This unique 56,000 square foot commercial kitchen facility is the first of its kind on the West Coast to provide small to mid-size food producers the space they need to grow their food production businesses. This amenity rich facility offers flexible, affordable and fully-permitted production and storage capabilities with 54 pre-certified, leasable kitchen spaces. Included on site is a full demonstration kitchen, small and large food preparation areas, 3 community kitchens, a catering kitchen, 2 receiving areas, 3 loading docks, cold and dry storage, and a classroom space. The kitchens are all fully equipped with water, gas, and electricity, and 31 of the 54 spaces offer grease hoods.
What makes LA Prep special, beyond its amenities, affordability and regulatory advantages, is how this new kind of facility came to exist. Through extensive collaboration between the founders of LA Prep, their anchor tenant, LA Kitchen (project link), the City and County of Los Angeles, the design and architecture team from SAA and Howard Building Corporation, a building that now houses an exciting culinary community rose from the ruins of a site previously abandoned and neglected in the heart of the often underserved LA neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.
The original vision for LA Prep grew from an idea founders Brian Albert and Mott Smith shared to create a space that encouraged community, cross pollination of ideas and methods, shared sourcing and purchasing of resources, and an opportunity for producers of healthy foods to grow their food businesses in a way otherwise impossible because of the high costs and impenetrable regulatory requirements that small business owners often find too daunting. They worked proactively and collaboratively with officials in the LA County Department of Health to restructure the health code to not only allow for a streamlined approval and permitting process, but also to update and shift the paradigm of the code to ensure more safety, health and sanitation in the food industry as a whole. They leveraged economies of scale to provide kitchens at a lease price substantially less expensive than what it would cost a chef to build a professional grade kitchen themselves. They also shortened the time it takes for a food producer to get their business up and running in the space, with one tenant able to fulfill a sudden large order for a major retail chain within eleven days of moving in.
Working closely with SAA and HBC to maximize limited funding, the team purchased and rehabilitated the Lincoln Heights warehouse, which provided plenty of challenges along the way. An independent structure was built within the building to support mechanical platforms on the roof, since the building lacked the structural support required to handle the additional weight. Ductwork, kitchen hoods and exhausts also had to be structurally supported within each kitchen. All ductwork had to be coordinated and installed between the kitchen floors and basement ceiling in an 18’’ tall plenum space. Because the kitchens are customizable, many had stainless steel tables and countertops installed, as well as walk-in refrigerators added at the request of the tenants. Epoxy floors are covered in vinyl to allow easy cleaning, and each kitchen has dedicated environmental controls to adapt to the requirements of the type of food prepared in each space. All the kitchens share a communal walk-in refrigerator, a walk-in freezer, a dry storage room and wash rooms. Acoustic tiling is installed throughout the space to minimize noise levels.
Even before the facility opened officially in June 2015, 34 of the 54 spaces were rented and occupied. Of those 34 tenants, 30 were businesses owned by women. The variation of tenants runs from non-profit organizations preparing meals for the elderly in the surrounding neighborhoods to profitable food manufacturers that supply some of the largest grocery store chains in Southern California. Unique to this project is the sharing and collaboration that has organically grown out of the variety of food producers present, some even finding ingredient sources next door or down the hall from others’ products or processes. What began as vision is now the reality of LA Prep – a unique, healthy food-based, culinary community supporting a diversified mix of people able to also provide for the surrounding neighborhood communities. The success of this project rests entirely on the passion and dedication of everyone involved in building this vision from beginning to end.