WIN Free time in our kitchens

In November of 2014 when we opened the doors at Manning Canning Kitchens, we honestly had no idea what to expect. In the past 16 months we have seen some truly inspiring food entrepreneurs pass through our doors. From prepped meal companies such as Chowdy, who started in our kitchen making 200 meals a week who have grown so much they are graduating at the end of April into their very own facility. To our friends at Bombay Street Food who started with a stall at East York Farmer's market and in April are opening their very own restaurant on Bay Street.

When I started my preserves business, I quickly discovered that the biggest barrier to my growth was going to be access to commercial kitchen space. I was very fortunate to find East Scarborough Storefront and get access to 4 free hours a week in their wonderful commercial kitchen and when I graduated from there, I went to the kitchen of my local butcher shop, who gave me access to their steam kettles at a ridiculously fair rate. Without both of these wonderful finds, I am not sure my business would be today.

So we decided we wanted to give back to the wonderful food community that supported us when we were just getting started by giving away free time in our kitchen.

The contest will be judged by an all star cast of food entrepreneurs, including Matt Basile (Fidel Gastro Street Food Co.), Erin Maynes (, Cheryl Appleton (Canadian Women in Food), Kim Antonius (Pitchfork Company/Fairmount Park Farmers Market) and Peter Neal (Neal Brothers Food Inc.)

To enter click here

Toronto Rental Commercial Kitchen

Manning Canning Kitchens

It started as a dream 3 years ago and over the past 6 months we have been working hard to make it a reality. A rental kitchen in Toronto where small food producers, chefs, caterers, etc could bake, preserve or create.

Why did I want to open up a commercial kitchen? You may not know this but all food that is produced in Toronto and made available for sale HAS to be produced in a certified commercial kitchen that has been inspected by the City of Toronto. And when I started my preserves company, I quickly discovered that these types of kitchens were very hard to find. It quickly became the biggest challenge in my business and as I spoke with other producers that I met at food shows and farmer's markets, I realized I wasn't alone.

I was very lucky that I found the East Scarborough Storefront and for just over a year I was able to use their fabulous kitchen once a week at NO CHARGE to make my jams, jellies and pickles. And if you happen to live in the KGO (Kingston, Galloway, Orton Park) area you should definitely acquaint yourselves with all of the wonderful work they do and the amazing services they provide. 

And then I got lucky for a 2nd time; one of the stores that carries my products allowed me to use the kitchen in their basement. SCORE! It had 2 - 10g steam kettles and really allowed me to increase my productivity and batch up my recipes.

But even with access to these 2 wonderful kitchens, which is more than a lot of food producers manage to find, it was limited and my business could not grow fast enough to keep up with demand. My husband and I knew it was time to really push ahead on our dream of Toronto's rentable commercial kitchen space.

But building a commercial kitchen is EXPENSIVE and we knew we would need some help making it a reality. So in late September we launched our kickstarter campaign. We reached our goal (thank you, thank you, thank you) and it has been full speed ahead ever since.

Below shows you some of the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the space.

The very first step was to ensure that the floor in the main kitchen space was food space. This involved degreasing the existing floor, sanding it down, and painting it several times with a food safe apoxy that left it shining.

main kitchen before and after

The existing space was set up as a cafe/coffee shop so we started by tearing out their seating, removing the 3 pc bathroom and building the great wall of canning.

Progression of the space from cafe to 2nd rental kitchen and Manning Canning production space

Progression of the space from cafe to 2nd rental kitchen and Manning Canning production space

During the construction, we were also sourcing all of the equipment for the kitchen, buying expensive transformers, working with master electricians, dealing with water outages. But each hurdle we came up against, and each hurdle we jumped took us that much closer to the finished product.

The hunt for the equipment

The hunt for the equipment

Today for the first time after many months of hard work, set backs, picking ourselves up all over again, painting and then painting some more along with a few other things thrown in there for good measure - my team and I worked in the brand new kitchen for the first time.

toronto rental kitchen

And it was GLORIOUS! We didn't have to carry all of the ingredients and tools we needed down a flight of stairs and soon I will transfer all of my preserving tools into the kitchen and I will be able to walk from my vehicle to the kitchen with nothing but my keys in my hand.

