Port to proceed with commercial kitchen study

Commissioners are to determine if there is sufficient business interest.

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WALLA WALLA — Port of Walla Walla commissioners will continue simmering on a potential commercial kitchen concept.

The three commissioners on Thursday unanimously supported pursuing the idea of leasing the vacant kitchen at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center and converting it into a commercial kitchen for potential vendors.

The next step is to determine whether there’s adequate demand for the space without taking business from existing commercial kitchens, Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller said this morning. If there is, the Port would also need to learn more about the leasing process with the VA before moving forward.

The concept is different than the typical economic development more commonly pursued by the Port, he acknowledged. It would likely require an annual subsidy to keep things going, as has been the case with other commercial kitchens in the region.

But if there’s a chance that new businesses could get their start in the shared space, Schneidmiller said, the venture would be worth the cost.

“That’s why we’re interested,” he said. “That is the very issue. Is there potential for someone coming in, working out of a commercial kitchen and getting a new business out of it?”

He said the concept had vocal support from five people who spoke at the meeting Thursday. Among them was Joe Jacobs, director of the Small Business Development Center.

The topic covered an hour and 15 minutes of the Port’s meeting. The VA’s kitchen in Building 80 has been vacated because a new kitchen is included in the agency’s new outpatient facility on the campus. Schneidmiller said he expects the diligence process to take some time before more concrete decisions are made. But he believes the potential is there for economic development.

“There is a good possibility of a good fit here,” he said. “A commercial kitchen concept with this whole wine and culinary tourism emphasis that we have in our community — that’s why we decided, yeah, this is worth pursuing.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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