When Marcy Bishop Kates worked as a grant writer for Michigan’s AmeriCorp, she dreamed of starting her own business some day. Her entrepreneurial spirit was satisfied in July 2011 when she founded Incu-BaKe, LLC, a commercial kitchen licensed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Kates aspired to be a professional cook. When she went hunting for a kitchen to rent in the Lansing area that could accommodate her needs, she came up short. The closest Incu-BaKe facility was located in Kalamazoo. So, she decided to open one up herself, and with the help of a real estate agent, she found a space — previously a restaurant — close to home that fit the bill. Incu-BaKe provides everything a baker, caterer, canner and cook needs to prepare, store and sell culinary goods to the greater Lansing community. Located in Holt on Aurelius Road, the all-purpose kitchen is equipped with a large commercial stove, confectioner’s oven, stainless steel work tables, storage for dry goods and refrigeration for cooked items. Before opening the kitchen, she conducted a survey and learned that there was a strong demand for a local kitchen “incubator.” Not only does Incu-BaKe offer a space to cook, but Kates also helps her clients satisfy the state’s rules and regulations regarding commercial food production. Since July 2011, more than 30 clients have received their licenses. She also assists new entrepreneurs with planning, starting and growing their food business. Today, Kates is so busy managing Incu-BaKe that she hardly has time to cook. “I’m actually cooking less now than before,” she said, but she’s happy to be making other’s dreams come true. Even though she’s not producing the meals, she’s surrounded by the work and people she clearly enjoys. When she smells the baked goods fresh out of the oven, “lay eyes on a jar of salsa, a bag of granola … or open the walk-in and see stacks of containers of golumbki and packages of pierogies, I think of the wonderful people who cook here,” she wrote in a blog on the Incu-BaKe website. Although her clients are there to produce items for sale, the experience also strengthens the bond they have with one another. Clients rent the kitchen by the hour. — usually in three to four hour blocks of time. There is room for two to three clients at a time depending on the foods they’re preparing. Many of her clients are related to one another — married couples, mother and daughters — or are best friends. The time they spend cooking gives them a chance to reconnect with one another and strengthen their bond. “For a married couple with kids, their time spent here might be the only chance during the week when they get to talk to one another,” Kates said. To accommodate their busy schedules, IncuBaKe is open to licensed users 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Many of the packaged foods created at Incu-BaKe are sold at local farmers markets. Kates and some of her other clients take turns manning booths at the markets during the week. Although Kates runs the business, she has a core group of about a dozen active and steady clients she can count on. “Everybody pitches in” to help her, Kates said. She also credits her friend and assistant Diane Allarding with supporting and encouraging her. Michigan State University, the Michigan Departments of Health and Agriculture and Delhi Township have been great partners, too. Incu-BaKe has room for more clients. The space is available not only for cooking, but also for food- centered parties, fundraisers, team-building cooking classes and other special events. Kates has sponsored fundraiser breakfasts, birthday parties and even a food competition like the Food Network’s “Chopped” or “Iron Chef” shows. “I’ve seen first-hand the power of ‘we’,” Kates said. “The people I’ve met are amazing. They’re committed to following the rules and regulations of the industry and also giving back to the community.” BREAK OUT BOX 1967 N. Aurelius Road, Holt (517) 974-8944 www.incu-bake.com Visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/incubake Follow them on Twitter @incu-baKe
Ann Cool, MPS, is a freelance writer who lives in Mason with her husband Bob.