And the great thing is that we have created a space that makes this possible for other people as well. It has been amazing being able to see and SMELL all of the wonderful goodies the people using our kitchen have created.

Producers putting the kitchen to the test

Producers putting the kitchen to the test

Manning Canning is opening a commercial kitchen

I write a lot on these pages about my love of preserving, gardening and local food in general. But at the moment, I have something else on my mind. So will you humour me for a moment?

You see, Manning Canning has been in business for about 3 years now – just over a year of that has been full time. I love preserving so much that I chose to quit my full time marketing job and make this my career or more accurately - my life.

I have learned a lot in these 3 years. And that is what I want to talk about today. I have learned that the food community in Ontario is vibrant and made up of a group of very passionate people. I have stood next to other vendors at farmers markets and heard their stories. I have spoken with many small food producers about the challenges of starting, running and building a food business. Many of the challenges stem from the fact that each of us are trying to build a business alone and without the support of a central group or even a unified resource centre. Want to know the steps to getting a food business started, well get digging because it is going to take you a while to uncover all of the different pieces of information you need.

Want to find a supplier to deliver you produce – well get prepared to hear that your minimum order is too small. And then there is the simple fact that each and every thing that you make needs to be made in a commercially certified kitchen. When I first started off, I found a restaurant in Scarborough that was willing to trade me kitchen hours for help with their social media strategy. It was a great score for me starting out as I could not afford to pay the rental fees of the few kitchen spaces I had been able to find. But it also meant that my access to time in the kitchen was extremely limited. I had to go in when the kitchen was closed. It also meant that you could only grow your business very slowly as you could not meet demand with limited kitchen space.

I scoured the internet looking for alternative space and stumbled across a small rentable kitchen in Leslieville. The hourly rate was affordable and it was available for more regularly than my first kitchen. But it was small and cramped and working with one other person in the kitchen was challenging, to say the least. But it did the trick and I continued to grow. Added mores store to the list of stores carrying my product and added a 2nd farmer’s market to the roster. But with the confined space in the kitchen there was little I could do to improve efficiencies or increase output.

I then discovered the Scarborough Storefront. A kitchen in the KGO that granted new food businesses kitchen space for free up to a year. I had just quit my full time job, so the timing was perfect. I was granted access every Monday from 9-2pm at no cost. And then, one of the butcher shops carrying my product one day offered the use of the basement kitchen two days a week – with 3 glorious steam kettles and I was finally able to really push forward with some growth.

But still, Manning Canning could only produce so much on 2.5 days in the kitchen. Each time I go to the kitchen, I have to bring every single ingredient with me. That means on days when we are making Pickled Carrots that I pack over 100lb of carrots from the food terminal where I buy them from the farmer, to my house and then down the 15 stairs to the basement kitchen. It also means that every small ware from the cutting boards , vegetable peelers, measuring spoons, bowls, stir sticks, funnel, towels, bleach solution and aprons has to be packed up and taken to the kitchen with me and packed up and taken back home at the end of the day.

The packing and hefting adds easily an hour onto the start of my day as well as the end of my day. No matter how much I love it, I can’t deny that it is exhausting.

Flash back to the discussions I have been having with other small and successful food entrepreneurs I have met over the past 3 years and their stories are similar. There is a lack of commercial kitchen space in the city and the kitchens they end up using have no space for them to store raw materials, supplies or tools. Making it almost impossible to grow at a pace that our customers would like.

Sure, there are options. You can get your product co-packed. But for those of us who want to maintain control over the process or can not commit financially to the minimum orders required by most co-packers it is difficult.

For the past 2 years I have been talking with the managers at farmer’s markets and other food producers about my desire to open a commercial kitchen. In between making jars of jams and pickles, I have been working on my business plan. When I am not teaching preserving classes or making deliveries I have been researching possible grants I could apply for and when I am not labeling jars I have most recently been putting the finishing touches on my kickstarter campaign.

