For Andree Entezari, the recent slump to hit local businesses is more reason than ever to permit residential kitchens in Cambridge.
Entezari, a city planning student at Boston University, has recently become the center of an advocacy campaign pushing for Cambridge and Boston to allow the permits. His campaign so far has involved direct support from Cambridge Local First, the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts and a number of local business owners, with much of his advocacy efforts collected in a Change.org petition that has received more than 480 signatures. Residential Kitchen Retail Sale permits would let people prepare safe foods (such as baked goods, confectioneries, and jams and jellies) in their home kitchen for direct sale to the public.
Residential kitchens are permitted and open for application in towns and cities including Somerville, which has five kitchens making granola, bread, cookies and brownies; Arlington, which has seven residential kitchens for production of spices, jams and cookies; Watertown, which has three residential kitchens making cakes, granolas and cookie; and Concord, and Newton.
They’re common because state law allows them and Cambridge has no ordinance, rules or regulations against them – making it an apparent issue simply of city staff not offering or issuing them.
Councillor Quinton Zondervan, contacted for comment as chair of the council’s Health Committee and as a member of its Economic Development Committee, said he favored the idea. “I support this initiative. I’m not sure an ordinance is required, however,” Zondervan said. “It may be possible for the city manager to permit this through regulation.”
Helping small business
Residential kitchens support entrepreneurs and small-business owners who cannot afford to rent out commercial kitchen spaces, Entezari said.
“Residential kitchen permits are beneficial because they allow food entrepreneurs to make supplemental income, support the local food movement and provide additional vendorship opportunities at farmers markets which promotes food security,” he said.
Entezari has experience with a residential kitchen business in Los Angeles, where he made and sold dehydrated fruit strips. “My hobby turned into a passion. I met other food entrepreneurs and gained mentors in the food business,” he said.
Entezari is not alone in his call for residential kitchen permits in Cambridge. Jonathan Chery, a student, consultant and self-described entrepreneur, would like to start a food business out of his own kitchen. He called himself one of many who cannot afford a shared commercial kitchen, especially during a time of added financial strain when any extra income is vital.
A class issue too
“Covid-19 had placed a lot of financial stress on individuals, but some individuals have profitable hobbies which can be helpful to their finances. Residential kitchens in Cambridge and Boston will provide an opportunity for people to make passive income to take care of their financial needs, increase local business and lessen the illegal manufacturing and distribution of food and beverage without a permit,” Chery said.
Another supporter is Frank Pinto, a food entrepreneur living in Cambridge who’s interested in distributing custom spice mixes inspired by his Latino heritage. Because of Cambridge’s lack of legal infrastructure around residential kitchens, Pinto has taken his operation to his parents’ home on the North Shore.
“It strikes me as classist. Small-business entrepreneurship is one of the main ways lower-income and middle-class people can make money for themselves and begin to accumulate wealth and stability,” Pinto said.
Community kitchens to residential kitchens
Entezari is working with Zondervan to potentially bring the kitchen proposal to the council – but should hope the process moves more quickly and productively than the city’s last attempt at food innovation, a bid by chef JJ Gonson to open a community kitchen. In 2010, she identified a need for a shared, professional space closer than one in Jamaica Plain, and tried to raise funds to renovate a long-empty Italian restaurant in North Cambridge. But the cost of fixing fire damage put the space out of reach, she recalled Thursday, and it was zoned wrong for a community kitchen. In fact, most of the possible spaces in Cambridge were zoned wrong.
Residential kitchens were exciting to her because they lowered the cost of entry to a food business even more than a commercial shared kitchen would have, she said. Low cost is essential in such an uncertain time.
“Why did this take so long? It makes it so much more possible to be a business,” Gonson said. “It’s not having to take on a whole other overhead, which is what we bumped up against in Cambridge [at the proposed community kitchen site]. Buildout would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
While she never wanted to move to one of the nearby towns that allowed residential kitchens, “I’ve been jealous,” Gonson said. “My life could have been so different.”
This post was updated Aug. 14, 2020, to be restructured after information was added about state-level support for residential kitchens. It was updated Aug. 16, 2020, to correct the “Good Things Utah” host that is pictured.