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Kick-start kitchen

Kitchen 66 aims to build a food hub for Tulsa

At Kitchen 66's Grand Opening

The past decade has brought a boom to Tulsa’s food scene. Restaurant groups around town are adding new concepts monthly, farm table dinners are ubiquitous come spring and summertime, and if downtown’s expansion is any indication, more local projects are on the horizon. Publications like Edible Tulsa churn out locavore-centric food writing, community garden projects are flourishing across town, and programs designed to connect farmers and purveyors with schools and businesses are gaining speed. Respect for growing and shopping local has gained traction, and Tulsa’s beloved Cherry Street Farmers’ Market is as vibrant as ever. 

Still, when you place Tulsa side by side with other food cities, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. Our restaurants and grocery stores still struggle to source locally, many of our best eateries close up shop Sunday and Monday nights, we’re still desperately lacking authentic world cuisine, and downtown and the north side’s food deserts show no signs of new life. When compared with Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and other culinary-minded cities in our region, Tulsa has a long way to go in the world of food. 

Perhaps it’s this reality that’s pushing the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation to act. The organization recently launched Kitchen 66, a multi-faceted endeavor designed to help build up food and food businesses in Tulsa.  

“We’re calling it a kick-start kitchen,” said Kitchen 66 Program Director Adele Beasley. 

Kitchen 66 is part cafe, part launch program, and part commercial kitchen space. The goal is to help aspiring “foodpreneurs” get their ideas off the ground. By providing affordable commercial kitchen access, entrepreneurial mentorship, access to wholesale ingredients and affordable supplies, and the rallied support of Tulsa’s food and start-up scenes, Kitchen 66 supports business owners through every step of the process, from recipe to retail. 

“Our ultimate goal is really to build a food hub along Route 66 that supports food entrepreneurs of all kinds,” said Elizabeth Ellison, founder of Kitchen 66.  

But what exactly is a food hub, and how is it different from Tulsa’s current local market scene?

“I think the food hub part for me really comes from wanting to create that connection in Tulsa for people eating together, sharing stories together, and also utilizing locally grown food to make food in Tulsa,” said Ellison.

As she tells it, a food hub would ideally offer a place to shop for Oklahoma-made prepared meals, along with meat, breads, cheeses, and produce. “But not just produce...” she said. “Oklahoma everything.” 

The idea is great in theory, but for a new entrepreneur, taking that family salsa recipe from part time hobby to the supermarket shelf is tough. And when commercial kitchen space alone costs upwards of $50,000, the idea of a business newbie single-handedly launching a profitable food business in Tulsa starts to sound pretty dismal, if not totally impossible. 

For scrappy cooks with business acumen, Kitchen 66 picks up where the creative genius leaves off—with resources, connections, and community support. 

If Kitchen 66’s first food hub event is any indication, the initiative is well on its way. Held at Kitchen 66’s Cafe in the Sun Building (907 S. Detroit Ave.), the makeshift pop-up market featured food and drink offerings from the launch program’s seven start-up businesses. Vendors sold everything from specialty coffee drinks to finishing salts to baked goods. Over the lunch hour, the room buzzed with new entrepreneurs serving rolls, empanadas, salsas, and even gourmet dog food.

Kitchen 66 Cafe will also offer a deli-style breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, with rotating daily specials, house-roasted meats, and fresh pastries.  

I asked Ellison how Kitchen 66’s goals are different from those of other local food markets. As she tells it, Kitchen 66 is not a farmers market, and as great as it is to use local ingredients, an over-emphasis on local sourcing doesn’t always account for the nuances of some businesses’ products.  

“Although I’d like to see a farmers’ market in our food hub, I think the farmers’ market in Tulsa will only allow products that have all Oklahoma ingredients, and Spokto [Beverage Co.] is a good example of someone who ... you can’t grow coffee in Oklahoma, so they’ll never be allowed to be in the Farmers’ Market,” Ellison said. 

“We’d like to be a place where you can go shopping and enjoy live music on a Saturday, but maybe not be as stringent about the fact that all the ingredients in the food be from Oklahoma.”  

Whether or not Kitchen 66’s mission is really that different from those of its predecessors remains to be seen, but one thing seems pretty clear: why reinvent the wheel when you can build the hub?

For more from Megan, read her interview with Jo Armstrong, Blue Dome Arts Festival organizer and co-owner of Arnie's Bar.