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When T.G.I. Fridays hit the open road with its mobile menu of ‘handcrafted favorites’ in June, the restaurant chain reinforced that food trucks are more than just a fad, but rather a movement transforming the foodservice industry. And now that warmer weather is here to stay, meet-ups like First Fridays in Quebec and Off the Grid in San Francisco are rallying food truck enthusiasts eager to sample summer flavors. While food trucks – from small business start-ups to big corporations – continue to pop up across North America, they also are propelling growth in commissary kitchens.

A commissary is characterized by a stationary, commercial kitchen facility where food is stored and prepped. They serve as a home base for many food trucks, but the centralized location also makes them a convenient option for other foodservice companies that distribute to several sites. For example, a company that supplies prepackaged lunches and snacks to coolers across college campuses may turn to a commissary kitchen.

Fully equipped commissary kitchens can provide multilayered solutions, including:

  • Space that meets local health and licensing regulations
  • Reduced costs if renting a shared space versus purchasing a dedicated facility
  • Adequate storage and refrigeration to restock food and keep it fresh
  • Common supplies such as cooking utensils and cleaning products
  • Large kitchen appliances such as mixers, ovens and stoves
  • Waste disposal services and cleaning equipment like dishwashers and laundry machines
  • Off-street parking and electricity to charge vehicles
  • May offer a temporary expansion solution

Whether a private facility, a shared co-op space or rented space in an existing kitchen, commissaries come in all shapes and sizes. One innovative organization is Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C., which has been dubbed a “food incubator” for small businesses. Housed in a 7,300 sq. ft. warehouse, the shared commercial kitchen provides space for food production and offers members all of the professional services they need to get their business off the ground. Union Kitchen handles maintenance and licensing, offers connections with professionals like lawyers and accountants, negotiates buying arrangements and more, letting entrepreneurs focus on their craft – creating delicious dishes.

In some cases, commissaries even bring businesses full circle – launching successful small foodservice operations that eventually outgrow themselves and call for a brick-and-mortar eatery. For example, Foxy Falafel in Minneapolis moved from renting a shared commissary to opening a permanent storefront in a growing urban neighborhood. It now uses its private kitchen to supply its food truck.

As the food truck craze continues and cities tighten regulations, commissary kitchens will continue to help businesses grow at scale. Learn more about identifying commissaries and negotiating a lease at Food Truck Empire.