Chef Space Fuels Taste of West Louisville

LOUISVILLE (Courier-Journal) — As Louisville starts to get its Kentucky Derby on this weekend, one of the first events where you can celebrate and meet boot-strapping local chefs will be happening west of 9th Street at the 2nd Annual Taste of West Louisville Pre-Derby Kickoff.

Try “Soul Rolls,” the goodness of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens deep fried inside an egg roll wrapper from Younique Soul. For sweet heat, sample some “Peach Habanero” jam by Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery. In all, more than a dozen upstart caterers and restaurateurs, the likes of 3T’s Soul Food Eatery, Brooks Kitchen and Down Home Tea, will offer lip-smacking samples.

In its second year, the Taste of West Louisville is riding on the momentum of big investments in West Louisville to bring affordable eats to neighborhoods dominated by fast food and gas station takeout. A crucial $3,000 sponsorship came from Chef Space. That is Louisville’s first “kitchen incubator,” a $3.2 million facility that officially opened Monday at 1812 West Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

With capacity for 50 entrepreneurs, Chef Space offers first class commercial kitchen facilities at affordable rents with community meeting and restaurant space for the public at the site of the storied Jay’s Cafeteria. Support came too from nonprofit Seed Capital, the nonprofit developer of the West Louisville FoodPort, the $31 million complex breaking ground this summer at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard to host farm-to-table food companies and distributors.

As a result, the Taste of West Louisville will be able to provide at least three, $1,000 college scholarships. Giving young people a hand up while introducing young foodie businesses to the public is the dream of event organizer Keisha Johnson. As a result, Johnson expects to sell out the event to 300 attendees who’ve paid an advance ticket price of $15.

“I was hitting a brick wall until I went down and talked to the people at Chef Space. People can’t patronize businesses without knowing about them,” said Johnson, 32, adding the event also gives the West End some dibs on Kentucky Derby excitement. “This is an affordable activity for the West End community to patronize.”

Chef Space entrepreneurs bring restaurants to West End

When 28-year-old Zac Caldwell is not tutoring full-time, he pays $600 a month to use Chef Space kitchen facilities for batching up jam and jelly flavor combinations. Caldwell works nights and weekends to keep his six-month-old business, Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery, running.

His Peach Habanero jam was born from a bet. Caldwell sought to sneak as much heat as he could into a friend’s breakfast. That experiment became a jam-making obsession inside his apartment kitchen.

Chefs just starting out typically rent commercial kitchen space, usually inside church kitchens around town. But Chef Space offers something different: community and like-minded friends looking for a foothold, he said.

“This is the first business I have ever run,” said Caldwell, who lives in Old Louisville. “Having coffee with fellow entrepreneurs at Chef Space, “the mentoring, the mental support, the financial stuff… all got me going with what my dream for the company is.”

Community Ventures, a nonprofit based in Lexington, funded Chef Space, located in the Russell neighborhood, to provide much-needed commercial kitchen space at low rents to entrepreneurs. Of 30 restaurants in West Louisville, where 62,000 people live, there are only 30 restaurants, most of them cheap and quick food, said Chris Lavenson, president of Chef Space. Go east of 9th Street and there are 230 restaurants downtown, he added.

“There is a huge hole in urban, fast casual concepts,” Levanson said. “Panera won’t work in West Louisville. Restaurants like that are all going after the East End market.”

Chef Space has already become a place to eat, he added. A recent “Soul Food Sunday” event drew 300 people to dinner by LuCretia’s Kitchen. Pick up service from restaurants serving from Chef Space typically runs from noon to 6 p.m. Chef Space entrepreneurs include DelectaBites, Farm To Baby Louisville, Wright Amount, and Lollie’s Kitchen

Chef Space has already landed a major tenant - The Louisville Collegiate School. The Collegiate School’s staff will press ovens, walk-in freezers and refrigerators and kitchen space into use for the next 14 months during a major school renovation that demolished the private school’s kitchen in the Cherokee Triangle.

Those efforts began Sunday in the West End with preparation of Monday’s school lunch for 750, including chicken pot pie, biscuits, salad, hummus, cookies and more, said Rachael Reigelman, food service director and executive chef for SAGE Dining Services. All that food was prepared off site in the West End and will be trucked in a cargo van 20 minutes east down Broadway to the prep school.

“It is really cool to be part of the neighborhood,” Reigelman said of the Chef Space and the food renaissance underway in the West End. “This is a really nice partnership for Collegiate.”

The Taste of West Louisville offers the public a glimpse of Younique Soul, the catering brainchild of two women who met in graduate school at Sullivan University. Dallas Henson is a Mount Washington native who runs the business side when she is not at her day job as a sales associate at the Convention & Visitors Bureau. Giselle Williams is the chef from Lexington, who knew of Keisha Johnson from their days at the as Sullivan students.

Chef Space offers Younique Soul, which began in January, affordable restaurant facilities licensed and inspected by the city to experiment with orange sherbert cupcakes and Soul Rolls. In the works, said Younique business partner Dallas Henson, is a Hot Brown-style Soul Roll.

“I see great business opportunities from the Taste of West Louisville,” Henson said. “I also like the fact that it helps kids in Louisville to provide them with scholarships.”

To celebrate the grand opening of Chef Space, check out the open house Monday from 4-6 p.m. at 1812 West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The free event features tastings from 15 entrepreneurs. For more information about Chef Space, call (502) 992-9436 or visit ChefSpace.org.

This article was first published in the Courier Journal by Jere Downs. Jere Downs can be reached at (502) 582-4669, JDowns@Courier-Journal.com and Jere Downs on Facebook. You can read the original article here.