Please join me in welcoming Karen Christensen of Redding. She owns and operates Sizzle’s, the city’s only dedicated commercial kitchen for rent.
Q: Hi, Karen. Thanks for taking the time to chat today about your new business, Sizzle’s. First, what inspired you to open Sizzle’s?
So many things in my life came together in this project. I love to feed people, and I especially love to bake. In the past I have entertained the idea at various times of opening a small business to sell my baked goods. I was always blocked when I came to the point of locating a commercial kitchen to work in. There was just nothing suitable available for a small business-owner or start-up.
I have also looked for space to hold a company party that would allow me to create our own menu. Again, I just couldn’t find anything that would work out. My brother, Erik, built a wonderful kitchen in his warehouse so I could cook for large groups of our family and friends and host our parties. We’ve had some great times there, with sit-down dinners for 40 people or more and buffet meal for hundreds at a time. However, it is not a licensed commercial kitchen, so we cannot operate a business from there. When I started thinking about a potential business that I could build for a retirement project it seemed natural to look at a commercial kitchen as a business model. I already knew there was a need in the community and it was something that sounded like fun. I was so fortunate to find the space that Sizzle’s Kitchen is in now. It is perfect for all of the ideas and dreams I had for the business. It’s come together perfectly.
Q: Sizzle’s is a cute name. How did you come up with it?
Sizzle is a nickname I was given by our Burningman family. (Burningman is an annual art and music festival held in the desert in Nevada. The festival culminates with the burning of a large effigy of a man, and much of the other art is set on fire too) My brother’s nickname is Izzle, and he has been attending for years, building a big camp of family and friends. So when I joined the group I became Sizzle – Sister of Izzle. The name expanded from there because of how much bacon I cook for our parties and because I have a flamethrower. My brother built it for me and we like to take it out to the desert and play with it.
Q: Pretty sweet. Thank you. Now, you’re located on Placer, in a spot that’s been many things, probably most notably, Leatherby’s. How did you transform that space?
You are correct, the space was Leatherby’s for years, and so many people remember having their wonderful ice cream. It was also Savory Spoon for a while, and Senor Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant.
When I first saw the space it was so much more than thought I was looking for. I was immediately excited about the possibilities it offered.
There were already three kitchens that could be used separately and a perfect space to build out another one. The restaurant dining room could be used for all types of events. I showed the space to my brother and my partner. They were both on board from the beginning and shared my vision of what it could be. The space needed some upgrades and some remodeling to bring it up to what we had in mind. I knew that we could accomplish all of it, even though it was a big project. My brother Erik is a mechanical engineer and can build anything! He took my vision and created this beautiful space.
He started with a fresh coat of paint to give it a clean, open feel. He added the stainless steel on the walls, making it feel and look like a true professional kitchen. Then he built those expansive stainless steel counters, doing all the manufacturing himself.
It’s really a luxurious work area for our cooks and bakers. Erik works with many of our local restaurants, doing their food-grade welding, general repairs and manufacturing of specialty items. He is very familiar with the requirements for a commercial kitchen, so he had no problem building the additional space, which became my Baker’s Kitchen. That one is my favorite! It all turned out even better than I could have hoped for. I could not, and would not, have even thought about taking this project on without Erik. He really made it happen.
Q: It really looks amazing, with all that stainless and all that open space and light. Nice choice of colors, by the way. As a baker, your commercial kitchens really appeal to me, but that space isn’t just for someone who wants to cook, right? I mean, I could imagine it being a place for small wedding receptions for those who marry at the county clerk’s office just down the street. What other kinds of uses can you imagine?
There are so many possibilities for the kitchens and the event space. Naturally the kitchens are great for caterers and people who create food to sell at Farmer’s Markets or local shops. The kitchens are being used by Furnari Sausages to make sausage and lasagnas. Shasta Kombucha is created there. We have Eden Bakery, whose products are found in local coffeehouses. We have held a child’s birthday party, a baby shower, and just this weekend there was a book launch by Aspen House Publishing there. We have bookings for a bridal shower, another birthday party, and a company potluck summer party. I’m very excited that Chef Pam Buono of Bella Cucina is about to start cooking classes in Sizzle’s Kitchen. Many people will remember her from That Kitchen Place.
We hope to attract our local chefs to hold dinner parties and perhaps Master Chef classes, sharing their expertise with caterers and other professionals. A local Girl Scout Troop is using one of the kitchens to earn their cooking badges. The event space can be used with or without the addition of a kitchen. It could be the place for a wedding reception, a business meeting, a family reunion, Christmas party, New Year’s Eve party, a Ladies Night Out dinner party. Food truck operators can use it as their commissary kitchen. I’m planning an indoor Foodie Market where people could rent a booth space and offer their wares for sale. Naturally, my customers who are creating their food in Sizzle’s Kitchen will be the core group, and it will also be open to others in the community. I’d love to see art shows there. The big empty walls are perfect to feature some of our local artists. It’s big enough for a live music event. People are constantly coming up with other uses that I never even thought of before! I love when someone comes in for a tour and I can see the wheels start to turn in their mind, imagining what they could do there.
Q: All great ideas. And I can totally see art receptions there, and parties of all kinds! Now, of course, there’s a fee to use the space, and people can learn more about specifics on your website, which we’ll publish here. But I’m wondering, what kinds of reactions have you had from people in the community about Sizzle’s?
From the very beginning, the reaction from the community has been very positive. People walk by the space all the time and read the window sign, then come in and tell me they are so happy to see this business in our community. We had visitors even while we were building and everything was in a state of chaos, cheering us on. The feedback has been great. Many small business owners have thanked me for providing that missing piece they’ve been looking for, a commercial kitchen that will allow them to practice the art of creating food without the expense of a full time professional kitchen. I have set the prices very reasonably, so startups and small businesses can afford to work there. The kitchens can be booked on a recurring basis or for just an hour at a time for a special project. There is no long term commitment required. The event space is starting to get booked up regularly as people learn it’s available. There just hasn’t been anything like this in our community before. This is the only dedicated commercial kitchen north of Sacramento. People have responded more quickly than I expected. It’s pretty exciting, and it’s been really gratifying to have such support.
Q: Karen, what else would you like us to know about Sizzle’s?
My neighbor, the Redding Fashion Alliance, opened at about the same time as Sizzle’s Kitchen. We like to think of our little block of Placer Street as Maker Alley, and hopefully we will see more Maker Spaces opening. I absolutely love this business and I plan to expand what Sizzle’s Kitchen can do in our community. I would like to work with our small business owners to help guide them in the steps required to launch their food business, or to take their cottage kitchen to the next level. The next phase will be offering workshops to bring together resources and professional expertise. Sizzle’s Kitchen will become more involved in the events going on downtown. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Q: Thank you, Karen. Very interesting! For those who want more information about renting out the event space or one of four kitchens, they can visit your website at sizzleskitchen.com,
All the best to you!