The culinary landscape is all about innovation – whether it’s through flavor combinations, production processes, or dining concepts. Shared commercial kitchen spaces, also known as commissaries, are a recent innovation popping up throughout North America, each with a unique design catered to a specific type of business.
Coho Commissary currently operates 7 shared commercial kitchens, with a range of membership packages, from hourly to part-time and full-time stations. Every location is fully furnished with equipment suitable for a range of businesses. A membership with Coho grants you access to the kitchen, storage space, and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Our largest and most flexible memberships are our private kitchens, which are dedicated rooms that are customizable to whichever member occupies the space.
We sat down with David Yu, owner of Blue Ivy Kitchen, a catering company that specializes in hot meals for companies across the Greater Vancouver Area. Blue Ivy recently moved into a private kitchen in Coho East Georgia and has been able to ramp up his production capacity by leaps and bounds. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a private space within a shared kitchen, read on to learn how David makes the most of his space and continues to grow his business.
The Origins Blue Ivy
During COVID, David and his business partner saw a trend in consumers preferring to order take-out meals over dining in restaurants. He also noticed a lot more people were not eager to match the rising percentage of tips in the service industry. David saw catering as a simple solution where people don’t have to leave the comfort of their homes or pay exorbitant tips for a tasty meal.
Another niche market that David and his partner found they could help through catering was the numerous businesses that were struggling to retain their hourly employees. They thought of delivering weekly meal plans to these companies. By offering bulk orders of meals, they would charge the companies a marginal price per meal. Meanwhile, the struggling companies would be able to offer free meals as an employee perk to incentivize hourly employees to stay.
Building the Business
As a seasoned and internationally trained chef in the hospitality industry, David used to be the Executive Chef of the Sheraton Shanghai Hotel. With 1 cafe and 9 restaurants under his leadership, his team of 260 kitchen staff would serve over 70,000 covers per day. While running the kitchen’s daily operations, menu planning, and budgeting, he noticed that the catering service was the best business model (compared to the hotel’s restaurants and cafe) with the highest profit margins.
Given that restaurants often increase their prices to account for any front-of-house expenses, David believed that with catering, he would be able to utilize his front-of-house savings towards purchasing higher-quality ingredients or producing a larger quantity of meals.
David launched Blue Ivy in 2021 out of Coho Commissary, initially operating only 2 days per week and receiving 30 covers per day. Today, Blue Ivy has grown to serve over 600 covers per day, operating 5 days a week out of our East Georgia commissary. Their meals are then distributed across the Greater Vancouver area, just in time for lunch!
Staffing is a challenge that David faced throughout his time in the food industry, and Blue Ivy was no exception. Although he has a team of 8 people, adapting to the high turnover in the kitchen has been a learning experience for David. Every day, he starts work at 3am to prep for the rush of lunch orders, to make up for short staffing.
He suggests that other food entrepreneurs hire more than they originally planned in order to compensate for the fluctuation of staffing.
Starting in a Commissary
David decided to launch his business out of a commissary kitchen because it was a fully operational space with all the equipment he needed – all he had to do was move in.
He also appreciates having a commissary manager who acts as a kitchen manager, and is able to save him from the stress and energy required to take care of administrative duties. For example, if David or his team finds a technical issue with a piece of equipment, he knows he can go to his commissary manager to get it fixed.
The food industry can be a taxing path, and working out of Coho Commissary, David has found to lighten his workload, both mentally and physically.
Expanding to a Private Kitchen
Blue Ivy used to operate in a dedicated station in our commissary, but with their rapid growth, they recently moved to a private kitchen in Coho East Georgia. David’s team makes the most of their private kitchen space by using it to pack their hundreds of orders. The larger space has helped them increase the speed and efficiency of their production processes. Being in a private kitchen, David also noticed that his team is now able to operate out of a central location in the commissary and avoid disrupting the workflow of their neighbors.
While David’s short-term goal is to reach 6,000 covers per day with his catering business, his dream is to one day become a retailer and create a product that he builds a global brand with.
With his private kitchen space, David has the flexibility and access to a secured station where he can do research and recipe development on his own time. Using the feedback he receives from his current customers, former colleagues in the industry, and the younger generation of foodies, David is actively working to find the next hit product to be used and recognized on a global scale.
David described success to be not only numeric but on a holistic level, about how happy he is with his achievements and what he’s created. Next year, David will be 50 years old. In the first half of his life, David’s goal was to make other people happy – whether it was through his business, for his family, or for his friends, he has worked to serve others. In the second half of his life, David is excited to continue his work, but with the focus of making himself happy.
When we asked David if he would recommend Coho to other food businesses, his answer was straight to the point.
“Of course! I’ve been here for 2 years and if I’ve been here for this long, you know it’s a good place. Commissaries are a great place to start your business, especially if you don’t have a grand budget or an investor to help you financially.
People want a perfect place but there is no such thing. Life is about the art of compromising. To me, Coho is more than enough – it’s a comfortable place to work with reasonable rent and a management team that has open and regular communication with its members.”
David’s journey with Blue Ivy demonstrates the power of dedication and the willingness to embrace change. Using his expertise in the field and finding innovative solutions to changes in the food and beverage industry, David’s success with Blue Ivy reminds us that success isn't just measured in numbers; it's the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles, the joy of creating something remarkable, and the fulfillment of pursuing one's passion.
Whether you're a seasoned chef or a budding entrepreneur, we hope Blue Ivy's journey inspires you to carve your path, relish challenges, and savor the taste of success on your own terms. If you are itching for a new space and know that a full brick-and-mortar space isn’t the path for you, check out our private kitchen packages, offered at both our Coho East Georgia (Vancouver) and Coho Richmond commissaries.