Tom Williams' only complaint was there weren't enough cupcakes.
The last time he visited YorKitchen, the state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, there were "a lot of cupcakes."
Though he was being facetious about the cupcakes, Williams was serious when he said numerous times that the shared kitchen on West Clarke Avenue is a special place.
"It's fabulous," he said.
An annex of Central Market, the commercial kitchen can be rented for $25 an hour, helping entrepreneurs make their food business dreams a reality without the high costs associated with purchasing commercial kitchen equipment. Since it opened nearly a year ago, it has been utilized by 55 unique users and has created 32 jobs, according to Aeman Bashir, kitchen project manager.
Williams and his colleagues visited YorKitchen on Thursday afternoon to see how a $99,000 USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant has been spent to develop the space.
It's a great project and investment in rural America that has helped create jobs in a small town, he said.
"We're ready to continue our support for programs like this," Williams said, inviting kitchen project manager Aeman Bashir to ask for more money.
When the nonprofit can come up with matching funds, Bashir said, she'd like to expand the kitchen's offerings by having packaging equipment, bag sealers, bottle fillers and weights for dry goods.
Those items would further foster success among users of the kitchen, she said.
YorKitchen is home to about five different users a day.
Nuts About Granola has used the kitchen to produce 10 times what it used to. Bair's Fried Chicken uses it to make soup, macaroni and cheese, and brownies. Several civic groups have used the kitchen, and there has also been personal use for making Christmas cookies and foods for wedding and baby showers, she said.
"We think this is special," said John Padalino, acting administrator of rural business cooperative service for the USDA.
Shared commercial kitchens are popping up across the country, and they often bridge the gap between the local agricultural community and local entrepreneurs, he said.
And of those kitchens he has seen, YorKitchen stands out because of its "unique downtown location," he said, and attachment to Central Market, the vibrancy of which Padalino compared to a farmer's market in Wisconsin that surrounds the state Capitol.
Bashir said the kitchen has, indeed, added vibrancy to the city.
"It used to be dead man's land over here. This has helped turned it into a bustling area," she said.
YorKitchen also highlights the agricultural community in general, which is still a strong economic cluster in the region, said Kenetha Hansen, executive vice president of the York County Economic Alliance.
It has also brought in additional foot traffic to York, as more families and workers patronize Central Market and surrounding businesses, Bashir said.
"We are more than pleased about the economic impact," she said.
In addition to inspiring a positive economic impact, the kitchen is also helping teach lifelong business skills, Padalino said.
"Even if someone's cheesecake business doesn't work out, they are learning how to develop business plans and gaining business skills that will stay with them forever," he said.
- Candy Woodall can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org