Editor’s note – CookSpring at The Summit will be hosting an open house in celebration of doubling in size on Saturday, June 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at their 4,800 square foot space at The Summit at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd. in Fort Wayne. CookSpring staff will be conducting tours and providing guidance on starting culinary businesses during the event. Pastries from Hetty Arts Pastry and hot dogs from The Hot Dog Boyz will be available for the first 50 guests.
When The Summit was purchased in 2011, they immediately began looking for ways to use their commercial kitchen on the former campus of Taylor University Fort Wayne. They wanted to be intentional about using the space to support the local food community, and after some research, decided to use the space as a shared kitchen for culinary entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne. Entrepreneurs can rent space in the kitchen (it’s open 24/7) through bookings and even (very affordable) monthly memberships. In addition to access to the kitchen, members have the opportunity to participate in classes and other business-related services provided by Northeast ISBDC, and can receive free or discounted space for events at The Summit’s Atrium event area.
CookSpring began in 2015 with one member and has now grown to 24 members! You’ll find many of your favorite food trucks are members, and CookSpring is becoming a huge platform for growth.
Smith spoke a little bit about entrepreneurship in Fort Wayne, here’s what he had to say.
Why was Fort Wayne an ideal place for CookSpring?
Beginning in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana wasn’t a conscious decision so much as a default instinct – NEI is our home, and we want to see it have all of the neat opportunities that other cities have. Out of our desire to spur on entrepreneurship, we developed CookSpring into a platform where anybody can give their culinary dream a shot. Recently, Northeast Indiana has been making a strong push to recognize our regional food production as a local asset rather than an export. This investment in local products really helps to encourage food entrepreneurs and in turn makes CookSpring a more vibrant community.
What resource in the community has helped you thrive in the community?
We have been able to partner and collaborate with local businesses and groups who are dedicated to impacting entrepreneurs and business growth in Fort Wayne. These groups act as referral sources for new clients and we are able to direct our clients back to them for business services. In addition, the local food culture in Fort Wayne has really taken off in the past few years, which makes this area a great place to open a food business. More people are interested in shopping and eating locally, which has helped our clients grow their businesses. Finally, many organizations have been great supporters of our members and often order catering through CookSpring.
What is the biggest challenge you have worked to overcome in starting your business?
The code reviews were time consuming and certainly a learning experience — they really helped us understand the difficulties that a culinary entrepreneur goes through in starting a business. The health department has been very helpful throughout the lifespan of CookSpring, but the regulations can sometimes be daunting. After we got started, we have had to learn to manage the scheduling of multiple members, keep the kitchen clean (different people have different definitions of clean!), and help our members overcome the challenges of growing a hobby into a business. Many people are used to cooking with no overhead expenses, no regulations, and no pressure of deadlines. When they decide to become a business, they have had to learn to more accurately account for their costs — and to remember to pay themselves! The ISBDC has been a great resource in this respect; they have helped members with business plans, marketing strategies and loan applications.
What is some advice you would have for new entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many great organizations in our community that offer free or low cost services and loans to people who are starting their own business; do a quick web search and you can find them easily.
What would be the best thing Fort Wayne could do for entrepreneurs in your opinion?
We need to better celebrate those small businesses that sustain themselves – we get so excited about businesses like Sweetwater that become huge (and rightfully so!), but forget that small businesses are the lifeblood of our community. The Small Business Administration estimates that 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs originate in small businesses. If more people realized that they don’t have to become Sweetwater-sized in order to support themselves, I think we would see more people take the plunge. Additionally, continuing to build up our urban core and connected neighborhoods to make small businesses easy to access via multiple forms of transportation will pay off in spades. As a point of inspiration, NYC added protected bike lanes on Columbus Avenue and retail sales increased by 49 percent!
Our local businesses are one of the things that have the potential to give Fort Wayne a competitive advantage against other cities and to establish this idea of “quality of place” — we need businesses like Bravas, The Golden and Powers (who collectively prove that there is more than one way to make a hamburger) to really give us our own identity. If we, as a region, want to successfully move down the Road to 1 Million, we need to give these local businesses as much of a chance to thrive as we can afford.
This post is part of a series of posts in collaboration with Start Fort Wayne where Living Fort Wayne explores resources available to entrepreneurs and spotlights entrepreneurs who decided northeast Indiana is the place to operate their businesses.
Check out Myles Smith and CookSpring at their 1 Million Cups presentation. 1 Million Cups is “an event for local entrepreneurs to meet and present their startups to the thriving peer network of founders in Fort Wayne.” Events typically occur every Wednesday morning at 9 am at Sweetwater. Check out their website for up-to-date information.