Sure, there are five-star restaurants, casino selections, a litany of chain eateries and even ethnic diners, but in terms of an actual identity, the area lacks a certain mystique that has made New York, Los Angeles and even smaller metropolises like Portland, Ore., an attractive destination for food lovers.
Sam Harvey is trying to change all that.
“My risk is everyone else’s reward,” said the sole proprietor of One World Kitchen, a commercial kitchen rental facility located in the Sparks industrial area.
Harvey has worked as a professional chef for more than seven years, but decided to delve into the business side of the cooking world a few years ago.
He got his MBA at the University of Nevada, Reno and secured private financing last year for his entrepreneurial idea.
Harvey provides a full-service 2,000-square-foot kitchen, replete with two cooking lines that feature grills and ovens, a prep space, scullery, walk-in refrigerator and freezer, dry storage space — in other words, the works.
Pots, pans and utensils, however, are the responsibility of clients.
The kitchen provides a 24/7 space for personal chefs, caterers, bakers, food cart vendors, food manufacturers and even serves as a place for cooking classes.
The facility also acts as a food depot and storage center for clients.
According to Harvey, it is the only kitchen of its kind in the region.
Like all great start-ups, the inspiration for One World Kitchen arose out of apparent necessity.
With the economy in the toilet, and because health code regulations require commercial food sellers to operate out of a board-certified kitchen rather than, for example, a residential home, Harvey realized that those with a passion for cooking needed a viable workspace.
Harvey said he has a 100 percent health inspection rating and about 15 clients to date, including the Sauce Wagon, a mobile catering outfit, and St. Lawrence Pizza Co.
He rents his space by the hour, with most of his clients spending between 10 and 20 hours per month on site. The costs are about a quarter of what it would take to own and operate their own facility, he said.
Nevada lawmakers and business advocates have argued in recent months that entrepreneurs and small business owners like Harvey will be the ones leading the state and the country out of the lingering grasp of the economic recession.
“The majority of new jobs are created by small businesses just like Mr. Harvey’s,” said Tray Abney, director of government relations for the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
Harvey agrees wholeheartedly.
“My business is getting people into business,” he said.
Harvey provides a sort of test market for those small-business caterers and chefs who are interested in selling their creations but don’t have financial resources to do so.
Harvey’s kitchen provides them a cost-effective way to enter into the competitive field. After all, some studies report that more than 80 percent of all new businesses close within the first year of operation.
Food, it seems, is one of those recession-proof industries. Of course, when the economy slips, people tend to look for cheaper alternatives to their regular diet and often end up handing over more of their cash to fast food joints.
But cheap food doesn’t have to come at the expense of taste or variety.
Harvey wants to see the emergence of a food truck/stand culture in Reno-Sparks that can rival those flourishing in other parts of the country.
“I’m trying to open the culinary conversation in northern Nevada,” he said.
Harvey would like to begin hosting a food cart Friday event outside his establishment to encourage a camaraderie and community among this niche market.
The taco trucks and other food carts that can be seen around town are sporadic and disconnected in their presence, Harvey said.
Only time will tell if he is successful. While most startups hope to break even in the first two years, the economic recession has pushed back that reality for Harvey. He expects it to take five years before he starts earning any income, but it’s a slog he’s willing to sacrifice for in order to create a culinary haven in northern Nevada.
“By having this option,” he said of One World Kitchen, “we can create a draw.”