A Gleaming New Kitchen? Sweet!
FITCHBURG -- After frozen water pipes burst and flooded the Rollstone Congregational Church’s basement kitchen in 2014, the church this spring completed a mammoth upgrade to its 1930s-era setup.
Now, a local food truck vendor is using the new commercial kitchen at one of city’s historic churches to churn out an array of sweet baked goods.
“At my residential kitchen I was limited with what I could do. You can’t have potentially hazardous foods,” Amanda Cahill, owner of Amanda’s Curbside Cupcakes, said Friday in the basement kitchen.
Cream cheese and high-moisture butter are examples of ingredients that health regulations prohibited her from using in her home kitchen while preparing cupcakes to sell, she said.
At the suggestion of Fitchburg Food Inspector Stephanie Holinko, Cahill said she stopped baking at home, and arranged to rent kitchen space at the church.
The arrangement meant that Cahill could begin making cream cheese frosting, a popular recipe.
The church’s kitchen was built with the proceeds of an insurance claim the filed after water pipes froze in January 2014, said Amy Larsen, a trustee of Rollstone Congregational Church.
The frozen pipes burst, and flooded the basement, including the kitchen, with 2 inches of water.
The kitchen was stripped to the studs, said Larsen.
“Our kitchen had to be gutted down to the walls,” she said.
Gutting the kitchen and installing new appliances cost $150,000, an expense the church covered with the proceeds of an insurance claim the result of four years of negotiations with its providers, according to Larsen.
During the church sought a new food permit, Holinko suggested Rollstone Congregational consider becoming a shared community kitchen, said Larsen.
She connected Larsen with Cahill, who last winter bought her food truck in hopes of turning her lifelong passion for baking into a business.
Cahill received a permit from the city to prepare food using the kitchen, which she uses in exchange for a fee.
The arrangement provides a helpful source of funds for the church, which is contending with declining membership and an aging building, said Larsen. Rollstone Congregational Church celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
“We quite frankly have a huge building that we have to maintain, and so far its been a good source of revenue for us,” said Larsen.
In general, community kitchens can provide an affordable prep space to help startup food businesses get off the ground, said Holinko.
“It’s giving people the opportunity to start a food business without having to go into these two, three-year lease agreements,” she said. “It’s a high-risk business to get into, so you’re minimizing the risk of investing an enormous amount of money into a space.”
Cahill, who works as a full-time postal carrier, hopes to one-day open a bricks-and-mortar bakery, the self-taught baker said word of her food truck spread faster than she expected.
“For now, the truck is enough,” she said in the Rollstone Church kitchen, measuring ingredients for a batch of cupcakes.
Food trucks are a more common fixture in the city lately, said Holinko, an observation she attributed to an increase in the number of public events that draw them.
Holinko said she wishes Fitchburg was home to more community kitchens like the one at Rollstone Church. She said at least two other commercial kitchens rent their facility to food truck owners, and that she encourages other churches to follow Rollstone Congregational’s lead.
Rollstone church has received inquiries from additional food entrepreneurs looking for preparation space, said Larsen. But as of Friday, Cahill was its only renter.
Larsen said the church “doesn’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot” by renting the kitchen to so many cooks it limits the membership’s ability to use it.
But the church remains open to the idea of renting the kitchen to additional food businesses.
“It’s nice to feel like you’re adding something to Fitchburg,” said Larsen.