I have decided that now is the time. That for Manning Canning to grow and for other small food producers to have the chance to build their businesses that Toronto needs a rentable kitchen space that allows food producers to just show up and create.

I am all in. I am committing financially to this dream and I hope you will too. My campaign will be live in September and I am hoping those of you that feel as passionately about small food producers and local food, will want to help support this. Stay tuned for more.

The Commercial Kitchen

I spent my first full day preserving in a commercial kitchen this week. When I first learned that if I wanted to sell my preserves at a farmer's market I would need to make them in a commercial kitchen I was disheartened. How the hell does one find a commercial kitchen? Well it turns out it is really not all that hard, you just have to hit the ground running.

My first stop was Craigslist. I looked in housing, under 'office/commercial' and stumbled across a couple of ads similar to this one. I got in touch with a couple of them and went and checked two of them out. Both of them were looking to get in the $15/hr range.

My next stop was to simply bottle up any insecurities I might have and walk into a local restaurant that I really like and sit at the bar for 30 minutes while I waited for the owner to become available. We chatted, I told him what I was looking for and he was intrigued. He promised to think it over and be in touch. Whew, that wasn't so hard :).

Then I did some research on local churches and community centres. There are actually quite a few with kitchens that would do the trick. Fortunate for me, before I could even begin to knock on doors, I heard back from the restaurant. The answer was 'yes'. And better yet, he suggested we barter rather than exchange funds - perfect.

The morning of my first day in his kitchen I packed up all the supplies I would need, and I mean ALL the supplies. I wanted him to not even know I had been there. Pots, measuring cups, bowls, tupperware, soup ladle, funnel, jars, every ingredient I would need, pot lifter, towels, dish rag, knives, paper towel, hand soap, timer. I brought it all.

I also brought him a jar of my orange onion jam with sage and thyme and in true creative fashion, he began to talk about the different ways you could use the jam. Some of them had never even occured to me. Within minutes he was making a pizza with the jam, parm, prosciutto. It was delicious.

I don't think you could have punched the smile off my face.

Belfiero and Mrs Preserves

There are some days when 'doing your own thing' are harder than others. Last week I had about 7 of those days. Each day I wondered why I don't just take a job in marketing. I have done it for 18 years, make a decent living and know that I am good at it. Exploring this whole preserving thing is a different story altogether. I think I am good at it. I doubt I will make a decent living and I don't really know what I am doing. Each day I discover another barrier and wonder how I will ever get past it.

Well thanks to 2 people last week, I made it through some significant barriers. Let's start with Barb who is also known as Mrs. Preserves. I was introduced virtually through a friend of a friend who said Barb was willing to take some time and speak with me. In our call she was open and not at all unwilling to share information that some might have been less than willing to share with someone. She told me where to get pectin in bulk, what she has noticed flies off her shelves at the farmers market, where she gets great produce, how many jars of preserves she sold last year. We spoke about liability insurance, commercial kitchens and some of the things she has learned over her years of selling at farmers markets. I got off that call feeling a little more positive about my preserving addiction and once again thought chasing this little dream might be worthwhile and that I shouldn't cave for the golden handcuffs of my career in marketing just yet.

Then there is Dennis at Belfiero. My husband and I were so excited when this restaurant opened it's doors last summer. We love where we live but have often called it the wasteland for good restaurants. The thought of a place that made it's own pasta, served delicious veal and was locally owned and managed excited us. Just before Christmas I approached Dennis with the idea of me using his kitchen during his off hours and in January we met again to firm up the details. Tomorrow is my first day in his commercial kitchen making preserves to sell at the farmer's markets this summer and I am so excited. I plan on making Grapefruit marmalade again as well as Meyer Lemon Marmalade. In exchange for the use of his kitchen, I get to put my social media skills to use and help him evaluate his marketing plan. I think it is a wonderful exchange and I am excited to get started on both fronts.

So thanks to Dennis and Barb for keeping me on track and reminding me that good things come from hard work and perseverance.