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Your Guide to Start a Food Business in a Commissary Kitchen

DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or another relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

As more entrepreneurs enter the food and beverage market, many turn to commissary kitchens for space.

In 2020 chef Tushar wasn’t able to open his restaurant, but he was still able to grow his business in a commissary.

After two years of navigating pandemic updates, and ongoing restrictions, his dream of opening a restaurant has grown to include a ghost kitchen, catering business, consultation company, and a provincially recognized CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand.

Commissary kitchens come with several, notable benefits for a variety of food businesses, like access to restaurant equipment and reduced upfront costs. They can also bring the added advantages of a community with shared resources and information. Whether this is your first time joining a commissary or you’re signing up for a new contract, we’ve created this guide on what you can expect from a commissary kitchen.

Table of Contents:

  1. Learn your User Agreement

  2. Applying for Licenses and Insurance

  3. Online Orientation

  4. Coworking technology

  5. Health Permits and Business licenses

  6. In-person orientation & Facility inspection

Commissary chef decorating buns

1. Understand Your Member Agreement

🕑 1 day

Take the time to fully understand your contract, which serves as a guide for what it means to be a member of a commissary.

Keep in mind, that a deposit invoice will often be sent with your contract and will be required to secure your station. Your deposit usually includes a combination of your first-month fee and a refundable additional month’s fee held for the duration of your membership. In keeping with Coho’s vision as an industry leader, we review and update our terms from time to time. As your business evolves, different parts of a contract may be more relevant to you.

It’s in good practice to stay informed and up to date with your contract.

2. Acquire Liability Insurance & FOODSAFE

🕑 3-5 days

To operate in a commissary you are required to have liability insurance. According to the Canadian insurance company, The Co-operators:

“With liability insurance, you’re protected in the event your business is found legally responsible for injuries caused to another person, or damage to their property.” It’s common to have this amount range from $2 million to $3 million with the facility you operate in listed as “additionally insured”.

You may also want to inquire about spoilage insurance, since most commissaries do not provide it, but this is optional.

Further, it is a requirement that at least one person within your company, present at all times, has a FOODSAFE Level 1 certification. One of the benefits of joining a Coho commissary comes with a discounted rate for this certification. Regardless, we suggest all members of your staff obtain this certification, as it ensures safe food practices throughout your team.

3. Complete Your Online Orientation

🕑 1 hour

We understand your business, along with 150+ fellow food businesses, is your livelihood. At Coho, all owners, employees, and company representatives are expected to complete our online orientation prior to using our spaces. Our online orientation communicates our values, vision and mission of what it means to join a community, while also demonstrating the standards we uphold within our spaces.

Every Coho commissary is monitored 24/7, and only accessible with a personalized access code, provided after you complete our orientation.

This allows us to ensure compliance across our facilities as well as the safety and security of your business.

three chefs preparing and decorating buns in a commissary kitchen

4. Coworking Technology

🕑 5 minutes

“Commissaries are shared kitchens with commercial-grade equipment and facilities and usually found in a centralized location.”

In order to facilitate the ease of sharing equipment and space between multiple businesses, commissaries utilize third-party apps like Food Corridor." These apps are not only used to schedule time at your station and book communal equipment, but can also be used to pay your membership fees, and upload important documents.

When signing up for a commissary kitchen, ask your manager about what type of tech or software is available to you to help streamline communications.

5. Health Approval & Business License

🕑 2-4 weeks To sell your product as a food business, you will need a number of documents in order to apply for VCH approval, and subsequently for a business license.

VCH is Vancouver’s regional health authority that verifies if a business has set processes to ensure food safety and sanitation standards are being met.

A business license is unique to the type of business, but in BC commissary kitchens, they can typically fall within two categories: this application form, if you are a food store or manufacturer, or this application form, for general food production. You will also need:

  • A summary of your business - about your business, what you're making, who you're selling to, and how you're planning to sell it;