Southern California’s reputation of attracting passionate “foodies” could help a local campaign that aims to make Signal Hill a unique gastronomical destination. Dave and Louise Solzman have spelled out a vision to attract support to build a culinary center on Cherry Avenue and Willow Street. The Solzmans, who own Delius Restaurant, are hoping to transform about 8,000 square feet into a space that can house several commercial kitchens available for rent. However the couple has thought beyond just the kitchens. On the website at signalhillculinarycenter.com, they’ve imagined that the space could be used for cooking classes, a kitchen-supply store, a wine-sales outlet, a demo kitchen/meeting space, and a deli. Dave Solzman, in an interview last week, explained that competitions like Food Network’s Iron Chef could be held there to pit one restaurant against another. He’s never seen any business that has combined retail with a business that rents out kitchen space, and Dave emphasized that there aren’t many commercial kitchens available on a large scale to lease to the public. The restaurant owner thought of quite of a few who could patronize the center: caterers, people who sell at farmers markets and food producers who make their own cookies or their grandmother’s spaghetti recipe.
“They all need commercial kitchens because they can’t do it at home legally,” Dave said. “And up till now, the health department has not allowed anybody to build these things, and so there’s people trying to go around the corners and skirt regulations and do whatever they can to make it happen, and we would be one of the first places to just outright say, ‘Here…this space is available to you.’”
Initial designs published on the website call for two large kitchens that each measure about 1,200 square feet and three smaller kitchens that each take up about 400 square feet of space.
Dave said that he and Louise would own and run the deli business but they would serve as site managers to oversee the rental kitchen business for the landlord and owner. He explained that he planned to manage the catering for Delius at the culinary center location.
Dave acknowledged that there are still several hurdles to overcome before the dream of a culinary center could materialize, especially since he will eventually have to convince the county health department to approve a business like the one he and his wife propose. A spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health confirmed Tuesday that there is currently no department policy in place for overseeing commercial kitchen space that is leased in this manner, but the department is in the process of developing one. No estimate was given as to when a policy would be developed.
Dave said he plans on eventually collaborating with Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe to work with the health department and get the concept more readily accepted in the county. He also said that while the landlord of the proposed center’s location is already very positive towards the project, he still has to convince that owner to pay to do the build-out for the project.
The project is contingent on the specific location, and getting a contract with the landlord is the first step, according to Solzman. Dave said that once he gets the approvals to move forward with the project, he hopes it will take no more than 12 months to open.
The idea of a commercial kitchen in the area definitely appeals to local business owner Linda Ikeda, founder of Jumpstart Bodyfuel. Her Long Beach-based company makes breakfast energy bars and power cookies. Ikeda said in an interview last week that she would be interested in finding an additional kitchen near her business to manufacture a new line of gluten-free products. Right now she is using a commercial kitchen in Garden Grove about twice a week to manufacture her wheat-free and vegan snacks.
Ikeda acknowledged that it is very expensive to build a kitchen like the one the Solzmans are proposing, but she feels that the culinary center could really benefit Signal Hill.
“The City of Signal Hill should embrace it because it could help the economy,” Ikeda said.
Solzman is also betting that the center could be a big plus for the city since it could “help put Signal Hill on the map.”
“It will be quite visible,” Dave added. “It will, I think, fit nicely into the city plan and help focus the city center around that particular intersection of Cherry and Willow… I think it’s just a real feather in Signal Hill’s cap to have something unique like this.”
At this time there is a pending piece of legislation (AB 1616) that, if passed, will allow people to make certain food items in their homes to sell commercially. As it is currently written, this bill will only pertain to a small group of very specific food items and only to businesses that have annual gross revenues of $50,000 or less.
“While the thinking behind this legislation is certainly headed in the right direction, there is a much better way of addressing the overwhelming need to accommodate start-up and small food-service businesses when it comes to kitchen access,” Dave said. “Allowing and encouraging kitchen incubators throughout LA County will grant access to permitted and inspected facilities for all sizes and types of businesses from the hobbyist to the artisanal baker to the large scale caterer and everyone in between.
“AB 1616 will require the creation of new committees, and the hiring of many additional inspectors and other personnel for an already overworked and underfunded Public Health and Safety Department Culinary incubators can better satisfy the intentions that AB 1616 has for creating and encouraging the development of ‘cottage food,’ ‘artisanal food,’ ‘slow food,’ ‘locally based food,’ and ‘urban agriculture’ movements while still providing the same high level of health and safety that has been established by the LA Public Health and Safety Department with careful permitting and inspection processes.”