Make us your home page

South Tampa shared kitchen has become a springboard for bay area culinary businesses

Every weekday morning, Debbie Nibbs gets to the South Tampa kitchen she shares with dozens of other people at 5:30 a.m.

She preps doughs, washes some dishes and makes icings before her food truck, Craving Donuts, opens at 7. She parks her bright pink trailer in a parking lot just a few steps from the kitchen doors and unveils a menu sporting doughnut flavors like French toast, rainbow cake, Meyer lemon and caramel bacon.

Nibbs does all of this at Your Pro Kitchen, a communal cooking and baking co-op she and other entrepreneurs have been using since it opened its doors almost two years ago. The South Tampa location is part of a bigger Brandon-bred company that rents out fully stocked, commercially licensed commissaries that act as a stepping-stone for culinary entrepreneurs.

Owner Cindy Pickering opened the first kitchen in 2008 after firsthand experience operating a small-scale salsa business. After learning that, to make her salsa, she was required by the state to own a certified commercial kitchen that met certain health safety regulations and regular inspections, she opened an 800-square-foot space in Brandon. Soon, it began to feel like she owned a second business.

"I'm making salsa and delivering salsa and building my salsa business, and I get a call from somebody in the kitchen: The plumbing's broke, or one of the ceiling tiles fell in, or the toilet backed up, or the electric went out on one side of the building," she said.

During that time, Pickering was approached by other market vendors who wondered if they should open their own kitchens. Her response?

"No way. Uh-uh."

She saw a need for entrepreneurs to be able to use a certified kitchen without owning their own, so she offered to let people use hers. That's where she got the idea for Your Pro Kitchen.

Businesses can lease time at eight different locations throughout Florida (including three in Tampa Bay), where they can cook, bake, prep, store and sanitize any time, any day. Some use the minimum eight hours a month; others use 150.

Pickering has worked with local companies like William Dean Chocolates and Joey Biscotti. Barry's Gourmet Brownies, one of her earlier clients, now operates a 20,000-square-foot facility in Clearwater and sells 500,000 brownies a day, to places like Starbucks.

The South Tampa location is run by 23-year catering vet Kristin Witts, who leases space to 16 local food trucks, including Empamamas, Surf and Turf and Spaddy's Coffee. Forty-seven other catering, baking and retail businesses prep at the kitchen as well, companies like Gulf Coast Sourdough, Hungry Monkey and Trixie Treats. Products like hot sauce, ice cream, cheesecake and coffee are sold at venues like Locale Market in St. Petersburg, Tampa International Airport and Williams-Sonoma at International Plaza.

Nibbs, who owns the doughnut food truck, and Stephanie Swanz, who started using Your Pro Kitchen to prep for her food truck Empamamas in February, say that Witts has become a big part of their success.

She knows the business well, and is able to guide people through the process of getting things started, from licensing to marketing. She walks her clients through the credentials process, offers space at the front of her building for tastings and classes and recruits volunteers from local culinary programs like the one at Northeast High School. Recently, she upgraded the kitchen's electrical system so that food trucks can plug into the building and rely less on their generators.

"[I] try to find as many things that I can so that it's all a one-stop shop here," Witts said. "The cost of running a licensed kitchen can be high, sometimes around thousands of dollars a month. For business owners just getting their feet wet, that expense can be daunting."

Nibbs thought opening a food truck was going to be a difficult process. But so far, she's happy with the results. She has partnered with UberEATS for doughnut delivery; on weekends she sells doughnuts at festivals and food truck rallies from Spring Hill to John's Pass. The former cake designer said that Witts has found a solution for every obstacle she has come across since opening the food truck earlier this year.

"[It's] to the point where now my husband says, 'Just ask Kristin,' " she said.

Swanz agreed.

"You need people like that," she said. "People that want to help you in this business are hard to come across."

Contact Carlynn Crosby at

.If you go

Your Pro Kitchen locations

Pinellas Park: 6657 49th St. N; (727) 531-2665

Tampa: 5224 S Dale Mabry Highway; (727) 244-5368

Lutz: 4450 Pet Lane, Suite 107; (813) 481-3724

South Tampa shared kitchen has become a springboard for bay area culinary businesses 10/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2016 4:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of June 26-July 2.


    Vans Warped Tour: The festival returns Saturday to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park, featuring shock-metal icons Gwar, hardcore punks Sick Of It All, ska band Save Ferris and indie-pop group Never Shout Never ($39.50-$49.50). vanswarpedtour. …

    Crowd for the Motionless in White band at the 2014 Vans Warped Tour at Vinoy Park, Friday, July 25, 2014.  CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times
  2. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  3. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  4. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]