PASADENA - Since it opened in July 2009 as Mama's Small Business Kitchen Incubator, about 150 food-related operations have made use of the professional state-of-the art kitchen in a former Peruvian restaurant off Colorado Boulevard.

Now, with a name change to Chefs Center of California, the nonprofit is planning to help users branch out into direct sales to local grocery chains.

Executive Director Joe Colletti, CEO of the Institute for Urban Initiatives, said they are working with the city to craft an ordinance that would position the center to attract more aspiring entrepreneurs.

"We are currently working at about 50 percent self-sufficiency, meaning the ($20 hourly) fees per use of the kitchen are about 50 percent of our $500,000 budget," Colletti said. "We do not want to become grant-dependent, so we feel the wholesale ordinance that the city is currently drafting will help us achieve self-sufficiency."

If the ordinance passes, Colletti said, the center will provide on-site workshops to train small businesses in selling their products to retailers such as Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms, plus larger chains and local supermarkets.

"There are several small businesses ready to go," he said. "That would include jams and jellies, baked goods and bottled condiments."

So far, Colletti said, the center has spun off six food trucks, four restaurants, about five farmers market vendors, around 25 on-line businesses


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and "probably about 50 caterers."

A recent report showed the 150 businesses that have used the kitchen - 40 of them on a monthly basis - created 633 jobs, Colletti said.

Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who has shepherded the plan through the Public Safety Committee, said the ordinance would "kick start" a move from the professional kitchen directly to local stores.

"What it does is allow us to help micro-entrepreneurs," McAustin said.

"It helps them from a marketing perspective and allows us as consumers the opportunity to buy local goods, home-made in Pasadena," she said. "And it's a way to provide real, concrete help that will assist these people in moving from having a good recipe and a good marketing plan into the stores."

The City Council has backed the $2.6 million venture before, including approving a $425,000 loan toward the building's $1.8 million purchase price in 2007. Private and corporate foundation funds - including $50,000 from the Pasadena Community Foundation - were used to rehab and equip the space.

Now, Colletti said, they're "absolutely" ready for the next step.

"When the recession began in December 2007, a lot of people were hit hard and looking to supplement their income, or make up for lost employment," he said. "It's no surprise that, given the current economic conditions, there's an increasing number of people who want to supplement their income through food-based endeavors."

janette.williams@sgvn.com
626-578-6300, ext. 4482