Lisa Prather, executive chef and co-owner of St. Pete’s A Fresh Connection, discovered her passion for food as a teen working at Po’ Folks in Brandon. She worked her way up the chain from hostess to associate manager while in college earning a degree in computers and accounting.
“My career path took me on a different road but my love and passion for cooking bought me back,” Prather explains.
When the market crashed a decade ago, Prather found herself wondering what her next step was going to be. In her spare time, she wrote several business plans and they all had one thing in common: food.
Not wanting to fight fate any longer, she pursued a degree in culinary arts at the Art Institute of Tampa, and graduated in 2011.
Dabbling in catering and private chef gigs under the name The Fresh Exchange for a few years, she noticed her client list continuously growing, prompting her to establish A Fresh Connection as a catering company in 2015.
Realizing her overall goal to open her own kitchen, Prather decided to take the best logistical step and open a shared-use kitchen.
“Shared-use kitchens were something I had always wanted to do. I figured I’d do my catering and rent out times when I’m not using it,” Prather says.
With more space comes more responsibility, and orders.
As the catering side of her business flourished, Prather began renting Kitchen 24 in Oldsmar after-hours, learning how shared kitchens operate.
With the new tools she acquired over years of exploring this new facet of the food industry, the savvy entrepreneur opened A Fresh Connection Catering, Café, and Bakery and the Florida Chefs Workshop last year in the Jungle Terrace neighborhood of St. Petersburg.
The mission of the Florida Chefs Workshop project is to help other food businesses grow and be a launching pad for their growth. “I designed the kitchen with chefs in mind. I wanted something chefs would be proud to work in. I wanted to create a space where the chefs and home chefs could collaborate and learn from each other,” she says.
While there are other commercial shared kitchens in Tampa Bay, Florida Chefs Workshop is the only state-of-the-art community kitchen in St. Petersburg. The 1,100-square-foot space is fully stocked with commercial grade appliances, equipment, and utensils for chefs and bakers.
“When they sign a lease, they get a security code and 24/7 access to come and go. The only time they have to book time is when they’re cooking,” Prather says.
The lease is up for grabs for any serious food entrepreneur, from food truck owners to pop-up eateries.
The process is simple.
First, applicants must submit an application on Florida Chefs Workshop’s website; the process takes two to three weeks. Once submitted, a tour of the kitchen is scheduled for the applicant to come by, followed by an interview process.
Applicants must have their Food Safe certification, insurance, and be in the process of getting their food license to start working in the kitchen.
There are several packages for applicants to choose from, ranging from single-use for $40 per hour (with a four-hour minimum) to the Platinum Level at $1,200 per month. Each package comes with licensing and insurance. Chefs are billed on a monthly basis.
Chefs are able to schedule small tastings and pop-up shops in A Fresh Connection after-hours. Their products are sold in the café.
Florida Chefs Workshop is in a unique location due to its proximity to downtown St. Pete. Prather mentions in the past local restaurant owners have used the shared kitchen space when in a pinch.
“A local pizza guy couldn’t make his pizza dough because his mixer wasn’t working. He found us and used our kitchen for four days,” Prather mentions.
A Fresh Connection Café and Bakery serves up typical café items like local brand Kahwa Coffee, tea, grab-and-go items including sandwiches, and baked goods. It is open Tuesday through Sunday 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Online ordering is launching within the next week through Bite Squad first, then adding UberEATS and EZ Cater.
This is only the beginning for Prather. She says her goal is to have commercial shared-kitchens all over Florida and provide space for food entrepreneurs. She wants to open at least four more kitchens in the next decade. She just wants chefs to focus on building their companies without having to worry about anything.
“I want to have a successful space for them to launch their business. I want to be part of that and watch them grow. It makes me proud that we were there to help support them getting to that level,” she says.