Energy. Passion. Dedication. All words that describe Michael Yankovich and Natalie Lefebvre, founders of Motley Kitchen in Sudbury. This social enterprise, in the heart of downtown Sudbury, is a dynamic lunch bistro serving “handmade, fun, fresh food” to people working and frequenting the downtown. You may be thinking at this point – how does this bistro qualify as a social enterprise? Well Motley Kitchen isn’t just a restaurant serving superb food, it is also a kitchen incubator offering rental space to aspiring food entrepreneurs for an affordable rate.
The creation of Motley Kitchen involved various partners wishing to operate their food-related businesses within one space. At the onset there was a baker, a caterer, a bistro, and the idea of kitchen incubation. Funding for the start-up came from a Crowdfunding campaign which brought people together from across the globe for the common purpose of starting a “kitchen incubator for people to explore their dream”. In order to have the space at 70 Young Street ready to open, the group estimated that they needed to raise a little over $21,000 through the campaign. People were so incredibly supportive of the idea that approximately $24, 000 was raised. And from this initiative, Motley Kitchen was born.
Incubation space, is, as it sounds, a space for creation, idea generation, experimentation and maturing a business start-up to the point where an entrepreneur can decide if the business is feasible and successful enough to warrant its’ own space. The kitchen incubator within Motley Kitchen is for “early stage food entrepreneurs to test their ideas and business without having to invest in the space or equipment”.
Natalie and Michael feel it is important to give back to the community and this is one means of doing so. Interested parties have the opportunity to view the space and talk with Michael and Natalie about their business plans – perhaps the entrepreneur only needs food preparation space or maybe they need the entire kitchen and dining hall. These options are available with prices ranging from $20 per hour to $35 per hour for the entire facility. Guidance and insight is provided by Natalie and Michael at no additional cost.
A barrier to the space has been liability insurance, as incubatees must have their own liability insurance and for some that wish to use the space only once or twice, this can be a prohibitive cost. Regardless of this, throughout the three years Motley Kitchen has been in operation, it has seen 15 incubatees come through the space, with some being more successful than others. Approximately 50 people have inquired about the incubation services offered, which is impressive and clearly shows a need for incubation facilities like this. Michael says “The space is about having the safety to test out a dream without having to invest a lot financially. If the idea does not work out, at least the entrepreneur was able to try it.” Examples of businesses that have used the kitchen incubator include The Queen of Tarts from Sault Ste. Marie, and Grilled Cheese to Please at the Sudbury market.
One significant challenge Michael and Natalie have experienced since starting Motley Kitchen is marketing. With no marketing budget and conventional marketing nearly non-existent for the social enterprise, other than the website, donated in-kind by a friend and professional web designer, the founders rely heavily on social media such as Facebook and Instagram to promote their business. Social media has been, and will continue to be, the main method of marketing to the public – “Thank you social media.” A quick scan of their Facebook page shows quite a bit of activity and great reviews. Michael and Natalie both take responsibility for updating their social media sites on a regular basis and communicating with customers.
Moving forward the incubator will always be a part of Motley Kitchen and founders, Michael and Natalie, are beyond excited for the success of their incubatees. Everyone working in the social enterprise is paying it forward in some respect to the food community, whether that be through supporting local farmers and grocers, to offering support and guidance to fledgling entrepreneurs. The space is a launch pad for people in the food industry and a rewarding experience for Michael and Natalie.