Company Culture
Coworking / Food and drink / Small businesses

What coworking looks like for DC’s food businesses

Fewer laptops, more pots and pans. We take a tour of Ivy City's Union Kitchen and talk with some members.

Union Kitchen. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Union Kitchen may have won our D.C. Innovation Award for Maker Space of the Year, but the Ivy City-based food incubator can also be accurately described as a coworking location.

“Companies are literally working side by side,” Union Kitchen Marketing Manager Kelly McPharlin told Technical.ly, and this physical proximity allows a kind of community where the approximately 100 member companies can easily share lessons learned and even collaborate on projects together. This, McPharlin suggested, is what makes Union Kitchen’s two-level location more than just a bunch of stoves and countertops and walk-in refrigerators.

And if that sounds like a familiar value proposition, you’re not alone — WeWork and other coworking brands are constantly talking about the value of the collaborative space they provide.

That said, Union Kitchen certainly isn’t your average coworking space. Instead of seeing a WeWork-like mixture of freelancers, small startups and remote workers, all of the Kitchen’s members are food businesses. And of course there are decidedly more pots and pans.

Some pots and pans at Union Kitchen. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Some pots and pans at Union Kitchen. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Still, on a recent visit to the Kitchen we couldn’t help but view it as a coworking space (perhaps because we’re fascinated by the booming trend of coworking in D.C.). So we reached out to some members to get the lowdown on what it’s like to work there.

For Noobtsaa Philip Vang, founder of Foodhini, the Kitchen was a great place to get his concept off the ground. “The resources they have around operations are top notch and we jumped in pretty quickly to cooking and selling our meals,” he wrote in an email. “Equipment and facilities have been great as well and we don’t have to worry about equipment not working.”

Indeed that’s a key part of the value a coworking space provides — the opportunity to outsource operations (be they as simple as a coffee machine and wifi or as complex as a commercial kitchen setup) to others.

Inside Union Kitchen. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Inside Union Kitchen. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Turner Hoff, cofounder of Vegetable and Butcher, has similarly rave reviews. The V+B team doesn’t do much desk work from Union Kitchen, he said (though the Kitchen does have a set-aside space for that), but being a member is great in many other ways.

“From a purely operational standpoint, Union Kitchen allowed us to seamlessly get through the local government registration and regulatory process (foreign entity set up, caterer’s license, ServSafe certification, health inspections, etc.),” he wrote. “And almost every business relationship we’ve established, whether for brand development or printing/packaging supplies or business insurance, has been a connection facilitated by Union Kitchen.”

And yes, community is part of it. “Union Kitchen has done an amazing job creating a strong sense of community, not just among the UK team, but also among the member businesses,” he wrote. “Members share food, ideas, resources and more.”

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Companies: Union Kitchen / WeWork

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