Coworking spaces offer room for collaboration

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Kayla Sandoval, head baker and owner of Biscotti Brewers, uses shared space at the Rochester Commissary. (Photo by Colin Hawkins)

Ronnie McClive and Kayla Sandoval are working together on crafting gluten-free treats.

While Sandoval’s business Biscotti Brewers, a gluten-free bakery, and McClive’s Le Petit Poutine, a short-order food truck business, might not appear like they have a lot in common, the Rochester Commissary  has changed that notion.

“It is cool to cross-pollinate and meet people and see what they’ve got going on,” says McClive. “We’ve entered the same market as Kayla and being able to go ‘How are your sales?’ ‘Here’s what we did in our early days,’ “Here’s what we noticed,’ that’s kind of nice.”

Petit Poutinerie on Elton Street. (Photo: Petit Poutinerie)

Biscotti Brewers and Le Petit Poutine connected over gluten-free menu items. Gravy at Le Petit Poutine is gluten-free. The food truck business, which recently opened a brick and mortar location on Elton Street in Rochester named Petit Poutinerie, has been operational since 2011. It specializes in poutine, a casual dish from Quebec usually consisting of cheese curds and brown gravy over french fries. The Commissary was Le Petit Poutine’s first shared kitchen space.

The Commissary is part of Metro Collective, a platform that launched last month to connect coworking spaces in Rochester, Fairport, and Geneva. Among the five locations near the center of the city, two are the Whiting Building and the Commissary.

The Metro Collective digital platform aims to create a network by supporting startups and businesses through features like chat rooms. 

“Metro Collective unites shared space communities across Upstate New York. It’s a hyperlocal initiative,” says Maureen Ballatori, an entrepreneur who co-owns a coworking space with real estate developer Craig Webster called Port 100. “What we found was that people working in shared spaces are often looking for similar things.”

She says the pandemic made these collectives even more appealing after some workers tired of working from home.

“People join a coworking space so they can get out of their house and go work and focus and talk to other people that are not their dog,” Ballatori says with a laugh. “Coworking spaces, some of them are an open floor plan, others are just a community of private offices where people still want to have that collaboration together but more in a ‘pass you in the hallway, chat with you in the kitchen’ kind of thing and still work in a private office space.”

The Whiting Building on East Avenue houses three floors of business space with open communal offices, private offices and suites as well as a meeting room and a shared kitchen. The atmosphere resembles a recently updated downtown office or the parts of a college campus where work and socializing overlap. The suites and offices have large windows and new decor. The workspaces are connected by hallways lined with tables and seating areas where workers can set up laptops or eat meals.

The third floor of the Whiting Building has residential apartments and extended stay housing where people can reduce their commute to an elevator ride.

“We developed the building probably three years ago and then we added in the apartments. We took that collaborative multi-level approach to the building,” Webster says. 

The Whiting Building on East Avenue houses three floors of business space. (Photo: Port 100)

Further down the street is the Commissary, an incubator kitchen in the Sibley Building, that offers businesses professional kitchen space. Often, the Commissary is where restaurant startups can grow, food trucks can prep and caterers can get extra space for big orders. Sometimes, a business can use a commissary kitchen to offer a product on a short-term basis that would otherwise be impossible like a coffee roaster offering bottled cold brew coffees during the summer.

This approach “allows different food-based business models to operate out of the space with minimal overhead,” says Sandoval, who has operated Biscotti Brewers at the Commissary since April 2021. 

She says an incubator kitchen was critical to helping her business develop.

“When I first put together the business model of what I was going to do, something like the Commissary was always a part of the plan,” Sandoval says. 

While Sandoval notes many bakers start at home, once health codes need to be met, it can be challenging to operate on a shoestring budget. At minimum, food service businesses in Monroe County must meet health code requirements like strict adherence to sanitization and contamination standards such as multiple sinks dedicated to specific tasks in order to prevent cross contamination.

“Now I have a better understanding of what my equipment list looks like and what it doesn’t look like,” Sandoval says. “If I never had that and had just gone from zero to 100 in one night, I can give you a whole list of businesses … who closed their doors because they literally didn’t pick the right equipment.”

What the Commissary had that Sandoval’s home kitchen did not was a sophisticated oven allowing fine control over baking conditions and allowing her to fully sanitize the interior so she could better ensure the inside of the oven was free of any residual gluten contamination. 

Sandoval works with other food businesses to glean and share expertise. She worked in the automotive industry as an engineer prior to starting her baking business and brought lessons learned from that background to other members of the Commissary, just as other members have offered their advice.

Her experience with gluten-free ingredients has helped other chefs bring their existing recipes to a new demographic, she says, as subtle qualities of alternative flours like almond flour and rice flour mean each one has different strengths suitable for everything from pasta and bagels to deep-fryer breading and gravy.

Colin Hawkins is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is a senior and journalism major at SUNY Oswego.

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