Jason Johnson has worked in some of the most high-powered, high-performance kitchens of the restaurant world. From Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to Chili’s to Hilton Hotels, he’s overseen the execution of complex menus and operation of massive crews. And in those crews, he’s met passionate food professionals who cook up exciting dreams.
That’s the hard part.
“I've always worked with great talent,” Johnson told us. “Line cooks that could execute at high levels, who had awesome imaginations and were really creative. But when a person is making $12 to $16 an hour, it is not realistic for them to be able to go out and buy a restaurant. I used to hate listening to their dreams and ambitions and know the reality was they were a long way away.”
So Johnson set out to close that distance and craft more opportunities for future food phenoms when he created HUBB KITCHENS.
An acronym for Helping Under-served Beginning Businesses, HUBB Kitchens provides all the services needed to operate a successful food business in one location.
“It’s a co-working space for ‘foodpreneurs,’” is how Johnson described it. With kitchen space and resources for rent by the hour, week, or month, the facility serves restaurant owners, private chefs, food truck vendors, beginning farmers, home-based bakers and producers, private instructors or demonstrators, and individuals seeking culinary arts classes and workshops.
For that reason, Johnson selected Coworks software to manage the booking of spaces, resources, and managing members.
The shared kitchen versus the ghost kitchen
While the term ‘ghost kitchen’ is a pretty hot buzz word, it isn’t to be confused with the shared kitchen concept.
“The pandemic made people very, very comfortable with ordering takeout food to be delivered to their homes,” Johnson said. “And so, rather than a dining room, food businesses needed a delivery force.”
That meant the kitchen/dining room wasn’t the destination for the consumer and could be located anywhere. Hence, a ghost kitchen.
The shared kitchen has a subtle but important difference: more than one food brand can use it, as Johnson explained.
“You have a kitchen. You have staff. You have stations. A lot of food products use the same commercial equipment. So what if I serve customers one menu in the dining room, but I had another menu that's pretty similar, and I can offer that to someone there who is at home ordering through their phone. They can even see a totally different branded concept. And they have no idea it is the same real estate as the other restaurant. And depending on the size and the talent of your kitchen, it could be two, three, four or even five concepts in one location.”
The fresh ingredient in HUBB Kitchens? Mentorship.
Johnson knew these empresarios of edible excellence needed access to more than just a stove and a walk-in.
“In order for these entrepreneurs to be successful, they can't be running around getting help from the Small Business Technology Council over here, going to a SCORE mentor over here, then going to a kitchen over there. They need everything in one location. That's why I decided to add an advisory arm and offer these services — I knew that was going to be instrumental to their success. You have to be able to be propped up as an entrepreneur because you can't do it all yourself.”
For Johnson, the ideal HUBB Kitchens participant needs two key ingredients: a strong work ethic and a willingness to listen.
“If you have work ethic and you have an open mind, you're a great candidate,” he said. “Everything else we can figure out a solution for. I can't figure out a solution for somebody that doesn't want to listen. If you want to take advantage of the over 20 years of restaurant and marketing experience that we have, it’s here for you, but you have to pull the lever to open the door. We're not going to force the door open.”
Serving up a full plate for 2022
With the new year upon us, Johnson is preparing to serve up even more for the food community of the Triangle:
- A second location for HUBB Kitchens, this time with food truck resources.
- A new, virtual food hall at Raleigh Durham International Airport, where customers can order breakfast, lunch or dinner via app or a kiosk and then use a QR code to open a locker when the food is ready. They can even order on the app before they get to the airport.
- More partnerships with the local business community to grow opportunities for entrepreneurs — that we aren’t allowed to talk about yet!
In the parlance of the restaurant business, Johnson is operating with a full section. We’re excited to play a part in this exciting growth!