From ovens and stovetops to mixers, food-safe containers and utensils, outfitting a restaurant kitchen with equipment can be cost prohibitive — especially if you’re a new business, a caterer or a pop-up. To offset those costs, many restaurateurs rent space in a commissary kitchen — or licensed, shared space — which can come with its own limitations.
Kristen Cole and Heather Chitty have operated their catering company, Madres Kitchen, at a commissary kitchen since 2005. Over the years, they learned a lot from sharing space. But in 2015, it was time for them to start searching for their own space. They dreamed of a venue where they could cook and host events.
The duo had friends with a space for sale in Uptown, wrapped in big windows on the corner of Republican Street and Second Avenue. However, it was a commissary kitchen — not a venue — and so they shifted gears and opened Kitchen Sisters.
“We thought we’d take one road, but as we got further down it we ended up altering the course,” Cole said.
Not only was it a much easier shift to make, but they now had a chance to run a shared kitchen the best way they knew how. Instead of a one-size-fits-all set of rules for every business, where the kitchen managers are “part-time babysitters” ensuring people are operating within their allotted time slots and following the cleaning schedules, they took a more personalized approach.
They created tiers of membership plans — naming them as if their members were searching for a new apartment. “Couch Surfers” have limited access and no on-site long-term storage, perfect for people who are just starting out. “Studio members” have 24/7 access, assigned prep tables, dry storage racks and fridge access, designed for someone with existing clients or more needs. Everyone has their own station, allowing people to grow their business at their own pace.
This way might be harder — Cole says if she could fill every station 24 hours a day, she’d be making a lot more money — but the “headaches and sacrifices” of constant oversight “just aren’t worth it.”
The past seven years they’ve seen 20 businesses come and go. Right now, there are six food businesses, including Madres. They all happen to be women-owned, and while the space occasionally puts together events where people can sample goods from each business at one time, your best bet is to get know what each is offering and see how it fits your needs. You’ll find personal chefs, weekly pop-ups and caterers right now, offering everything from Ethiopian meals to Bosnian pita. Here are all the details.
Kitchen Sisters, 501 Second Ave. W., #100, Seattle; 206-283-0619; kitchensistersseattle.com
Cole and Chitty have taken over the deli at Pete’s Supermarket and Wine Shop in Eastlake (calling it Eats at Pete’s for now), handing over the reins of Madres Kitchen to two of their longtime employees who will be maintaining Madres’ ethos of “farm to fork” meals. Look to Madres for seasonal menus that highlight a wide range of cuisines. I had a tender chicken breast powder coated in parsley, oregano and garlic, served with Spanish rice, refried black beans and a vibrant churrasco salsa. They cater private parties and events — but also put together holiday dinners. For everyday lunch/dinner, visit Cole and Chitty at Pete’s (58 E. Lynn St., Seattle; 206-322-2660).
Baked in Bosnia
Owner Selma Mansell draws from her Bosnian heritage to create dinners each week for Sunday pickup at Kitchen Sisters. The Balkan-inspired cuisine also has German and Midwestern influence. Her family fled from Bosnia to Germany as a result of the Balkan wars and eventually settled in Wisconsin. You’ll see Balkan-style pita called burek — a gorgeous savory pinwheel that features meat or potato rolled in parchment-thin sheets of pastry, coiled into a wheel and baked until flaky and golden — alongside kifla dogs, a halal beef sausage baked into a fluffy bread roll and served with curry ketchup. I also had a mushroom pappardelle and the sarma, a ground-beef-and-rice-stuffed fermented cabbage roll, slow-cooked in a tangy cabbage broth with smoked beef and served with garlic mashed potatoes. The dinner menu is released for pre-order each Wednesday on Mansell’s website and newsletter.
Fresh Every Thyme
Patty Bulger is one of two personal chefs at Kitchen Sisters. She works with clients to create personalized meals, delivering anything from prepped-to-cook and heat-and-eat meals to freezer meals. Bulger sent me a sample of what her clients were eating one week. There was a massive Greek salad with farro and feta, chicken enchiladas, and an herbed chicken breast with roast vegetables. Everything was wonderful — but perhaps the best were the mini cheesecakes with a chocolate cookie crust and blueberry swirled cheesecake, large enough for two bites. Bulger tells me I could order a tray and keep them in the freezer, which is just about the best thing I can imagine. Her pricing varies depending on meals and frequency; her lowest tier is two servings of three dinners (six meals total) plus the cost of groceries and a delivery fee.
Geni’s Ethiopian does catering and the occasional pre-order dinner out of the Kitchen Sisters space, but you can also find it at the University District and Capitol Hill Farmers Markets each weekend. While waiting in line at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market, the guy next to me asked if I had ever eaten at Geni’s before. He sounded wary. Maybe it was because Jonathan Sinton, the Irish husband of chef Meeraf Sinton (originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) was manning the booth. Or maybe it was because you couldn’t detect any aromas from the delectable items that were for sale. There was no need to be wary. I ordered the siga wot entree ($14), and was handed a heavy tub filled with spicy, brick-red ground beef and a side of curried potatoes and carrots. A rolled piece of injera and a dollop of kochkocha, a fiery cilantro-chile sauce, were also in the box. My only mistake was only ordering one pastei de nata egg tart ($4). Less wobbly than a crème brûlée, the eggy custard and crisp, flaky pastry was too good to share.
Lemon & Thyme
As the only other personal chef at Kitchen Sisters, Chanda Martin’s focus is on restorative cooking, working with clients on specific ways to help them stay focused on their health. I received a menu of three entrees that Martin had for a vegan/vegetarian client who requests light garlic and paprika. There was a millet pilaf with baked tofu, peas, mushrooms and sweet potatoes; biryani with cilantro-mint chutney; and vegan cream of mushroom soup with an endive and radicchio salad. The meals were incredibly balanced and flavorful, the kind that fill you up and make you feel good. Martin works with clients on a weekly or biweekly basis, creating packages to specifically meet their portion-size needs.
Run by the husband-wife team of Stephanie and Paul Staley, Chomp! is a catering company that focuses on private parties and events plus occasional holiday meals. Stephanie Staley jokes that it’s almost easier to tell you what they don’t do when it comes to menu choices, but expect things like herb-crusted pork tenderloin with polenta and grilled pork belly with kimchi mac-and-cheese.