The prep facility at Truckee’s Kitchen Collab is like any other commercial kitchen. Chefs are busy slicing and dicing, combining flavors and textures to delight the palate. The difference between this and other kitchens is that there are no hungry guests salivating at tables on the other side of the kitchen doors. Although this is where culinary magic happens, here the hard-working chefs are individual business owners. The food they prepare will be sold from the windows of food trucks, served at catered affairs, and delivered to brick and mortar locations for them to sell.

“Kitchen Collab first started as an idea in early 2014. I was in the process of building out my food truck and started wondering where I was going to do my prep,” explained founder Alex Tolger, whose MOGROG Rotisserie truck is often spotted at events like Truckee Thursdays. “As I asked around the Truckee area, I found that the availability of open kitchen space was very limited and that there wasn’t a dedicated commissary kitchen in the area. At the time, One World Kitchen in Reno was the only kitchen dedicated to non-brick-and-mortar operations, and they were full with a long wait list.”

Tolger recognized the need for such a facility, and set the wheels in motion. Yet bringing Kitchen Collab to fruition didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took nearly two years of planning and site selection after its inception: Kitchen Collab became official the summer of 2016, but its doors didn’t open for public use until May 2018. The property, located at the Truckee Crossroads shopping center on Deerfield Drive, was rezoned during those intervening years, and plans were brought before both the planning commission and building department for permit approval. Total buildout took about nine months to complete.

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MAN WITH A PLAN: Alex Tolger is the culinary mastermind behind Kitchen Collab, a Truckee commissary where member chefs have access to licensed commercial cooking facilities. Photo by Jocelyn Noel

Kitchen Collab opened with three founding members: MOGROG Rotisserie, EATS Cooking Company, and Local Chef Productions. The facility now provides budding business owners with a place to help them jumpstart their culinary ambitions.

“Since then, we helped launch, grow, host, guide, and support more than 25 local small food businesses,” Tolger told Moonshine in an email. “Our platform is set up on a membership basis that is divided into tiers of use. Our tiers are based on hours per month of kitchen use, starting at a commitment of 20 hours a month and going up from there. Members have full access to our 10  prep spaces and all the commercial kitchen equipment.”

Current members include: MOGROG Rotisserie + Café, BlendLife, Local Chef Productions, Mix’d Menu Food Trailer, Upper Crest Provisions, Tahoe Empanadas, and Platterfare.

While some dream of taking their culinary prowess to a grander scale, with the goal of running their own eatery or specialty shop, there are others who might not want the commitment of a brick-and-mortar location. Kitchen Collab has made entering the food service world a more attainable goal for those folks.

“One of the main tenets of Kitchen Collab was to reduce the barriers of entry in the food industry,” Tolger affirmed. “Reflecting on the number of companies we have interacted with is pretty amazing, but it is the individual business owners showing up every day and working toward their dreams that shows the strength of the community.”

That strength shone through over the past year-plus, as it’s no secret that the food service industry suffered greatly. Tolger noted that the companies working out of Kitchen Collab pivoted and reinvented themselves many times over to keep up with changes in procedures, mandates, and needs of the community.

In February, Nevada County announced the introduction of the new Platform Kitchen Operation permit, which enables food entrepreneurs to utilize already permitted commercial kitchens to prep their offerings to be sold elsewhere. While this doesn’t directly affect day-to-day operations at Kitchen Collab, it did permit members to offer delivery and curbside pickup to customers.

“The PKO permit has addressed a growing trend in consumer demands, increasing the options for chefs to interact with their clients directly,” Tolger explained. “The biggest benefit we see in the PKO program is for our members’ bottom line. When members hold a PKO permit, they can operate as their own distributor. There is no middleman, no third-party app taking 30% of sales. Our members now have the ability to offer curbside pickup or delivery on a schedule they determine.”

The commissary has clearly filled a void in the area and has been the root of success for a number of smaller-scale businesses. Meghan Polite, who with her twin brother Mike operates Tahoe Fullers, says that getting started at Kitchen Collab was “monumental” in helping them to grow their business to the point of being able to graduate to their own physical location. It’s likely that others will follow suit as the Collab continues to grow, with three new members joining in the coming months and Tolger actively working to expand operations. 

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