The food business is “brutal,” says Nancy Preston, a U.S. Army veteran who decided in Iraq that she wanted to work in that business. After learning more about the barriers to entry including the incredible financial risk, little access to capital, and a high likelihood of failure, Preston and her husband decided that instead of opening their own café or food truck, they’d focus on helping simplify the process for other food entrepreneurs.
They opened Milk Money Kitchens in New York, which offers kitchen spaces rented by the hour and business services and consulting to help food entrepreneurs succeed. On April 30, Milk Money Kitchens won the grand prize in Bob Evans Farms’ 2020 Heroes to CEOs grant program. Preston plans to use the $30,000 prize to hire two part-time employees and finalize a lease deal for a second facility, which Milk Money Kitchens needs to fulfill its current foodservice contracts for hospitals and first responders.
The company has helped launch and grow a variety of food businesses including consumer packaged goods, mobile food vendors, cake makers and designers, confectioners and candy-makers, and catering companies. Its success lies in its ability to help food entrepreneurs mitigate their risks of failure, such as decreasing costs. For instance, if an entrepreneur starts a donut bakery in New York City, he will typically spend more than $350,000 to get his first donut to market, Preston says. At Milk Money Kitchens, the first batch of donuts costs $42 an hour.
“We turn hundreds of thousands of dollars of fixed costs into variable costs, meaning a ‘food-preneur’ only pays for their food business when they are fulfilling sales,” Preston says. “Similar to an electric bill where you only pay for what you use, Milk Money Kitchens turns a pay-to-play system into a pay-as-you-go system.”
Milk Money Kitchens focuses on jumpstarting local food businesses because these businesses will create opportunities to reach more food insecure communities. As those businesses grow, they employ other local residents, offer more benefits, purchase from local vendors, and empower the launch of new vendors, says Preston.
“America’s food system is an essential system and riddled with complexity, because most Americans live 100+ miles from their food sources,” she says. “Improving our food systems takes real innovation and innovators. Imagine what real food innovations will come when makers and future innovators can start to develop a concept with the amount of money they can save in a few days—not two decades.”
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