Couple’s certified kitchen designed to help farmers’ markets entrepreneurs
TRENTON, N.J. — For farmers with ideas for value-added products to sell at their retail farm stands or farmers’ markets, access to a certified kitchen can be an obstacle in getting the products made.
With caterers a key customer base for the Cherry Street Kitchen that has declined drastically due to the coronavirus pandemic, the owners say several individuals are making and packing their own products.
The proprietors at Cherry Street Kitchen are Barbara Simpson, a former master chef, and her husband John Vadnais, who previously worked in information technology and computer programming and handles maintenance and cleaning at much of the facility.
Vadnais works closely with the Trenton Health Department and the New Jersey Department of Health to ensure that rigorous standards for their commercial operation are maintained or exceeded.
Cherry Street Kitchen offers food entrepreneurs and smaller producing farmers affordable time to experiment, perfect and eventually produce whatever the entrepreneurial farmer or his associates want to produce.
“On a whim Barbara started looking at buying a building that she could turn into commercial kitchen spaces,” Vadnais said recently at Cherry Street Kitchen. Simpson said “the building had a good vibe and we could see everything was solidly built.”
Combining her expertise with modern commercial kitchens and the equipment and supplies needed for them with his expertise in carpentry, plumbing, refrigeration and electricity they were off and running and officially opened Cherry Street Kitchen in January of 2017.
“Barbara loves the food aspects and I love all the people we have in here on a regular basis,” Vadnais said, “my whole career was behind a computer, so I love seeing the people come in here and doing most of the maintenance we need here.”
The four bays or work stations at the facility are well distanced from each other, an important consideration in this COVID-19 era.
Regular clients include bread and cookie makers, soup and chili makers from Princeton and anyone else who’s working with vegetables, fruits or prepared meats.
“What we don’t have here is a USDA-approved facility for butchering,” Vadnais said, and indeed, that’s a whole different regulatory spectrum than can be accommodated at Cherry Street Kitchen.
Bay 1 includes a conventional stove, large fridge and several large stainless steel tables, Bay 2 is designated a preparation area, Bay 3 is meant for “Mostly Vegetables,” and Bay 4 is intended for bakery items.
“The licensing process to get your own commercial kitchen can be burdensome.”
“The whole idea of Cherry Street is people can come in and work on an hourly basis and it won’t cost them a whole lot of money,” Vadnais said.
On a Thursday in mid-May, earlier in the day, bays were occupied by a vegetarian chili maker from Princeton; a baker who specializes in cookies and private operators who sell and deliver prepared gourmet meals.
“We have a wide variety of businesses in here because we allow a more flexible schedule and smaller amounts of hours,” Vadnais said.
Both acknowledged business has been slower since the COVID pandemic arrived in New Jersey in early March.
They hope it will pick up as people are allowed to gather together again for weddings, birthdays, bar-mitzvah’s and business, academic and social conferences.
“With COVID, catering is dead right now,” Simpson said, “and this place was designed to be a place for caterers to operate.”
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