Business

Small-Batch Food Incubator Flavor Trade Grows

Flavor Trade’s new retail space continues its commitment to keeping things local.

Story by Lauren Rutherford

Flavor Trade—essentially a foodie’s makerspace—launched its retail space in early June.

The new store sells Flavor Trade-made products as well as other cooking items, such as local cookbooks, cutting boards and kitchen gadgets. Ideally, owner Shannon Kimball says, the store will eventually be 100 percent Kansas City-made products.

Kimball decided to open Flavor Trade as an incubator space after he faced his own startup struggles, turning his BBQ sauce hobby into a full-time job, Firebug BBQ sauce, over the course of three years.

“Every time I had friends over I would make this sauce,” Kimball says. “I kind of just kept the recipe in my head. My friends really drove me into turning it into retail. I heard, ‘Wow, that’s really good stuff. You should sell it’ so many times that I decided to.”

The sauce that started it all. Photo via Flavor Trade’s Facebook page.

At the time, Kimball was renting a commercial kitchen in Lenexa but wanted his own cooking space. When he purchased a building on Troost, he knew it was too large for just a kitchen. So Kimball created an extra business model — now the incubator and store — to fund and utilize the extra space. He remodeled the building himself and opened the kitchen last September.

As an incubator, Flavor Trade offers small batch manufacturing services, commercial kitchen rental and product distribution consultations. Each startup pays a small membership fee for unlimited kitchen access. He based his idea off of the not-for-profit Innovation Center in Independence.

“I want to help these startup companies grow because my intention is to grow them large enough that they can turn it into a full-time career, quit their day jobs and hopefully we can start making their product for them or assist them a little more so they can pick up bigger volume,” he says.

Not even a year after Flavor Trade’s opening, Kimball says he’s already seen this happen. One of the start-ups had been renting at Flavor Trade for six months when the owner decided to open his own store. Kimball says this customer’s business grew so fast that Flavor Trade started producing his line of jams and jellies so the owner could focus on brand management.

“We’re just kind of a fast-track program for the food business,” he says.

Photo via Firebug’s Twitter page.

Flavor Trade’s new retail outlet stays true to this mission of helping local businesses. Kimball calls that portion of the shop a community store. For example, he says, Whimsy Cheesecake uses the kitchen, and several nights a week her son runs the cash register while she bakes.

He says the retail operation has been thriving thus far. Flavor Trade just purchased Kansas City brand Jim’s Tamales, and the new store sells the tamales along with a host of other goods.

In addition to keeping locally made goods stocked on his shelves, Kimball also commits to hiring from within the store’s neighborhood. He says Flavor Trade is holding true to the promise it made its neighbors upon arrival.

“We started with two employees in September,” Kimball says. “We currently have eight employees, and if sales projections go well, we should be able to employ 20 to 25 people by the end of this year.”

As for the rest of the summer, Kimball plans to continue expanding his personal enterprise, Firebug BBQ, with a line of smoked nuts and jerky to complement the sauces.