Columbia’s commercial kitchen project is happening.

Twelve city partners, including Regional Economic Development Group Inc., the city of Columbia and the Business Loop Community Improvement District, have teamed up to make the proposed COMO Cooks project a reality for food entrepreneurs.

During a meeting of the REDI Board of Directors on Wednesday, REDI President Stacey Button and Business Loop CID Executive Director Carrier Gartner detailed plans for the “much-needed” commercial kitchen, which is anticipated to open Dec. 1 in the existing kitchen at Mizzou North.

The shared kitchen space will allow mobile food vendors, caterers and other small-batch food producers to rent the facility and its equipment for a baseline cost of $17 an hour. It will also have 24/7 availability, dry and cold storage, business counseling services, marketing assistance and regular classes.

The COMO Cooks project is intended to provide food producers in the greater Columbia area with an affordable space to scale up their businesses without the usual barriers of entry.

“It’s very hard to start up a restaurant,” Gartner said. “The build-out, the equipment — it’s just too much of a barrier for some folks.”

The project will combine items from the former kitchen at the Columbia Regional Airport with existing equipment in the Mizzou North facility, including several hoods, prep sinks and walk-in freezers. Only a “handful” of items will need to be purchased or donated, according to the project’s business plan.

A proposed advisory board including representatives from REDI, the Business Loop CID and food and beverage industry leaders will oversee management of the kitchen. The advisory board also intends to have representation from underserved populations to ensure the kitchen’s mission to reduce barriers for all is met, according to the project’s business plan.

Several board members, including REDI secretary and Addison’s and Sophia’s owner Matt Jenne, supported the project during the meeting.

“I think it’s great these people have this opportunity to make Columbia more of a foodie destination,” Jenne said. “I think that’s only going to be great for our community.”

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