A pay-as-you-go commissary kitchen. A meal-ordering app. A bakery. And for good measure, a restaurant, culinary classroom, and event space all-in-one. What do these things have in common?
Teago Manoharan is bringing them to Buckley.
Two years ago, Manoharan started Buckley Kitchen, which cooks can rent by the hour or for longer-term agreements. Now, he’s launched a bakery and a suite of tools and projects aimed to make it easier to make and sell food locally.
The Buckley Kitchen’s website and phone app allows customers to order food from talented bakers and chefs who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the tens of thousands of dollars a fully-equipped kitchen can cost.
And Manoharan has his eyes set on connecting those cooks with local coffee shops and gas stations, offering a classroom space for them to learn the craft, and hosting events and dinners once COVID restrictions ease.
It hasn’t been easy or cheap: Manoharan estimates he’s invested roughly $600,000 into the Buckley Kitchen.
In the meantime, he’s supporting himself with his IT software day job, pinching his pennies and throwing the cash he makes back into the facility.
Okay, sure, some people ask, but why Buckley?
“I said, what’s wrong in doing it in Buckley?” Manoharan responds. “A town like Buckley needs this facility. Not a city like Tacoma or Seattle. … They are looking for more high-profit rent. A lot of people inquire from Seattle, because I’m offering a cheaper price.”
Perhaps his dream of a community-powered, multi-limbed, miniature culinary empire is a long-shot. But Manoharan says he is sure it will work, and his faith in the project is palpable.
He describes it as his quest to “eliminate greed from the food industry,” and he’s already issued a challenge to the coffee king itself.
“I heard Starbucks is going to come to the old Columbia Bank,” Manoharan said. “I want to kick them out.”
Large national companies benefit from economies of scale, or advantages gained from doing a large volume of business. For example, a major food manufacturer might get better deals by buying or selling its materials in bulk, and chain restaurants get to share their branding, computer systems and customer reputation.
The end result: Large businesses have supply chains and logistics that small businesses can’t match.
“There’s a reason why every small business goes out of business every few years,” Manoharan said: “The overhead costs.”
So Manoharan, who is experienced in working with those systems, is trying to bring them to mom-and-pop shops.
The seeds of his dream currently lie in the Buckley Kitchen, located at a West Buckley industrial business park along SR 410.
Manoharan moved to Buckley in 2013 to be with family, and a few years ago, started seeing pictures of beautiful confections made by talented bakers on Facebook Marketplace. But those bakers often didn’t have the business licenses – like the WSDA Cottage Food permit – needed to legally sell their food.
Seeing an opportunity, Manoharan scrounged and saved to outfit a large, commercial-grade kitchen, buying and restoring used equipment when he could. He launched the Buckley Kitchen in 2019.
Through the kitchen, Manoharan launched a website/app on which cooks and bakers can market the food they make at the kitchen, and even set up deliveries. On the other end, customers can use the website or app to browse those menus and place orders.
Manoharan compares the platform to Amazon, the massive e-commerce website that markets its own products as well as those from companies using it. And since most orders are placed ahead of time through the app, food waste is significantly reduced, Manoharan said.
Showering a batch of cookies with sprinkles and M&Ms earlier this month, Kristi Baldwin and her daughter Dylan put the finishing touches on a very special bakery order.
The cookies were for the Crossley family, longtime family friends who recently lost a 13-year-old named Berrett who died after suffering a head injury while skateboarding at the Buckley Skatepark.
“He was a really great kid,” Baldwin said. “It’s a tiny little impact just to let them know (we care).”
The mother-daughter duo were baking the cookies at the Buckley Bakery, a food company Manoharan launched earlier this month to test-drive the Buckley Kitchen and its app. (More practically, he also needed his grand business plan to start generating more income.)
The fledgling bakery, which Manoharan hopes will be one of many companies using the Buckley Kitchen, works like this:
Manoharan hires bakers as independent contractors with 24/7 access to the kitchen. Customers place orders through the app, and the bakers set their own hours to fulfill those orders, taking a percentage of the sales. Manoharan manages the pace of the orders, and the bakery also stocks a small selection for walk-in customers at the kitchen storefront.
The idea is to bring in experienced bakers that don’t have the capital to start a business of their own. Manoharan is confident that the bakers will make, at a minimum, the equivalent of $25 to $30 per hour once the business is fully spun up. But the project is so young that he and his bakers are still hashing those specifics out.
“We can take up all the liability and insurance… (and) give them an opportunity to do what they love,” Manoharan said.
The average baker in Washington earns $15.79 per hour, according to the job board website indeed.com. Because Manoharan’s bakers are independent contractors, not employees, they could make more money but aren’t entitled to health insurance, a minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave or worker’s compensation.
Baldwin, a self-taught baker, has been working as a babysitter but hopes to make the bakery her full-time job. She started out making cakes at home for her friends, but regulations limit what home bakers can sell, and commercial kitchens aren’t cheap.
“In Bonney Lake alone, … the rent is $10,000, $12,000 for a tiny spot,” Baldwin said. “I couldn’t open up a bakery there. I don’t make that kind of money, especially starting off.”
Baldwin is ultimately aiming to open her own independent bakery out of the Buckley Kitchen. The idea is that the kitchen will buy and market her food, creating a guaranteed customer and allowing her to focus on the craft.
Several other businesses, including a barbecue joint and a comfort food truck, are already operating out of the Buckley Kitchen or are close to launching, Manoharan said.
“It’s really exciting,” Baldwin said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. … This is an amazing opportunity. If anyone has a vision and they want to get involved in the food industry, this is a great place to start.”
What’s next is currently under construction in an unfinished room in Manoharan’s building, filled with concrete floors and heavy equipment.
But Manoharan sees potential in every nook and cranny.
A second kitchen could serve to teach the basics of ingredients and cooking to aspiring chefs, or be dedicated to making gluten-free goods. His friend who raises livestock in Enumclaw could teach kids how to raise goats and cows, and a butcher could show how they’re prepared for consumption.
The idea of a gluten free kitchen was especially compelling for Baldwin, who has Celiac disease.
“When I first saw them open up on Facebook and I read that they had that goal, (that they were) even considering a gluten-free kitchen,” Baldwin said, “I’m not going to lie. I cried.”
Manoharan said the room could even fit a dining space, which means cooks at the Buckley Kitchen could enjoy the full experience of running a restaurant without ever having to actually own one.
Manoharan’s multifaceted business model is unusual. But he points out that it affords him financial flexibility. His eggs aren’t all in one basket; if the restaurant concept doesn’t work out, for example, he still has the bakery.
“You cannot set a business model and expect it to last for 100 years,” Manoharan said. “There’s a lifecycle. One industry goes up, one industry goes down.”
For now, many of his projects are a long ways from completion. Manoharan figures he’ll make more progress on the restaurant and second kitchen as the country slowly re-opens from the COVID-19 pandemic, since large gatherings and events are still limited by state restrictions.
In the meantime, he’s courting more cooks and businesses for the Buckley Kitchen and focusing on getting Buckley Bakery off the ground.
And while his focus is for now on Buckley, Manoharan believes any small town could benefit from the business model he’s creating.
“Every place should have a place like what I’m setting up, to give opportunity to so many people,” Manoharan said. “That’s my whole goal, that’s my whole concept.”
App: Buckley Kitchen on mobile phone app stores
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 761-1227
Address: 28120 WA-410 E, Suite #A4 Buckley, WA 98321