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. Wine of the week: Pull 2012 Merlot Paso Robles

    Bars & Spirits

    It's still too hot out to even think about big heavy red wines, but you can take a break from chilled whites with a lighter red varietal. One fine choice would be Pull 2012 Merlot from Broken Earth Winery, in Paso Robles, Calif.

  2. Is Ed Sheeran sexy? An investigation

    Music & Concerts

    Start with the guitar. Guitars are sexy, right? Historically, anytime anyone straps on a guitar, it's only a matter of time before they come running.

    Ed Sheeran, who sold out three shows at Madison Square Garden last year, opened for Taylor Swift’s “Red” tour and now has a new album called “x” (as in multiply), at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, June 14, 2014.  ?  I don?  t look like your typical pop star,?   says the pint-size 23-year-old British folk singer with a mop of red hair and an unassuming mien. ?  I don?  t sing songs like your typical pop star.” (Jesse Dittmar/The New York Times) -- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE JUNE 22, 2014.
  3. Five ideas for cool summer snacks


    The 90-degree temperatures are not letting up anytime soon. We Floridians know to keep some cold treats on hand through September. Ice cream. Lemonade. Ice pops. Whether you're packing a beach cooler or preparing for a pool party, we've got you covered. Level up your summer snack game with these five refreshing …

    What’s not to like about a homemade ice cream sandwich? The thin chocolate cake bakes in about 10 to 12 minutes, and from there it’s all chilling out.
  4. New podcast: Unlikely cover songs from the '80s


    We're used to Hollywood remaking classic flicks from previous decades - especially our own - but did you know that many of the songs we hold dear from the '80s also are remakes? Stuck in the '80s has now done SIX episodes on "Covers in the '80s." This week's show highlights three more familiar tunes, including …

  5. Who is really making 'Chihuly art'?

    Visual Arts

    SEATTLE — More than 40 years later, Jeffrey Beers still vividly remembers what it felt like to have Dale Chihuly call up to convene a pre-dawn glassblowing session. You felt flattered and inspired, he said, jazzed by Mr. Chihuly's caffeinated freight train of energy and the idea of making art with him while most …

    The artist Dale Chihuly in his Seattle office, which holds some of his collections. [Kyle Johnson | for The New York Times]