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Community Kitchen could come to Wilson
Feb 16, 2007 12:00 am
A plan in its early stages could offer another way besides Cracker Barrel for Wilson County residents to enjoy home cooking on a grand scale.
Tennessee State Representative Stratton Bone, Cumberland University business professor Paul Stumb and The Mill at Lebanon developer Kurt Gibbs are leading the proposal to bring at U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed Community Kitchen to the Mill.
The Community Kitchen program offers professional business and food production expertise to local chefs hoping to bring their favorite creation to a larger market. In the Lebanon proposal, a large commercial kitchen would be built at the Mill along with a small packing facility and ingredient storage warehouse.
Cooks interested in expanding a favorite recipe for jelly, salsa or other "non-acidic food item" (meaning no meat, dairy or other perishable dish) to create hundreds of portions for resale would rent time at the kitchen and meet with an expert in food mass productions. Cumberland University would offer business tips on how to market the creations.
Gibbs said the expert help could create niche businesses for local farmers. Creating a line of jam from Grandma's recipe requires a little outside assistance, he said.
"If you want to make a single recipe serve 100 people, you don't just multiply by 100," he said. "It's a science. You need an expert."
Bone, who is head of the Agriculture Committee in the state House, said he got the idea to bring a Community Kitchen after visiting a similar facility in Hancock County. Like the proposed Lebanon kitchen, the Clinch-Powell Community Kitchens in Treadway offers professional food production services to local growers and small business owners.
Bone said the idea has real potential in Lebanon.
"I think it has got a lot of promise," he said. "A lot of farmers would be very supportive of what we're trying to do with this. They're already here in Middle Tennessee area but they're having to drive a long way to get this kind of service."
The project still has a long way before the first jars of salsa roll off the loading dock at The Mill, however. Bone said discussions are in "the earliest stages" for the project. The legislator is attempting to secure funds from the state department of agriculture to augment the USDA money for the project.
"We've got a long way to go, but we've got a good shot at it," he said. "I'd really like to see this happen."
Gibbs was slightly more optimistic. He plans for the Country Kitchen to be a centerpiece of one section of development at The Mill, first begun about two years ago. The developer envisions the kitchen at the center of "The Market at The Mill", a collection of specialty shops and a community grocery store.
But the best part of the project, Gibb said, comes from reconnecting two long-running Lebanon institutions.
"On the one hand you've got The Mill, which when it was in operation was always Lebanon's biggest employer," he said. "On the other, you've got Cumberland University, which has been here forever. It's a great public-private partnership."
Gibbs said more meetings aimed at landing the Country Kitchen are scheduled for this week but he cautioned that it was too early to make any kind of announcement of when, or if, the facility's doors will open to local epicureans.
Staff Writer Evan McMorris-Santoro can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or email@example.com