In the basement kitchen at Mizzou North, chairs are stacked on tables and a “Cafe 115” price list is written in faded chalk on a blackboard.

But the empty space could soon get a new life.

The Business Loop Community Improvement District and Regional Economic Development Inc. want to transform the former Ellis Fischel Cancer Center cafeteria into a shared commercial kitchen, which is intended to help small-scale food producers who can’t afford their own licensed cooking areas. If the kitchen is created, mobile food vendors, food truck owners, coffee roasters, bakers and farmers would be able to share ovens, grills, steam kettles and other equipment for as little as $17 per hour.

The community improvement district’s board of directors voted Thursday to dedicate up to $25,000 from its 2020 fiscal year budget to the creation of the shared kitchen.

Stacey Button, president of Regional Economic Development, said in an email that the organization’s staff and partners are currently finalizing a more detailed budget and business plan for the shared kitchen for the Regional Economic Development board to consider at its September meeting.

Carrie Gartner, the district’s executive director, said people who want to use the kitchen would be able to reserve the space online for two to three hours at a time.

Currently, startup food entrepreneurs have to complete several steps to get a licensed cooking space before they can sell their wares. Some have chosen to rent kitchens in existing restaurants during off-hours so they can prepare their products and sell them later.

“Who wants to be cooking at 3 in the morning?” Gartner asked.

Gartner said Columbia used to have a for-profit shared commercial kitchen, but it didn’t last long because it charged $25 per hour, plus additional fees for dry and cold storage. Entrepreneurs who could afford $25 an hour probably could afford to establish their own kitchens, she said.

District Board Chairman James Roark-Gruender said many mobile food vendors need a licensed commercial kitchen to do some of their prep workbecause entrepreneurs “can’t cook (food) at home and put it into the food truck.”

Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.

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