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GIA Kitchen incubates new businesses in South Como

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

GIA Kitchen is the brain-child of Sarah and David Couenhoven, who bought an office building at 955 Mackubin St. in 2011. David had just retired from his life-long work as a contractor, which came in handy as the two overhauled the building into a commercial kitchen for 30 tenants.

Their tenants rent space with access to four extra-large stock-pot stoves for salsas, sauces, and ghees; 20, 40 and 60 quart industrial mixers; two double-rack convection ovens that can bake up to 30 sheet pans at a time; a walk-in refrigerator and freezer; 3,200 square feet of commercial cooking and baking space; and 1,600 square feet of warehouse space for storage and transfer of product.

What the Couenhovens have created is called an incubator kitchen, where entrepreneurs can launch a food line without the worry of high overhead and equipment costs.

“All of this started because of our own health issues,” Sarah said. “About ten years ago, David and I needed to shift to a gluten-free diet avoiding refined flour and sugar. We created a sourdough bread recipe that uses gluten free, whole grains that are highly digestible—and we liked it so much that we started selling it. We come into GIA every Tuesday morning to bake our one pound “Thuro-Bread” loaves: to fill our kitchen at home and our commercial orders.”

Photo right: Midway resident Jennifer Helm makes 528 popsicles in a typical production day. The flavor pictured here is hibiscus, which Helm makes by brewing hibiscus leaves into tea. The end-result is gluten free, sugar-free and delicious. Helm calls this pop her favorite guilt-free, go-to choice. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

One small kitchen space at GIA allows gluten, but the majority of the square footage is gluten and peanut free.

Jennifer Helm is an entrepreneur who launched St. Pops, a healthy popsicle business, out of GIA Kitchen four years ago. ”I had a life change in 2013,” Helm said, “when I was laid off after 20 years in a successful advertising career. I’d always wanted to run my own business, so I took the summer to develop recipes, research different incubator kitchen spaces, and create my business plan with the help of a class at Women Venture. One of the smartest things I did was to take my time, and to really think it all through.”

Helm continued, “One of the best things about being in an incubator kitchen is that we were able to launch a viable business with a very small investment. We put about $7,000 into St. Pops that first year, and we easily made it back.”

Photo left: St. Pops uses only biodegradable packaging, like these glassine paper bags. Helm is proud to run a zero waste business. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Helm has scaled back her flavor selection this year in an attempt to maximize efficiency. The flavors that will be available include chocolate, coffee, strawberry, lemonade, hibiscus, pear, elderberry, and rhubarb. She said quietly, “I swear that my rhubarb pops have a cult following.”

St. Pops are available at Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun, the City of St. Paul pools at Highland and Como Parks, the Thomas More Church Farmer’s Market (Summit and Lexington avenues), the Fulton Farmer’s Market (50th St. and France Ave.), and on the TUK TUK and 9 Yum Yum food trucks.

The cost for a St. Pops is $3, or $20 for a box of eight. Helm is available for catering weddings, grad parties, and corporate events. She has traveling coolers and a cart from which to sell her vegan confections on location.

Often asked why she doesn’t make tropical flavors like pineapple and mango, Helm explained, “We use local products whenever possible: fresh, seasonal fruit from the farmer’s markets, and coffee from the Dunn Brothers on Grand Ave.”

“Another benefit to being at GIA,” Helm said, “is the amount of contact I have with other cooks and makers.” There are many different foods being made there including gluten free pizza crusts, injera, raw coconut macaroons, specialty chocolates, and fresh pasta.

GIA Kitchen has an online space reservation system that saves small start-ups money and time. With no up-front capital investments, entrepreneurs can launch their product without the financial risk of renting a storefront and buying their own equipment.

Sarah concluded,”We’re always looking for new entrepreneurs to lease to at GIA: food start-ups or established business owners who would like to work in an environment that’s very clean, and where people are supportive of each other.

For more information, contact Sarah at giakitchen@gmail.com.

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