This article originally published in Tulsa Business & Legal News
When PetsWell Pantry founder Lien Alsup created her small business — a startup dedicated to baking fresh food and treats for pets − her work got off to a quick start.
Alsup began selling food and treats in November before opening a food truck in April. Since then, she’s implemented online ordering and is gearing up for the reveal of a brand new logo, website and packaging design.
In the midst of the business’s growth and success, she turned to Tulsa’s Kitchen 66, a kitchen incubator program at 907 S. Detroit Ave., to help her figure out her next steps.
The organization offers guidance and resources to foodie entrepreneurs at nearly every stage of business development. Alsup will participate in Kitchen 66’s “Launch 2.0,” a three-month program beginning in September that is designed for established entrepreneurs who want to learn how to scale their businesses.
Though Alsup’s family owned a restaurant and she grew up around the industry, having access to Kitchen 66’s local experts and resources offers a community of support that is unmatched, she said.
Chris Davis, founder of Pop House, will also participate in the development program after launching his ice pops business in June.
Davis can be seen toting a blue freezer mounted on a bicycle around Tulsa. He’s made appearances at the city’s Fourth of July Freedomfest, Guthrie Green and Kitchen 66, but he’s looking to reach more people.
“This is designed to push us to the next level,” he said.
Kitchen 66’s programs, which are made possible through grants provided by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, aim to break barriers that new business owners face when starting out in the food industry and foster the development of a growing food hub in the city, grants manager Natalie Deuschle said.
“The goal is to make Tulsa a vibrant food scene,” Deuschle said.
For entrepreneurs in early food-startup phases, Kitchen 66 offers “Launch 1.0,” a six-month intensive program that provides business training and kitchen space. The program’s first batch of entrepreneurs graduated in April.
The program includes 24 food business classes, kitchen access and the opportunity to sell goods at organization-sponsored events.
Faithe Walker, the founder of Paleo D’Lites, a bakery that specializes in desserts free of gluten, grain, dairy and soy, graduated in the program’s inaugural class. While enrolled, she learned the nuts and bolts of starting a business, she said, including determining product pricing, shelf life and marketing.
“I gained a lot of wisdom and insight,” she said. “If I had questions, I had someone I could reach out to and talk to.”
Walker, who works as a nurse at Saint Francis Hospital, entered the program without any previous business experience. That didn’t faze her, though. The opportunities for startup development and growth are everywhere, she said.
“Tulsa is an incredible place to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “I am overwhelmed in such a good way.”
Post-graduation, Walker has been baking in Kitchen 66’s commercial kitchen and selling goods at the Broken Arrow farmers market and on the bakery’s website.
She was inspired to start the business after discovering her own gluten intolerance. She took medication regularly but still experienced pain and discomfort, she said. That changed when she modified her eating habits.
Paleo D’Lites offers a variety of baked goods, including cookies, cupcakes, tarts, macaroons, cakes, bread and pizza crust.
“My goal is to offer support and encourage people who are seeking better health through alternative diets but who also have a sweet tooth,” she said.
For startups looking for space to cook, the organization also offers kitchen memberships outside of the launch and development programs, which provide entrepreneurs access to a 9,000-square-foot kitchen space.
When Danger Cats Coffee, a Tulsa startup that sells bottled cold brew at local spots around town, needed a commercial kitchen to brew and bottle its drinks, the husband-and-wife founders knew that buying the space was out of question.
“There was no way we could afford that,” James Markiewicz said.
Instead, Danger Cats Coffee bought a kitchen membership, which includes rentable kitchen space, storage space and access to Market Days, where startups serve samples and sell goods every second Tuesday of the month.
“It’s both affordable and convenient,” he said.