I was engaged to evaluate and improve the profitability and social impact of six interrelated social enterprises (businesses) run by the community and economic development division of Bible Center Church and create a market research and go-to-market plan for a new commercial enterprise, Oasis Community Kitchen.
Bible Center Church is a small, multigenerational teaching church in the majority-Black neighborhood of Homewood in Pittsburgh, Pa. Its businesses are grouped under the umbrella of its outreach ministry, the Oasis Project (OP). OP is focused on three key rungs on the ladder of racially equitable economic advancement and opportunity—education, employment, and entrepreneurship.
The businesses are:
1. Everyday Café
2. Oasis Community Kitchen
3. Oasis Transportation
4. Oasis Farm & Fishery
5. The Maker’s Clubhouse (after school programs)
6. Oasis Property Management and Maintenance
7. Own Our Own (entrepreneurial support)
OP made plans to build a commercial community kitchen in the space under its worship center in Homewood to serve multiple purposes:
1. Provide capacity to Everyday Café to expand catering
2. Provide capacity to Bible Center Church congregants for family events and church events
3. Provide training and classes to Homewood and nearby residents: cooking, baking, healthy eating, food business start-ups, careers in food service
4. Expand revenue by selling underused kitchen capacity
Though OP had a location and preliminary budget, it lacked specific plans to build out the product features and benefits of the kitchen or identify and then reach a target market to expand revenue.
Additionally, as a social enterprise, this business was expected to generate economic as well as social returns. Social returns focused on achieving racial equity in the Pittsburgh food entrepreneur space. A theory of change and lean social business model canvas were developed by the consultant to explicitly outline how to accomplish these aims.
The highest-priority kitchen purpose – provide extended in-house catering capabilities – dictated the purchase of certain types of equipment, but without specifics on which target markets might rent the kitchen, a final equipment list and layout could not be finalized. Thus, OP had an incomplete “product.”
I conducted research and found that different types of food entrepreneurs need different types of equipment and features; bakers might need large floor mixers, cookie sheeters, a lot of dry storage space, for example; food trucks need more cold and frozen storage space and a lot of food prep space. With limited space and budget, we needed to home in on a realistic target market to identify specific equipment and create a layout.
My preliminary research showed that though commercial kitchens generally had a common equipment base, including commercial stoves, convection ovens, warming ovens, walk-in freezers, and the like, the specifics needed to create a purchase list and layout were lacking. What size ovens? How many burners? How much refrigerated versus frozen versus dry storage? And so on.
From lean social business model canvas to market research plan
In order to identify key kitchen equipment and finalize a layout that would be attractive to potential markets, I first completed a lean social enterprise business model canvas with the client. We identified key attributes of the new business, which was to generate economic as well as social returns.
Then I conducted a competitor analysis and environmental scan, identifying several competitive, demographic, psychographic, and geographic constraints on the potential kitchen rental business.
I compiled lists of potential customers and reached out via email and phone to conduct several interviews. I then crafted a survey we distributed via email and social media.
Finally, I arranged kitchen sites in Detroit, Michigan, that matched the profile of kitchen we hoped to build. Detroit is like Pittsburgh in numerous key areas, and was familiar to the OP leadership, so was an ideal non-competing location to study.
Key attributes and findings
Competitive landscape: the importance of geography
I created a scoring matrix for ranking potential target customers based on several factors I identified as important, including these constraints:
• The types, capabilities, and locations of other commercial kitchens
• The locations of potential customer bases, preliminarily identified as food entrepreneurs, small restaurants and food stands, food trucks, and the Church and its Café
• The unique geography and travel constraints in a city of 446 bridges
• The location of the kitchen in a predominantly Black neighborhood to the East of the major metropolitan area (Pittsburgh)
The target markets
My research identified seven potential target markets: small restaurants and caterers within a 10-mile radius, other neighborhood food entrepreneurs, food trucks, specialty food processors within a 25-mile radius, and internal clients (Everyday Café and Bible Center Church).
Product features and benefits
Based on these target markets and OP’s capital budget, a finalized list of needed kitchen equipment was developed with the aid of a commercial builder and kitchen consultant. Several other research discoveries also allowed OP to also configure the physical space to be more attractive to these markets.
OP hired a commercial architect to draw up plans and began construction in 2018.
The lean business model canvas, theory of change, and market research I conducted for this project formed the basis for our go-to-market plan. The plan included these components:
1. Realistically scoping the size and characteristics of our potential customer base
2. Developing pro forma financial statements including identifying revenue targets by target market
3. Creating a value proposition matrix for each of the target markets
4. Creating a pricing structure for renting the kitchen
5. Creating a 9-week training program for local food entrepreneurs
6. Creating a digital outreach plan and sales funnel that combined account-based marketing (for potential customers we spoke to during our research and others) with inbound and outbound marketing strategies
7. Creating key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to sales goals
8. Creating an operating manual and procedures for kitchen rentals to include mandated food safety training and procedures
Oasis Community Kitchen (see the photo gallery below) didn’t launch until late 2021, well after the consultant work had been completed in 2019 (as far as it could be), due to funding delays. The kitchen is now in operation and serving its purposes of helping OP’s related business, Everyday Café, expand its catering operation; providing space for food entrepreneur and other training; and renting space to local food entrepreneurs. In addition, OP’s related enterprise, Own Our Own, an entrepreneurial support organization for entrepreneurs of color, has held several weeks-long training programs in the space.
The continued expansion of Oasis Foods, with Oasis Community Kitchen adds a much-needed resource in the heart of a historically Black neighborhood for local food entrepreneurs in particular. Oasis Community Kitchen provides high-quality programs and resources that empower people with the three E's of opportunity—education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Any renter seeking additional business development support will also have access to Own Our Own Entrepreneurship Academy.
Additionally, Oasis Community Kitchen allows the Oasis Project of Bible Center Church to expand the collective food-based work, including hot meals for Neighborhood SCHOOL learning hub students, nutrition and cooking education and produce processing space for Oasis Farm & Fishery, and expanded catering and menu options for Everyday Café.