Last week, I was invited to check out the inner workings of Union Kitchen. I’d heard of Union Kitchen before from Twitter and from several DC food favorites of mine: District Doughnut, TaKorean + Curbside Cupcakes. So I jumped at the chance to go into the belly of the beast, so to speak.
^ I could probably fit into that pot. No joke.
A short walk from Union Station, DC’s “food incubator” is actually the former home of a catering business! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Union Kitchen began as the brainchild of Jonas Singer and Cullen Gilchrist, who wanted to create a community space for local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. The sense of community is obvious from the moment you step into the warehouse. From my tour of the kitchens, the food incubator was a-buzz with people chopping, stirring and mixing all while chatting despite it getting late into the evening! I know I’d be one sleepy kid but I didn’t see a single yawn. Or maybe they waited until I was taking pictures. Sneaky sneaky.
Most telling about Union Kitchen though was when one cook poked his head into another kitchen space to ask if they could use their sugar.Which,of course, got an immediate green light from the sugar owner. I had to giggle internally, thinking of the whole “Hey neighbor, can I borrow a cup of sugar?” bit.
All for one and one for all seems to be the unofficial motto of the warehouse so it’s no surprise that Union Kitchen has had several small businesses succeed and blossom beyond their kitchen walls.
The creativity and positive energy was addicting and I left Union Kitchen practically buzzing with creative energy. I actually started writing my Dreams + Plans post immediately when I got home. You guys, I’m kinda hooked. But it’s okay once you see the awesome foodporn below. You’ll get it.
Let’s chat about the awesome entrepreneurs + their mouth-watering treats! Seriously, I think if I worked there, I’d have to go to the gym religiously. Because I would eat everything!! My willpower is practically nonexistent when faced with these delectable culinary bites:
Remember eating CrackerJax growing up? How excited you were to eat the salty peanuts and sweet, caramel popcorn to get to the treasure at the bottom? Well, Popcorn Queens Classic Peanut is like that except the treasure is the popcorn itself!
Popcorn Queens began as a mother-daughter catering small business. On a whim, they created small bags of popcorn to give to guests as a gift bag and the next day, the phone was ringing with people wanting to know where to get their hands on more popcorn! Voila!
My mouth began to water watching them mix their Classic Peanut. And your mouth is going to start watering in 3…2…1…
Holy sweet caramel mixture, Batman!! If I could have licked the bowl, I think I could officially declare I’ve lived a happy and fulfilled life. Watching the caramel get mixed into the popcorn was sweet, sweet torture. I could have melted right on the spot and gone to dessert heaven. But there is more to see so let’s keep the show moving.
Okay, just one more. Le sigh.
The Capital Candy Jar
Because I might be a masochist with a major sweet tooth, up next on the tour is the Capital Candy Jar. Get this: their founder Dave got his first sweet taste (see what I did there?) of entrepreneurship growing up when, trying to make a few extra bucks, he started up a lollipop business at school! Boy, I thought I was a rebel (shifty eye Emoji here).
After moving to DC, he decided to take the plunge and became a full-time confectioner. Made in small batches, Capital Candy Jar’s treats are candy for grownups. I had the opportunity to sample their pineapple divinity (aptly named) and do a tasting for a confection fresh from the test kitchen: caramel apple marshmallow.
Aside from mini-marshmallows in my hot chocolate, I’d never been big on marshmallows. I know this is blasphemy to some but I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. But now…
* Cue music playing “A Whole New World” *
My eyes have been OPENED and I am never buying another bag of JetPuffed marshmallows. JetPuffed and I are never ever ever getting back together. These caramel apple marshmallows were out of this world delicious. Soft with just the right amount of chewiness, you tasted the apple flavor immediately and then slowly the smooth caramel joined the party. And it was totally AWESOME!
Okay, before we all collapse of a sugar rush, we’re going to take a quick break and play a game of fun facts about Union Kitchen.
About 20-30 DC small businesses apply to work with Union Kitchen every week. They have to present their business plan to Union Kitchen board members and meet certain criteria to get a thumbs up. But what if they’re a one or two person shop that doesn’t have all the nitty-gritty details quite figured out? No sweat, as long as they show promise and passion, they’re in.
I treat DC Girl in Pearls like a small business so I understand how time-consuming managing the little details can be, it can sometimes feel like you’re climbing up a mountain with no end in sight. Union Kitchen provides support for its community members with market + new media consulting among other perks. The whole community emphasis I mentioned earlier? That’s a rallying cry for members from Day 1. And new members go through an extensive orientation before they can get down to business (to defeat the Huns – I had to).
So what if you’re a small business in DC but you aren’t working in food? Like at all? Your business is still kosher with Union Kitchen! They also house members such as Cherry Blossom Creative, whose prints I instantly recognized from Eastern Market as soon as I walked in. I loved her space and didn’t really want to leave if we’re being totally 100% honest. It was colorful and inspirational!
Hmm here’s a thought for you lovely readers: remember when I mentioned my dream of growing DC Girl and finding a space to teach classes? Maybe Union Kitchen could be that spot! Just a thought but let me know what you think.
Another non-foodie who calls Union Kitchen home is a small PR firm Mirepoix Media.
Okay, I think our foodporn palate is cleansed and ready for the final leg of this culinary tour. So without further ado..
PureJoy got its start when two dads and an uncle teamed up to create healthy, locally sourced baby food for those bundles of joy. What they discovered was the joy of cooking!
I’m sure you’re probably staring at the screen thinking, “Really, Lauren? Baby food? I’m not a parent!” But just hear me out. I don’t think I’ve tried baby food since I was in diapers so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was blown away. Those babies eating PureJoy eat more healthfully than I do, I have no doubt about that. I sampled the sweet ginger and morning porridge and was instantly jealous of babies. I normally don’t gravitate towards porridge because of texture issues of mine but I will happily make an exception for PureJoy. Oh and they are looking into creating babyfood for adults! I nominate adding some bourbon to the sweet ginger and I’ll be a happy camper.
What really impressed me though about PureJoy were a) their commitment to charity and b) their upbeat attitudes.
PureJoy donates a portion of their babyfood to Martha’s Table, a DC nonprofit that offers high quality day care for low income families. PureJoy is democratizing healthy eating habits for kids one delicious spoonful at a time!
And their attitudes. PureJoy was the last stop of my tour and at that point, I’d been running around all day and was ready to hit the hay. Not these guys, they were cooking up a storm but kindly took a quick break to chat about their company. I wish I had that kind of energy at 10pm. Maybe the secret is bottled into that baby food…
I had a wonderful time visiting Union Kitchen. Like I said, I left the food incubator infused with energy and creativity. The energy might have been the caramel apple marshmallow talking but the creativity was 100% Union Kitchen derived. If you are a small business in DC looking to get a leg up, I’d highly recommend reaching out to the folks at Union Kitchen.
Thanks, Aidan for the fantastic visit!
I hope you enjoyed the foodporn tour and I’m excited to feature more DC small businesses on DC Girl soon!
* * *
Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Bloglovin’