If you had told me in January that Orange Door Hospitality would be actively working on a place-based venture in July, I would have told you that you were getting ahead of yourself. At that point, Chris and I were still writing our business plan for our catering and personal chef operation; working through the ins and outs of cooking delicious food and delivering warm hospitality to a small but loyal group of clients. It was in writing this plan that we envisioned building a place for our business as a 3-5 year goal. We saw ourselves opening a place where small businesses like ours could share a licensed kitchen, and where sharing food experiences could bring a community together. Inspired by The Third Space in Atlanta, R. House in Baltimore, and Commonwealth Kitchen in Boston, we imagined someday housing a commercial kitchen, a demonstration kitchen, and a dining space for events all under one roof. Key word, someday. Yet here we are, six months after launching our catering business, putting down roots for this business concept like the vegetables in our backyard garden.
If you’re wondering why we’re moving forward with our place-based business vision so far ahead of schedule, it’s because we found the perfect place and decided to jump in with both feet. Whether it was by luck, happenstance, or just curious Googling, one day in early April we discovered that West Acton Villageworks, the new walkable business development about 10 minutes drive from our house, had space available for rent. Intrigued, we contacted the developer to see if we could get a tour and find out more about this collection of shops, offices, and eateries whose mission is to help “build a healthy, diverse, interesting, alive, and sustainable community where businesses grow and thrive.” It sounded like just the place where Chris and I ought to set up shop with our Orange Door kitchen concept, so we were thrilled when Mathias (the developer) got back to us within three hours of our inquiry with a proposal to go see a new property that he had just added to the West Acton Villageworks development.
The property he showed us was an old deli-turned-restaurant next to the train tracks and post office on a side street in West Acton. If I’m being honest with you, my first impression was unimpressed. The site had great parking, but was otherwise kind of a mess of weeds, old cracked sidewalk, and peeling paint. The inside was worse with its dirt stained carpet, grease stained paint, and general odor of bad takeout and dust. Thank goodness Chris and I have good imaginations! With my background in interior design and our years of experience fixing up our old house, we could see past all of the grime to what the space might look like as a hub for culinary community. We could picture the baker and caterer using the new licensed kitchen to fill orders and prepare for events. We could see the rising star sous-chef throwing a pop-up dinner for a packed house of hungry diners eager to taste her bold new flavors. We could envision local entrepreneurs co-working by the fireplace by day and local foodies learning how to make fresh tomato sauce and fresh pasta in the demo kitchen by night.
We left our first meeting and tour with Mathias feeling conflicted. The space had huge potential. The developer seemed like he really believed in the mission of his town center development. The other businesses at Villageworks looked like they would welcome and support our food community concept. The outlook was good, but were we jumping the gun by a few years? We needed to step back and evaluate the pros and cons of taking this leap, so we took a few weeks to write another business plan to capture the concept of our space and assess the financial risk. We ran the plan by some of our advisors and a few of our toughest critics (friends and family) to make sure it made sense, and found that people were responding enthusiastically to the nuts and bolts of our ideas! We had a plan for a space that businesses would need and people would want, so we took a deep breath and decided to go for it.
What happened next can be yada yada yada’d a little bit so that I can let you get back to your day. Suffice to say, our lease negotiation was perhaps the friendliest and most respectful business transaction in the history of business transactions (okay, I’m exaggerating for effect). Working with Mathias and New Habitat Partners and getting to know some of our new Villageworks neighbors has already made our decision to say to hell with our planned timeline feel like the right choice. We’re still months away from opening, but we’re already feeling welcomed, supported, and we couldn’t be more excited to share our food adventure with this great community. Stay tuned for more stories as we design and build out our Orange Door Kitchen!