EZ Foods Olympia is a growing catering business that has found a new home in Lacey and a new mission: making its commercial kitchen available to other food-related businesses.
And once they opened their new location at 4520 Intelco Loop S.E., they had no trouble finding other startup food businesses that needed access to a commercial kitchen.
For owner Jeff Nelson, who runs the business with longtime girlfriend Sarah Boyle, it was one way to help out those startup business owners who likely would encounter the same problems he did: the inability to find a kitchen to call home, or the prohibitive cost to rent space or purchase kitchen equipment, Boyle added.
“I didn’t have that at all,” Nelson recalled about the early days of his catering business. And without a commercial kitchen for the food business “most people just quit,” he said.
Their new space on Intelco Loop measures 1,100 square feet, including a 900-square-foot kitchen, Boyle said.
Nelson leases the overall space and has struck a commissary rental agreement, similar to a sublease, with four other users of the kitchen. They are: Olympia Juice Company, Salad and 7, Hot Box Cart and Terrabucha.
He has room for more kitchen users, depending on the type of use, and each new user goes through a vetting process, must have a business plan and they also meet with Nelson.
“This is geared toward small startups,” he said.
The demand for a commercial kitchen likely stems from the fact that there are not many in the area, but also because one recently closed.
Enterprise for Equity, the Olympia-based nonprofit that helps low-income individuals become business owners, previously used the kitchen at the Governor Hotel, said former general manager Sandra Miller.
Miller said three to four food operators used the kitchen for about 18 months to two years.
“It was a really good foundation for them,” she said.
That relationship ended when the hotel was sold, Miller said. It sold in September.
After that Enterprise for Equity used the kitchen at the Olympia Community Center, but it’s not designed for all needs, Enterprise for Equity Executive Director Lisa Smith said.
“If we had five EZ Foods we would not be able to meet demand,” said Smith about the number of businesses needing a commercial kitchen, although she added that what Nelson is doing is one of the answers.
Smith said she could think of 13 food-based businesses that graduated from Enterprise for Equity that are squeezing into small kitchens to complete their work. But she also thinks the community can respond to address the need.
“We have the capacity as a community,” she said.
Meanwhile, EZ Foods continues to stay busy with its catering, serving both private events and public events during the legislative session.
Nelson also bottles his own hot sauce, which is sold under the Chasing the Dragon brand and is carried in about 30 stores. He also recently released a limited edition hot sauce called “Grinch,” which was made with smoked jalapenos.