Natalie Lefebvre blazed a delicious culinary trail when she introduced Sudbury’s first food truck in 2013. Now she’s repeating her pioneering ways by opening the city’s first incubator kitchen.
Comprised of a lunchtime bistro, event space, and a rental kitchen for fledgling chefs, The Motley Kitchen is a tripartite vision of cooking, innovation and entrepreneurialism designed to encourage new business in the city’s hospitality industry.
“That’s why we’re called The Motley Kitchen,” said Lefebvre, one of the venture’s partners. “We thought that having three different components to it could satisfy a bunch of different things.”
Though her Dee-lish food truck was a hit with downtown lunchtime crowds, its tiny prep space limited her ability to get creative in the kitchen. (The food truck remains in operation under different ownership.) Lefebvre hunted around town for options, but city-owned facilities and church kitchens weren’t available, and starting up a kitchen from scratch could cost upwards of $50,000.
“There just isn’t this kind of facility in Sudbury and it was one that I really needed,” said Lefebvre, who also runs What a Pear catering. “I just knew personally I wished it was something we had access to and so we knew that there’d be a lot of interest.”
During weekdays, Lefebvre whips up lunch for hungry downtown patrons, while in the off-hours, the space is available to rent for events. Clients can rent just the dining room for meetings or workshops, they can rent both the dining room and kitchen to make their own meals, or they can hire Lefebvre or partner Chris McTaggart to cater the event.
“We don’t want to be open at dinner and see if people come eat at our restaurant, so this place is available in the evening,” Lefebvre said. “Why not have it available for people?”
The space is ideal for those workplaces that have about 30 to 50 people on staff and only need a small area to suit their needs, Lefebvre said. A number of events have already taken place there, including an evening of appetizer pairing, which partnered Lefebvre with Sudbury-based Stack Brewing.
These two prongs of the business are helping generate some immediate revenue to pay for the venue until the partners can bring on more incubatees. The ideal client is a home-based chef who’s ready to transition to a larger operation, or a small business owner who, like Lefebvre, is already running a business and just needs more space. Still others might be working to perfect a specific product — think grandma’s delectable apple pie recipe — for commercialization.
All this can be done in the well-stocked kitchen, which is rented on an hourly basis. Included in the cost are the equipment, cold and dry storage, hydro, gas, certifications, and health unit inspections. Lefebvre and McTaggart also make themselves available for business and marketing mentorship.
Some basement renovations are still required, and potential incubatees will have to adjust their schedules around the regular operating hours of the bistro and catering services, but otherwise the space is ready to go.
“We haven’t done a lot of incubation at this point because we’re still trying to work that out,” Lefebvre said. “But I think it just makes us unique and that’s why we want to do it.”
The Motley Kitchen is modelled on other successful incubator kitchens in Toronto, Ottawa, St. Catharines and Hamilton, which offer clients a variety of combinations. The Toronto Food Business Incubator puts an emphasis on business startup guidance, for example, while Hamilton’s Roux provides parking for food trucks to operate.
In March, The Motley Kitchen surpassed its fundraising goal, attracting $23,900 through an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which was used toward renovations, licenses and permitting, a point-of-sale system, a computer and office, and furnishings.
Meanwhile, people tell Lefebvre they’re enjoying her food and having another addition to the downtown dining experience. She’s currently working on securing a liquor licence so she can offer lunchtime libations along with her soups, sandwiches, salads, desserts and other homemade fare.
“We’re here, we’re open and we do fresh and different,” Lefebvre said. “And we have the best fish tacos in town.”