Spencer-Penn kitchen is ready for entrepreneurs

February 11, 2011

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Entrepreneur Bob Tuggle was trying a new recipe for pomegranate jelly on Tuesday.

He was the first person to can food at the nonprofit Spencer-Penn Centre’s professionally equipped community kitchen, said Carrie Denny, kitchen marketing manager.

Tuggle, who retired in May as Henry County’s information systems manager, is starting a food-based business named Tuggle Farms. It will sell such foods as jams, jellies, pickles and salsas, as well as, in a cooperative arrangement, sell others’ handcrafts, such as yarns, candles and soaps, Tuggle said.

On Tuesday, Tuggle planned to make a total of three batches of pomegranate and apple-grape jelly (about 18 pints). Some of it will be used for samples for the Martinsville Garden Tour on April 20, and some for a future food event at the Spencer-Penn Centre, according to Tuggle and Denny.

“I like it,” Tuggle said of the kitchen. “It’s set up nicely. It has everything you need. It’s very sanitary. It meets code requirements to make sure food is safe for public consumption.”

Tuggle said that last summer he began exploring the idea of starting the business. He did a lot of research, including talking with Denny and with officials with the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

He figured he had two choices: Either spend about $4,000 to upgrade his home kitchen or lease the community kitchen, he said.

Not only will he save a lot of money by leasing the community kitchen, he said, “I don’t have to spend ... (about $4,000) upfront to get my business up and going.”

Also by leasing the community kitchen, he gets the expertise of Denny, he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.”

Tuggle, of Bassett Forks, said he plans to use the community kitchen for the next couple years as he grows his business slowly, so it will have a chance, he said.

His business will be based on his family’s farm in Rangeley, where he grew up. He is the son of Paul and Glenda Tuggle.

Denny said the center’s kitchen is an “incubator kitchen,” to help startup food-based businesses.

“You grow here and move on,” she said.

The fees for using the kitchen are $10 to $25 an hour depending on usage, she said.

She works closely with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. The EDC offers entrepreneurs who lease the kitchen help with such things as developing a business plan, research and product development, she said.

The community kitchen is funded for three years with a $52,140 grant from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission and a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Denny and other Spencer-Penn officials have said.

Since Denny was hired in October, she has done such things as work with local, state and federal regulators to set up the program; undergone some training; made many contacts to let people know about the community kitchen; developed partnerships; and scheduled a variety of food-related classes.

Denny said she aims for the kitchen to provide more opportunities for agricultural growers to sell their foods and for food-based businesses to start and grow, and to offer community education.

Classes scheduled include cooking with herbs, slow-cooker cooking, cake decorating, diabetic mini workshop and basics of canning.

Food-based businesses could include caterers; food trucks and vendors; businesses that make baked goods; businesses that process foods into jams, jellies, pickles, salsas, etc.; and smaller-scale restaurants.

So far, a couple of people have made long-term commitments to use the kitchen, Denny said, and she’s hoping that when growing season arrives, things will take off.

In an interview in August, Nelda Purcell, program director for the Spencer-Penn Centre, said the goals for the kitchen included:

• In the first year, serve at least 15 growers and other small food product entrepreneurs, serve at least three new businesses, and support the development or production of five or more marketable products with an aggregate retail value of at least $8,000.

• Over three years, increase the diversity of farm production among at least 12 regional growers, such as organic vegetables or fruits that can be processed for added value. The goal is to support the development or production of marketable products with an aggregate retail value of $30,000 for the first three years.

Denny said Tuesday those goals are “still very realistic.”

In telling people about the community kitchen, such as at farmers markets and community meetings, Denny has gotten good reactions, she said. People “are very excited and want more information,” she added.

Denny said her program has partnered with Patrick Henry Community College and the Artisan Center to offer culinary arts classes for credit at the Spencer-Penn Centre in the fall 2011 semester.

Part of the grant moneys also will be used for physical improvements at the Spencer-Penn Centre, including putting a new roof on the kitchen and paving a gravel parking lot, Denny said. She hopes those projects will be completed by April.

Denny, of Spencer, knows about the food business and being an entrepreneur. She grew up helping in restaurants owned by her family, was sales manager for Stuart Flooring Corp. in Stuart and later owned a hardwood flooring business, The Floor Store in Wilkesboro, N.C. She has sold that business, she said.

For more information, call Denny at 957-5757.


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