Michelle Solis was looking to start her own company making gourmet cupcakes a few years ago, but ended up with a different, very ambitious sort of business. It was still centered on a culinary theme — but her inspiration was to find a way to help ease the path for others with similar dreams.
Bake, Broil & Brew, located at 1508 Guadalupe St. at San Jacinto, is an incubator kitchen for entrepreneurs that is helping cooks, bakers, caterers and other small businesses get their start. (See its website here.)
We asked Michelle to tell SavorSA about her one-of-a-kind San Antonio business.
Bake, Broil and Brew is a concept that you and your husband, David Solis, conceived, planned and built. How many years have you been open now?
Actually we’re only in our second year; many people think we’re on our third year because we worked on promotion for a full year before we opened our doors.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Above all, community awareness. It’s been difficult to build a solid client base when they don’t know you’re here. In order for us to be truly successful we must have a consistent flow of new businesses coming in so that we always have someone in line to take over the use-time of a successful graduating client.
What has been your greatest triumph?
Our triumphs are truly built on the triumphs of our clients, and so our triumph is more of a result collective of our first year of business. October 2012 marked our first year of business, during that year we successfully supported the start-up and growth of 14 companies, 12 of those being women-owned. Those companies resulted in the employment of approximately 25 people and gross sales of over $170,000 during that 12-month period. One of those 14 companies successfully graduated from our facility into their own storefront during that same time period. Our triumphs will always be about successfully helping entrepreneurs pursue their dreams!
Bake Broil and Brew recently had their 3rd Annual Culinary Creativity Cook-Off. Read article here.
How did the idea of a commercial incubator kitchen come about?
I had been working on my own side business, a gourmet cupcake business for bake-to-order sales only, and through the process, I learned about the requirement for the licensed commercial kitchen. At the time I was not interested in leaving my career and didn’t want to lease my own space just to do a side business, so I began researching and making inquiries for the part-time use of a licensed kitchen.
In the end I was not successful in locating an existing business that was willing to share their kitchen periodically, and I began looking at an existing bakery in my neighborhood that had been closed for over a year. I thought I might be successful in negotiating a month-to-month arrangement with the landlord for pennies on the dollar, and then I figured I could probably locate a few small business owners like me that’d share the space with me. The more I thought about this idea and researched the concept in general the more intrigued and excited I got.
The incubator wasn’t a completely unique idea, but we didn’t have one here in San Antonio. While I enjoyed creating the flavors for and baking my cupcakes, the idea of helping hundreds of other people follow their dreams blew that out of the water, and I dove in head first.
Describe what makes it work.
The collective — it all comes down to the idea that sharing the cost with many others makes anything more affordable. In our case, it’s not just about making something affordable, but also eliminating a huge risk factor. In fact, I try to educate our clients that for most of them we’re more of a risk manager than anything. They can walk in the door with a very small investment and no long-term commitments; if three or six months down the line they figure out that this isn’t for them or they can’t build a client base, they can walk away with little to no consequences.
We both have backgrounds in sales and marketing, which essentially is one of the most critical components of any business. Putting our skills to work from the beginning with brand development, and on to actually marketing and building awareness for our business were the most critical to our success. Honestly, the facility sells itself, but we’ve got to get you through the doors first.
Describe the ways the two of you have made it work, different skills, etc.
In the beginning we worked together on the business plan, brand development, and site selection; once we had the funding and location my husband focused on the construction of the facility while I maintained a focus on marketing and community awareness. Today, I oversee the day-to-day operations and continued marketing, while my husband, who has a full-time career outside the business, works with me on the bigger picture — strategic planning.
What is the “next big thing” — like, you noted at the cook-off, adding a kitchen space?
Yes, we’re super excited to be planning for a fourth cooking station, which will be dedicated to baking and prep only. While we’re still working on the pricing structure, we do anticipate for the rental rates for this station to be below the others we currently have due to its limited equipment. We’re hoping this will allow us to tap into some businesses that previously could not justify the cost of our facility, such as bakers and artisan food manufacturers. Also, we’re excited to be in the planning stages of rolling out a café onsite with one of our existing clients, Cruzan Catering.
That’s a challenging question for me to answer; all of my clients have something I love! Most of them all have an item or two that’s unique to them. Probably the most interesting product to come out of our kitchen to date would be the Bacon Cheddar Cheesecake from Full Moon Cheesecakes. I long for the days when we have artisan candies, gourmet ice creams, or even old-fashioned sodas being produced in our kitchens.
Do the people who use the kitchen develop friendships, co-projects?
There’s definitely a sense of community when we have multiple clients in the kitchen at the same time, and there have definitely been collaborations. Probably one of the closest friendships is between Cruzan Catering and Fusion Cuisine Catering; they seem to be in the kitchen the most together and share best practices frequently.
Do you feel that people who live on the west side have been drawn to BB&B especially?
No. I imagine if you polled our immediate community you would find very few who knew who we were or that we even existed. Our objectives with our site selection were to be as central and close to downtown as we could, but also to be located in a HUB Zone. Although our location is technically located in the west side, we’re less than a mile from the highway and just west of the central business district. We wanted the entire city to have equal access to our facility and to be central for the purpose of our clients making deliveries of their products throughout the city.
Let’s say you had time. Do you have a project you might want to launch from BB&B?
Yes, I’d love to be doing my gourmet cupcakes and a line of gourmet doughnuts!