly doesn’t make sense for our larger business customers with their own licensed kitchens in Chicago, just in need of temporary extra capacity.

So, we’re stealing back the term “shared-use” kitchen to describe what we do.  For some, a “multi-tenant” arrangement of a handful of non-changing businesses working out of a single kitchen makes sense.  But its a different type of business, and needs to be handled differently than the dynamic nature of a “shared-use” kitchen.

Born of Necessity

March 4th, 2010 comments 3

The community surrounding Kitchen Chicago has always been great, both online and in person.  Recently we’ve been reaching out in more ways (Twitter, Facebook), and we wanted to provide another avenue to share and discuss topics related to KC.  It has also become apparent that our home-grown support for “news” entries on our main site wasn’t cutting the mustard for what we’d like to accomplish, so we’ve spun up this blog as a solution.

Most recently, of course, has been the licensing flap, and we will be posting more information about the ongoing push for food protection & business licensing policy change in the following days.  But we will also be sharing information about the (small/micro-)business of food, shared-use kitchens, happenings at Kitchen Chicago, and maybe even a recipe or two.

We invite our readers to join in the conversation via comments.  There are a lot of good ideas out there, and we look forward to hearing them.