A commercial kitchen that until recently was the catering arm of Thornager’s on Kiltie Lane is finding a new life as an affordable testing ground for food entrepreneurs who do not have access to a fully-stocked professional cookery.
After 30-plus years in catering, including three decades as the owner of Thornager’s, Karen Sorensen was ready to hang up her apron. She even toyed with the idea of selling the Equestrian Estates event venue, but ultimately decided to shut down the catering portion of the her business while continuing to rent out the clubhouse.
Most of the facility’s clients are wedding parties, so Sorensen partnered with other caterers in order to provide a full range of services to future brides. But those companies typically make food in their own commercial kitchens and bring it already prepared to the venue.
That meant that Thornager’s kitchen – with its walk-in refrigerator and freezer, commercial grade six burner range with griddle, three ovens (two conventional, one convection) and six stainless steel workstations – was sitting empty, a situation that “hurt my heart,” Sorensen said.
Then COVID-19 hit, devastating the restaurant sector. Many experienced food workers found themselves unemployed, and some wanted to try their hands at creating their own food-based businesses. What they didn’t have was the access to a commercial kitchen.
In response, Sorensen began renting out the Thornager’s kitchen, charging by the hour.
“What we have here is really unique and I’m thrilled that the kitchen is getting used again,” said Sorensen. “Plus I like that it’s helping people. So many restaurants have closed down this year. COVID-19 has hurt our industry so much.”
Many of Sorensen’s clients are former restaurant workers now using the kitchen to prepare meal kits that customers can pick up. Another bottles her imported olive oil for resale there. She even has some bakers, even though they are the only group that can legally sell food items made in the home.
“They like having the big ovens and all the racks and trays,” she said. “It makes it about 10 times faster to bake large amounts,” said Sorensen.
Sorensen requires that renters who use her kitchen have a Coconino County Food Manager certification, a business license and liability insurance. Sorensen said she’d also like to expand to the food truck community, which could buy perishables in bulk and store them safely and economically at Thornager’s.
We are always excited to see how our local businesses are innovating to meet these challenging times. If you want to learn more about renting out the Thornager’s kitchen, call (928) 699-7553.