ood-based entrepreneurs often have a tough time getting their home kitchens certified as food safe, thus inhibiting their business from taking the next step. Common barriers include pets in the home, appropriate structural aspects such as lighting and ventilation, and different sinks for sanitation and dishwashing. Some provinces provide online lists of commercial kitchens available for rent, but lists are sparse and many restrictions apply.
Enter Coho Collective, a Vancouver based food-centric group that hope to ease the transition from humble beginnings to commercial success. What started in 2017 as an angel investment fund to aid Vancouver food start-ups evolved into opening two commissary kitchens, a bakery, and online market that support the entrepreneurs that inhabit their spaces.
With three, soon to be four, commercial kitchens in Vancouver, Coho is the driving force behind many up-and-coming chefs, bakers, pasta makers, and beverage connoisseurs. The website lists their members, which has grown to upwards of 100, including virtual restaurants, caterers, and packaged goods. Memberships come in three tiers: full-time “dedicated station”, part-time “shared station”, and hourly “hot station”. The diverse membership opportunities ensure that no matter the place entrepreneurs may be in their business they can receive appropriate support from Coho. To apply, interested parties fill out a quick survey online that asks what they want from a kitchen, what type of business they operate, and what they hope being a member of Coho will bring.
Compared to other commercial kitchen companies, Coho offers an inclusive and supportive community, focused on driving sales and enabling its members with more than just a workspace.
Chief Customer Officer Mun Yee Kelly says members also find inspiration from each other, “[they] find inspiration for dishes, ways to do business, and integrate one another's products into their offerings. All kitchens have overlapping times; at no point are any of our kitchens exclusive to one member.”
In 2019, in response to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, Coho launched Coho Market, an online store for their members to sell their creations direct to consumers. "During COVID, Coho Market has meant many of our members were able to start selling online within weeks of the shut-down without the hassle, cost, and burden of hiring website developers and managing delivery logistics. Coho Market manages all of that for our members” says Jennifer Chan, Coho’s Chief Marketing Officer.
The idea is to engage the Vancouver community and introduce them to hyper-local creators.
“Hyper-local means we run our company to focus on building and supporting a local small business ecosystem that benefits everyone in our community - our community being our members and their customers, but also our neighbouring businesses as well,” continues Jennifer. Coho’s members often support local producers, allowing a continuous flow of business, creation, and discovery throughout the Vancouver area.
In March of 2020, Coho opened Coho Coffee, a new concept operating as a brick and mortar footprint outside of the company’s commissary kitchens. The display case and retail shelves at the café serve as a way for members to display and sell their products in person. Coho says the cafe is a way for the community to experience Coho the brand face-to-face. They invite the public to sip coffees and stay for brunch, which features ingredients made by Coho members, and get to know the Coho family in the flesh.
The idea that started it all, Coho Provisions, still backs members financially and allows them the opportunity to grow outside of Coho too. They aim to invest in companies in all stages of development; whether you’re an established home baker or a new-to-the-scene ice cream pop-up, Coho wants to help.
Due to great success in the Vancouver area, Coho Co-founder Andrew Barnes says they’ve been approached by government organizations, real estate developers, and food producers Canada-wide to consider expansion in their communities. The idea of expanding into other Canadian food-hubs like Toronto and Montreal is exciting, but Coho sees similar excitement in smaller communities like Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, a town of 5000 people. The importance of investing in these smaller areas is true to Coho’s ethos.
To learn more about Coho’s members, head to the collective's Instagram, a tool they use to showcase the talent within their kitchen’s walls.
Behind-the-scenes shots allow customers to see just who is using the Coho Commissary, and how they use it. Whether choosing a croissant from Steve’s Gourmet Foods, a Shawarma’ch (yes - a shawarma sandwich hybrid) from VanSuya, or an Afro-Vegan stew from Kula, creators are supported, encouraged, thriving and always inspired in Vancouver thanks to the collective.