Local couple create commercial kitchen to share with other entrepreneurs
Jerry and Debbie Downing are the entrepreneur to entrepreneurs.
What does that mean? They started a company to manufacture their dream food product and in the process, helped eight other food businesses take wing.
“I always knew there was a need for commercial kitchen space where people with small food companies could rent space to produce their products,” Debbie said. “It’s very expensive to buy a commercial kitchen and almost impossible to get a loan to do it.”
Opening a kitchen that was approved for commercial food production had been a notion of Debbie’s since the 1980s, when she managed her family’s downtown restaurant, McAllister’s Tavern.
“People would come by and ask if they could rent our kitchen in off-hours to make some food product,” she said. “I thought it would be a great idea to make some money when we weren’t using the kitchen. I asked my mom, and she didn’t want anything to do with the idea.”
Using their kitchen to manufacture a food product was not a new idea to Debbie. Her family was already doing something similar.
“McAllister’s became known for our garlic butter,” she said. “Our customers would want to buy some for home use, and we just scooped out some in a to-go container for them. It was so popular that we started jarring it and selling it to customers and to specialty stores like Tony’s in Denver and Zugspitze when it was here.”
In 2000, her parents sold the restaurant.
“When my parents sold we lost our approved place to jar the garlic butter to sell to the public,” she said.
She and Jerry would try to find places where he could make the garlic butter and she could produce cookies, another side business called Sugar Rush.
“In 2010, I got tired of begging to find commercial kitchen space,” she said. “We found a place in Old Colorado City that we could build into a co-op commercial kitchen.”
They called it Gotta Love It! Kitchen. There, Jerry could whip up his Gotta Love It! Garlic Butter and Debbie baked her Sugar Rush cookies. And they had a small retail area where they could sell their products. But their dream included having extra commercial kitchen space for other small food companies to rent to produce their products. When they opened the co-op market and kitchen three other small food manufacturers signed up with them: Creative Cakes by Carol, Mya Bella Cupcakes and Mountain Lightning Salsa.
“We went from five companies using the kitchen space to 14 within six months,” Debbie said.
During the next year and a half, the business incubator saw companies come and go – several of them moving into their own retail spots, like Mya Bella Cupcakes and Tabor Mountain Bakehouse. At the same time, Jerry’s garlic butter business was growing and Debbie had started yet another business. A sandwich pocket company.
“By chance I had started making pocket sandwiches -- like runza -- that are popular in Nebraska, where I’m from,” she said. "I had put a sign in the window advertising runza and they started selling like crazy.”
That internal entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. She came up with several new fillings for the pockets and a new company: Pockitz Sandwich Shop. Now it was time for them to look for a larger place and rethink their business plan.
“We had outgrown the Old Colorado City space,” Debbie said. “Jerry had been looking at the place that had been Amanda’s Fonda over on Uintah (Avenue) near Mountain Mama’s.”
They made the big jump to leave the Old Colorado City spot and leased the larger space to turn into their new commercial kitchen. It became functional in September.
“At the first place, we learned that having the market retail space was complicating our workdays,” Debbie said. “We wanted to focus on making our food products. In our new place, I can concentrate on making the sandwiches and filling the orders that keep growing. My goal is to eventually have several little stand-alone Pockitz Stop Sandwich Shop stores; places where I can sell the sandwiches and also cookies under the name of Cookie Stop Cookie Company.”
Jerry has a business goal for the new kitchen, too.
“I want to have a place where we foster new food businesses,” he said, “and create a catalog to display our collection of unique products to the market. I’d also like to have a place where we could jar products for other companies – a co-packing facility.”
Little did the Downings realize how many lives they would eventually impact.
One of the eight companies that benefited from renting space from Gotta Love It! Kitchen was Tinta de Toro owned by Angela Valencia.
“Being part of the co-op gave me the opportunity to collaborate with Kristi Hayes,” Valencia said. “When Jerry and Debbie moved into the larger area they let Kristi have space to open her Tabor Mountain Bakehouse. I joined her as a chef but I can still do my cooking classes and catering in the great new kitchens. I have the best of both worlds thanks to Debbie and Jerry.”
Contact Teresa J. Farney at 636-0271, Twitter @tffoodie, Facebook Teresa Farney