NutCheeselogists? Nary Dairy? Local Chefs Center Incubates Delicious Startups

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Article and Photography by RACHEL YOUNG

4:55 am | December 4, 2013


With recently received funding of $170,124 from a Community Development Block Grant, Chefs Center of California, a local food-based business incubator on North San Gabriel Blvd. in East Pasadena, installed 84 solar panels that generate one third of their daily energy needs.

Chefs Center was one of four local community development programs to receive a Congressional recognition award by Congresswoman Judy Chu for how the programs spent the Community Development funds.

The programs are innovative, address crucial issues, and seek to bring opportunities for low- and moderate-income people.

“When you have a lot of food-based business using the facility at the same time on a hot day, it could get warm. However the new [heating and cooling system] prevents that from happening,” Joe Colletti said who founded the program. “To make programs successful, you need to have a strong public and private relationship. So having Congress members’ support is very important for us.”

The three other local projects who received Congressional Recognition include the Maintenance Assistance and Services to Homeowners (MASH), which provides long term unemployed persons with temporary jobs and job training; The Mike Antonovich Dental Clinic that provided low or no cost dental services to low and very low income adults and children; and the La Pintoresca Teen Education Center that provides educational resources including a new computer lab.

Opening in 2009 as a nonprofit economic development program, in four and a half years Chefs Center says it has served 450 start-up businesses. Colletti says that at least thirty-five percent of those start-ups have flourished into successful, self-operating businesses.

For many of these start up businesses like Lisa & Mo’s redefining gluten free baking, their food-business idea could never have become a reality without Chefs Center, mostly due to the large expense of commercial kitchen equipment.

“Chefs Center is such a great place to start because you don’t have to put all the money out up front. A storefront is so expensive to get equipment and insurance and everything else that is handled through Chefs Center. We have our own dedicated space so that were away from the rest of the kitchen where people may be using flour,” Tony Minutelli of Lisa & Mo’s said.

Famous for their avocado cupcake, Lisa & Mo started from their love of baking. Find their gluten free products including cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and savory items on www.lisaandmo.com or at www.goodeggs.com.

Next to gluten free bakers is a vegan cheese making couple who call themselves NutCheeseologists. Looking for a non-dairy cheese for his children, Allen Keller fermented cashews and developed it into a delicious cream cheese-textured cashew cheese called Nary Dairy. Nary Dairy can replace sour cream, mayonnaise, goat cheese, ricotta cheese and even make soup creamier, especially their delicious Herbed Cream Qi’Z found on www.narydairy.com.

“We wanted to make something that was healthy and a good way for our daughters to get protein. Nary Dairy is full of nutrients and vitamins and the kids love it too. They take it as a school treat with carrots and pita chips,” Lois Keller said who helps her husband make small batches of Nary Dairy at Chefs Center.

Chefs Center has given the couple the resources like the proof box and the giant mixer, but also a new family who they share ideas and laugh with as they create food next to each other.

“In other kitchens it’s a competition, other kitchens don’t have the level of services or community. At Chefs Center it’s like seeing friends and family again. They share resources and contacts and learn techniques from each other,” Chef Larry Bressler said who is the general manager of Chefs Center.

Chefs Center caters to the needs of each food business. Some businesses utilize the 6,000 square foot licensed commercial kitchen for 12 hours daily especially as the holiday season impends, while others come for 45 minutes once a week. In the kitchen on any given day as few as five up to 19 businesses on its busiest day could be in the kitchen talking, laughing, sharing ideas and building camaraderie as they pursue unique food based businesses.

“Chefs Center is extremely successful. It is one of the most successful endeavors that I have ever started and the success is really huge. There are so many businesses doing so many good things,” Colletti said.

From the Flying Pig Food Truck to Coolhaus in Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard, Bonnie B’s Smokin’, Mother Moo Creamery, the Goodie Girls who won an episode of Cupcake Wars, and Napoleon Macarons with now four stores all incubated at Chefs Center. According to Chef Larry Bressler, the advantage that makes Chefs Center different and contributes to the large success is access to Chefs Center’s 5 Entrepreneurial Steps including instructional workshops and consulting services.

“It’s great to have other people who are in the food business to knock around ideas with and talk about your experiences as far as what you’re selling, how you’re selling, who you’re selling to and then also technique things especially people like us who are not trained in the culinary field,” Minutelli of Lisa & Mo’s said.

The business ideas incubating at Chefs Center stand at the cutting edge of food business with private chef Paleo-based meal deliveries, delivering healthy lunches to local schools, macarons straight from Lyon, France, vegan products, gluten free baking, cold pressed juice, and a chef for the green room of Jimmy Kimmel Live among many others.

“We are four private chefs delivering Paleo-based meals to people’s homes and to cross fit gyms. We want to get Paleo-based eating to be more than a trend, but an actual way of living and eating,” Tony Campos of eliteEats said, visit eliteEats.net for more information.

The idea for Chefs Center itself sprang from another one of Colletti’s projects that acted as job training café called Mama’s Hot Tamales. In that experience Colletti saw an increasing demand for people who wanted to start a business. The Episcopal Economic Development under the branch of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles established Chefs Center in Pasadena, as it is the only place in Los Angeles County that can operate a shared space kitchen. Pasadena has a separate Public Health Department that allows places like Chefs Center to operate, although every business must obtain its own public health license.

“The city has been an unbelievable partner over the last four and a half years. We see the health inspector in here sometimes twice a week,” Bressler said.

The history of the building itself dates back to at least 1903. At that time the building was used as stables, a livery that housed the horses for the Rose Parade. The building became a restaurant in the 1970s and then the empty building was converted into a giant kitchen dreamed up by Chef Larry Bressler.

Now Bressler has helped many other’s dreams come true with his advice and encouragement and he could help make your food based business a reality too. For more information visit http://www.chefscenter.org or http://www.ehala.org/.