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Leaven Kitchen in Decatur provides a space for minority entrepreneurs

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Leaven Kitchen in Decatur provides a space for minority entrepreneurs

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Kemiko Lawrence is a member of Leaven Kitchen selling Kemboocha, her brand of kombucha. She uses the beverage station in the kitchen that has a 60-gallon tank. Photo by Zoe Seiler.


By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Decatur, GA – Finding a suitable workspace is a challenge for Atlanta-area microbusinesses that work with food grade equipment.

Stan Sugarman and his business partner, Krystle Rodriguez, opened Leaven Kitchen as a collective kitchen to provide a work space for small businesses, especially minority entrepreneurs.

“As a microbusiness, you were having to build your own space out, right, and so it was a huge obstacle to success. Our idea is to remove one of those obstacles and by putting it on an hourly [schedule], where you program it yourself, it enables the businesses one less thing that’d be a hurdle for their success,” Sugarman said.

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Members of Leaven can rent a kitchen station by the hour to create their products. There are seven main stations in the kitchen that each have at least one oven and two prep tables. They also have specialty equipment like a dough sheeter, popsicle maker and a 60-gallon beverage tank.

Business owners can also rent storage space and can order supplies through Leaven. Everything is provided to food manufacturers including small kitchen wares and larger equipment like a floor mixer for dough.

“You have to be really big to outgrow us. You have a lot of hours, there’s a lot of equipment here, there’s a lot of storage. If you always want to operate a business that’s on the smaller size where it’s mom and pop, you don’t have to worry about rent or overhead, utilities, all that. That’s all taken care of, the annual licensing, all that. All you have to do is keep up your license,” Sugarman said.

Leaven Kitchen provides the ServSafe training for members who don’t have that certification and help with Department of Agriculture licensing.

Leaven also helps their clients distribute their product through a partnership with Zifty.

Stan Sugarman and his business partner, Krystle Rodriguez, opened Leaven Kitchen over the summer to provide a commercial kitchen space for small businesses with a focus on women and minority entrepreneurs. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

The building includes a communal office space, a classroom space and storage areas.

The collective kitchen currently has 37 small businesses, 36 of which are owned by women and a majority are women of color. Sugarman said he and Rodriguez oriented Leaven toward women.

“We are a Department of Agriculture certified kitchen that is acutely aware of the barriers in place for food businesses, especially when it comes to minority entrepreneurs,” the Leaven website says. “Although there are hundreds of businesses looking for a kitchen space, we are committed to serving communities of color, specifically Black and Brown communities, and even more specifically the femmes and LGBTQIA+ in those communities, that have been systematically shut out of opportunities of ownership in Atlanta’s thriving food culture.”

Kemiko Lawrence has been at Leaven Kitchen for a couple of months. She owns Kemboocha and makes her own kombucha.

The mother of five has been making the fermented tea for about 13 years but has operated her business for about two years.

She began making kombucha for her children as she has always looked for things that have a healthy appeal. When she discovered the beverage, kombucha wasn’t popular and was expensive.

“So I said, ‘well, I can make this kombucha. I’ll just learn how to make it’ and because when you have several children it’s easier to make it and give it to them than to just buy it all the time,” Lawrence said.

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“I used to make kombucha and share it with friends and give it away as gifts. I think because I’ve had so much time on my side in terms of really perfecting how I make my kombucha the flavor profile, people just love it. People were literally paying me to make kombucha for them and it just kind of organically grew into a business,” she added.

Before coming to Leaven, Lawrence rented out space in a restaurant and made her kombucha in pots and smaller equipment.

“It’s a little bit of a drive but it’s worth it in my opinion because we’re in a professional space and we’re right now working through the process of the Department of Agriculture licensing,” Lawrence said.

Kemboocha is now sold at several locations including Sevenanda, Hodgepodge Coffee, The Vine Cafe and Market, Buzz Coffee and Winehouse and a few boutique fitness locations.

“We’ve had a great deal of success in a lot of the smaller markets simply because we have a quality product, but we know that in order for us to take it to another level we have to be someplace like this,” she added.

Her goal for 2021 is to sell Kemboocha at larger retailers like Whole Foods.

“It’s a real blessing to be here and I’m excited about what the new year’s going to bring,” Lawrence said. “I know that our presence here is going to be the reason why we get into Whole Foods and some of the other major markets that are out here.”

Leaven Kitchen is located at 215 Laredo Drive, Suite 100, in Decatur, and is open 24 hours. Leaven is set to open another location in 2022 that will be Department of Health licensed and will be focused on caterers, delivery and food trucks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect spelling of someone’s name. This story has been updated with the correct information. 

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