The foodie faces of the new Findlay Kitchen

The new Findlay Kitchen, which had its grand opening on March 23, is like a dream of the future come to life for any food entrepreneur. It’s full of gleaming tile and stainless steel, with baking racks and temperature-controlled areas, huge amounts of storage and walk-in refrigerators and freezers. Anyone who ever struggled to bake 12 batches of cookies in a home oven, or has outgrown their cottage-industry style kitchen could find what they need to take their next step.

Thirty food entrepreneurs are founding members. They’ll use the facilities to produce sauces and crackers, doughnuts and pierogies, prepare for catering gigs, or expand what they do in their restaurant kitchens.

The project cost $2.6 million and was funded completely by philanthropic donors. The idea is to give a boost to small businesses just getting started, as well as help them make the transition from start-up to fully-established. In addition to facilities they can use, there will be help with business education and technical support. It’s all part of creating a thriving food community in the area around Findlay and in Greater Cincinnati.

Here are six of the first 30 members, all raring to go.

Kerala, in the south of India, is home to Christians and Jews as well as Muslims and Hindus. The cooking there uses plenty of seafood, lots of coconut and distinctive spice mixes. Mandira Jacob’s family is Syrian-Christian from Kerala, and her catering enterprise, Oh! Mustard Seed, is named not only for a distinctive spice of the region, but also for a verse from the Bible.

Jacob goes to Crossroads Church, which supports a ministry aimed at helping girls caught in sex trafficking in India, and she hopes to support the effort with her business. She’ll be doing catering from the Kitchen, and teach cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen. These are dishes not necessarily familiar to Indian restaurant-goers. “ These are the foods we eat at home,” she said. “I want to show people a different side of Indian cooking.”

OCD Cakes stands for Obsessive Cake Disorder. But it also stands for what you first think it does. James Avant IV was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder when he was a junior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in neurobiology and Spanish. He  found that making cakes, which he’d always loved to do, helped soothe the anxiety that underlies OCD.  He turned the baking into a business and is searching for ways to use his cakes to help ease the stigma of mental illness.

“When you’re eating cake, it’s hard to feel negative emotions,” he said. He donates 5 percent of his proceeds to mental health groups. He also uses cake and cupcakes to help meet people somewhere they’re comfortable to talk about the mental health issues that affect 1 in 4 people at some point. Some of those places will be teaching classes in the Kitchen’s very well-appointed teaching kitchen, which is what you can see through the plate glass windows on the street.

“Baking has helped me break out of my shell, talk about my disorder,”  he said. The attention to detail that OCD is known for can be both an asset and a  liability to a baker. “People had to tell me not to endlessly pipe frosting flowers over and over until they were perfect,” he said.

You could call George Wadley a reformed chili-head. When he first got into making hot sauces he liked to make them as fiery as he could. “Yeah, I was that guy,” he said.

But once he started really learning about different peppers such as habaneros and ghost peppers and Brazilian aji, he realized that they could contribute flavor and fruitiness as well as heat. So he started making sauces at all levels of heat, from his peach jalapeno to a habanero-mango sauce with a little lime and ginger. “These are the opposite of what I’d call a super-hot gimmick sauce,” he said. “They have a nice balance so you can taste the flavor of the chilis.”

He makes six basic sauces, which he will be producing at the Kitchen and selling at Findlay Market. He plans to take full advantage of the support at the Kitchen for packaging and marketing his products.

Isis Arrieta-Dennis makes her arepas from scratch. She doesn’t grow the corn, but she takes it from there: She boils dried corn, then grinds it and makes it into a dough that’s patted into circles, then grilled and stuffed. These are the traditional thick corn pancakes, or arepas, from her home country of Colombia. She’ll be using the kitchen to make the arepas and all the fillings she uses: shredded beef, chicken, black beans and plantains, as well as her sauces.

They include traditional cilantro-based aji Colombiana, an herbed sour cream, and a  salsa that’s actually spicier than what people eat in Colombia, she said. Her mother, who owns a restaurant in Cartagena, will offer advice and help on frequent visits. The Arepa Place will set up on the south side of Findlay to sell arepas on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. The Kitchen, for her and husband Chris, will be a place for community, she said, more than just a spot to cook.

Tiffany Wise was a massage therapist for 15 years and often found herself working with people who were not healthy. “They were under stress, not eating well,” she said. “I saw such a need for information and healthy food.”

She’s now a holistic health coach. But she also finds that her clients are short of time, and unlikely to make their own crackers or fermented foods. So she’s making a line of such foods called The Healing Kitchen. She’s starting with crackers made of flax seeds, a cashew puree she calls a cashew cheese and fermented vegetables. “These are things that have really worked for me in my diet,” she said.

She’ll be using the Kitchen to make her products, which will be stocked at Dirt, the local-foods store at Findlay, and other health-food markets. She’s sourcing much of her ingredients from Findlay Market. 

Mona Bronson-Fuqua has been making her barbecue sauce since she was 12. So she won’t be using the kitchens to test her recipes, she’ll be working on producing it and working on labeling, marketing and other skills she needs to back up her entrepreneurial goals. “I’m ready to go big with this,” she said.

She has her branding down: Mo’Betta Brands. That gives her room to add to her line. Mortar, the start-up program for small-scale entrepreneurs, gave her their first scholarship.

Bronson-Fuqua is also a teacher for St. Francis Seraph’s Food for the Family program that will use the teaching kitchen to teach cooking skills for those on a low budget.

See for information on membership, and on classes and events.