Amazing things are happening to the food in DC. What once was a boring, boys club lunch mecca is becoming a breeding ground for all things local and handmade. Incredible kombucha; chocolate from bean to bar; and whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup are just a few examples of the tasty goods popping up every day. And if you follow them all back to their source, you’ll find one kitchen at the helm.
Upon leasing the warehouse that would soon become the growing empire of Union Kitchen, Cullen Gilchrist and Jonas Singer understood that it would be easy to go with the same old rent-a-kitchen model. But why would they want to? It wasn’t working for them, and even more importantly, it wasn’t going to work for the clients they wanted to foster — tracking hours, fighting for time, leaving your clients to fend for themselves, you could find a million kitchens just like that in the area already, and they weren’t doing much to inspire. So Cullen and Jonas set up a new model. Charge a monthly fee for unlimited hours, let clients work together in a shared, collaborative workspace, and provide the mentorship those clients need to get their business off the ground.
… sound amazing? It did to us too.
They work out their own schedules and work around each other. Food trucks, farmers market stands, and businesses with their goods stocked at Whole Foods buzz through the kitchen with the possibility of greatness and the smell fresh-baked goods.
Thanks to the Shark Tank-style selection process for acceptance — which looks at not just flavor, but numbers and realistic business sense — you’d be hard-pressed to find a DC city block more packed full of talent… or a kitchen more packed full of drool-worthy food.
And its leaders are proud of what they have… when I asked Cullen and Jonas to speak at Field + Foundry, they graciously accepted, and man did they deliver — then they quickly moved the conversation away from themselves, on to the incredible people they see following their dreams every day. The people they really wanted to promote.
Their own dream, after all, is built on the backs of the people they choose to support — and they know it. That’s all a part of the plan.
These aren’t guys who want to live in a city without a community. So rather than sit back and wait for a community to build itself, Union Kitchen is building a small army of folks just like Cullen and Jonas (they also own Blind Dog Cafe in DC) who want good local food made by the people who live in and around the city. People who take pride in where they live, and who want to see DC continue to grow.
The folks at Union Kitchen aren’t just changing food scene in DC. They’re changing the town.