When Barry Shannon opened his space in Dracut’s Tennis Plaza earlier this year to produce his Barry’s Hot Sauce, he knew the space would be woefully underutilized.
While he uses the space in the plaza at 1794 Lakeview Avenue a couple days a week, the kitchen sits idle the rest of the time.
“I knew when I took the space over, I was going to lease it out after I got my legs under me,” Shannon says.
His legs are now under him. In fact, he’s looking for help this holiday season – the hottest time of the year for hot sauce.
But the space is still empty most of the time.
So Shannon has taken advantage of an idea supported by Dracut Health Agent David Ouellette: shared commercial kitchens.
As Ouellette says, “Starting a new business is hard and the cost of space is expensive. Shared kitchens keep the cost down and give great networking value.”
For Shannon, it’s a chance to make some extra money while helping other entrepreneurs realize their dreams.
“Since the pandemic, tons of people have started food businesses,” Shannon says. “But there’s not enough kitchen space. Everyone’s scrambling to find kitchen time.”
Meanwhile, across town, Christ Church United had a similar situation – a kitchen that was being underutilized. Upon Ouellette’s recommendation, church officials decided to share the space.
Enter Emily Makrez, a Dracut woman who started growing mushrooms and other vegetables on her own property and earlier this year started her own business, F-Word Farm. The name, while intended to provoke a guilty chuckle, actually refers to three “f-words” -- farming, foraging and fermenting.
Makrez is using the kitchen at Christ Church United, on the corner of Bridge and Arlington streets, to produce and, hopefully, popularize an Asian marinade called shio koji.
“It tenderizes food and makes it more delicious,” she says. “Many people don’t know about it in this country, but a lot of chefs in the U.S. are starting to use it in different ways. It’s a nice combination of fermenting and foraging, two of the aspects of F-Word Farm.”
Makrez also makes craft vinegars. She typically sells her wares at farmer’s markets, though a Pelham restaurant also uses her products in their food. She’s currently fermenting Black Pepper Porter from Lowell’s Navigation Brewing Co. (owned by Dracut’s P.J. Mercier) into vinegar to be used in Craic Sauce, another Lowell company.
The Lowell native was out looking for a kitchen space she could use when she drove past Christ Church United, which is around the corner from her home and farm.
“The reason I moved to Dracut was because it’s a Right to Farm community,” Makrez says. “I was starting to look around at different church kitchens, and I was coming back from one when I drove by Christ Church United. So I thought, ‘Hmm, let’s see what’s going on here.’ It turned out they had been talking about a shared kitchen, but they didn’t have anybody to be the driving force.”
Makrez became that force – another f-word -- much as Shannon did in his own Barry’s Hot Sauce kitchen.
‘A HUGE BONUS’
Having shared kitchen space in Cambridge and Rhode Island before finding the empty and much more handy Dracut storefront (he and his family live off Nashua Road in Dracut), Shannon knows how convenient it can be for a company just starting out to lease a kitchen until they can afford their own.
“I figured I’d make it easy for people who are starting their own businesses,” Shannon says. “It’s a huge bonus having my own kitchen.”
And so that’s how Eric Ballhausen, who lives in Jamaica Plan, started producing his own beverage concentrate in the kitchen of a former Subway in Dracut. And how Linda Ordoukhanian, a honey producer from Longmeadow, came to travel 100 miles east once a week or two to produce her honey-infused products.
“I see it as Barry paying it forward,” says Eric, a startup entrepreneur and founder of Ballhaus Beverage Company, which produces concentrates from essential oils that can be added to soda water to create different flavors.
Ordouknanian has been running Sherman & Cherie’s Beezy Bees since 2017. The company produces and sells wildflower honey and honey products, including hand creams, lip balms and soap. But to infuse foods with honey, she needs a commercial kitchen. She met Shannon at a farmers’ market, and he told her about the concept of shared kitchens.
“It’s such a lovely little space,” Shannon says. “For me, it’s perfect. For Eric, it’s great because he has his own equipment -- he just needed a licensed place. Linda is producing raw honey, which she can do at home, but if she wants to do anything with the honey, like make chocolate or infusions, where she’s incorporating extra foods, she needs a licensed kitchen.”
The arrangement has also led to a new product that combines Shannon’s and Ordoukhanian’s products – hot honey sauce.
Ballhausen hopes to grow his line of beverage concentrates and market them to the health-conscious.
“A lot of people are selling what, in my mind, is snake oil,” he says. “What we’re making is good for you and tastes good and, hopefully, people enjoy them. They’re all organic ingredients -- lemon balm and angelica for calm, bayleaf and rosemary for internal wellness, green tea and mint for focus. Eventually, I’d like to have six or seven functional blends, all with some benefit to health.”
Again, that’s where Barry’s Hot Sauce comes in.
“Hopefully, Eric and Linda can get a good start on the holiday season,” Shannon says.
As for Barry’s Hot Sauce, the brand is expanding since moving into its Dracut home. The holidays are always the busiest time, and over the summer, Shannon reached an agreement with TJ Maxx and Marshall’s stores to sell his sauces in select locations. You may find it in stores around New England, and it has been sold in stores as far away as Las Vegas and North Carolina.
Ouellette, Dracut’s health agent, sees shared kitchens as a way not only to help budding entrepreneurs but also to maximize available space and support Dracut’s economic base.
“I believe it is important to bring new startups to the town,” Ouellette says. “They could blossom into a bigger business and hire employees. They are extremely happy with having this opportunity.”