TULSA – It’s lunchtime on a balmy September Wednesday and a man on an ice cream tricycle is weaving through the crowd at Guthrie Green in the Brady Arts District. Instead of Klondike bars, Bomb Pops or other commercial frozen treats peddled out of the average ice cream truck, the freezer is loaded down with popsicles made one mile away at Kitchen 66.
Set up less than a block north of Route 66 through the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, Kitchen 66 is a culinary incubator for budding Tulsa-area restaurateurs, caterers, food truck operators and entrepreneurs looking to sell their products in local grocery stores.
“It’s a testament to Tulsa and Tulsans that they want to be in the food business,” Kitchen 66 director Adele Beasley said. “People here have great recipes, but they also have need for more support and more resources.”
Along with access to mentors and potential investors in the Tulsa business community, Kitchen 66 offers “Launch 1.0,” a program for early stage foodie entrepreneurs that provides business training on everything from pricing strategies to health code requirements, plus the opportunity to sell their goods at incubator-sponsored events.
After completing “Launch 1.0,” participants can go through the next level of programming, which offers more tailored services to meet the specific needs of each business, such as how to pursue a small business loan or employing effective marketing techniques.
As of mid-September, 30 businesses have gone through the incubator. Beasley said more than 150 people applied for a spot in Kitchen 66’s first year of operation, prompting organizers to tweak its offerings and re-evaluate what potential businesses they could accommodate.
“We look for people with the ‘hustle factor,’” she said. “People who have a vision, motivation and an eagerness to learn. We focus first on the individual, but the product is important.
“We do look at the product, but it comes down to the person and that matters, especially for early stage companies. That’s what we look to first.”
Kitchen 66 also has 9,000 square feet of commercial kitchen space divided into sections that can be rented out as needed, which is what drew in the popsicle purveyors.
In May, Chris, Megan and Robbie Davis launched Pop House, a gourmet popsicle outfit that incorporates locally-grown ingredients whenever possible, such as peaches and nectarines from Livesay Orchards in nearby Porter, Oklahoma, and blueberries and blackberries from Thunderbird Farms.
On any given day, the Pop House freezer tricycle has up to eight flavors on hand, such as watermelon mint and peach jalapeno in the summer or in the coming cooler months, pumpkin pie and caramel apple.
“We’re a family business,” Chris Davis said. “We’ve seen similar types of gourmet popsicle businesses do well in other communities. The immediate challenge we were facing was that we needed a commercial kitchen. The only options were either coming here or to find an existing kitchen that would let us share space, which is not ideal with potentially conflicting storage needs and schedules.
“Kitchen 66 was the only way that we could get our business off the ground. They let us rent the space, use it on our own schedule and provide us with resources.”
The kitchen space has also been a boon for PetsWell Pantry founder Lien Alsup, a local entrepreneur who has gotten a leg up through Kitchen 66’s Launch 1.0 and 2.0 courses.
Launched in late 2015 in her kitchen, Alsup’s start-up offers organic pet food and treats. For her, the incubator has not only been a way to feel more “official,” it has also been a way to get her bearings and not miss out on critical details that might not have otherwise crossed her mind.
“It’s overwhelming when you start out because there are so many regulations, licensing issues and so on,” she said. “You basically need to seek out professionals from different sectors, because you don’t know what you don’t know until you’re in the middle of it.”