By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One of Knoxville’s newest entrepreneurs is a local native who left the area after graduating from Webb School and did not return until about five years ago. Along the way, she’s gained a variety of experiences that have prepared her for a new venture named Real Good Kitchen.
During her 25 years away, Bailey Foster completed her undergraduate degree at Davidson College and a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University. The latter had a specialization in non-fiction writing which led to several years working for a publishing company in New York City before moving to the Bay Area. There, she spent six years in management for Trader Joe’s, then shifted to client services management with a Medicare consulting firm.
“It was a different industry, but required many of the same skills as Trader Joe’s,” Foster said.
The family relocated to her hometown in August 2013. “It’s an easy place to live, and it’s affordable,” she says, quickly adding, “I had no illusion I was coming back to the same city I left.”
Foster continued to work for the consulting firm for about 18 months after moving back to Knoxville before landing at the Knox County Public Defender’s Office as its Organizational Communication Coordinator.
“I saw Knoxville from a totally new perspective,” she says of that experience. “I saw the pervasive impact of poverty. I came away ever more certain that I wanted to combine a lifelong passion for food with the possibility of making change through the lens of food.”
That vision came together about 18 months ago as venture that is a combination community kitchen and culinary incubator.
“My model is La Cocina in San Francisco, but tailored to the Knoxville market,” Foster says. That organization, described in this recent article from Eater, focuses primarily on women of color and from immigrant communities. La Cocina helps these low income food entrepreneurs formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance, and access to market opportunities. The end result is helping these entrepreneurs achieve financial security.
“Two of the businesses they’ve incubated are on the top lists of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines,” Foster says. Another indication of La Cocina’s impact can be found in this recent article from KQED, the Bay Area’s National Public Radio affiliate.
Real Good Kitchen is structured as a social benefit company, something that is not that common in this region.
“The challenge has been to educate community leaders, banks and other investors on the model,” Foster says. Returns traditionally are not as high as they would be for a more traditional start-up.
That said, Foster’s plan is to have the venture up and running in a 3,300 square foot facility by the middle of next year.
“We will provide a high-quality commercial production kitchen and storage space for established businesses such as caterers and food truck operators, as well as a small event space,” she says. “We will also recruit and incubate new businesses that are just starting.”
Noting how polarized society is today, Foster says her vision is to create spaces where people can come together and collaborate. “We’re a business as focused on growth as we are on impacting the community,” she explains. “No question this is a business Knoxville needs.”