Kevin Echevarria has hit on a niche market — shared workspace, be that a licensed commercial kitchen or shared office space.
The owner of Shared Dream Kitchen in Elgin and Lake in the Hills is working to expand the concept of sharing space for small and start-up businesses. He is in the process of opening Localvore at 11-13 Douglas Avenue to focus on what he calls “provincial genius and cuisine.”
What he plans to create — pending city council approval — is making the former restaurant into a venue and space for pop-up events.
What that means is that in addition to small events — like rehearsal dinners and bridal showers — is that chefs who use the Shared Dream Kitchen will also have a space to occasionally showcase their cuisine.
“We want to showcase companies that are local, not just food but arts as well,” Echevarria said.
A Localvore, he explained, is a person who likes to eat products locally raised, sourced or prepared.
What Localvore here would be is “a fully-licensed venue for pop-up restaurants, pop-up events.” Those events can run the gambit between painting classes, wine tastings, stand-up comics, or small events.
“You can lease on a daily, weekly, three day deal,” Echevarria said.
For events, renters would be provided with a list of preferred vendors — the small companies that use Dream Kitchen.
Echevarria took over Dream Kitchen from Marcia and Tim Kellenberger in 2014. At 1544 Fleetwood Drive, Elgin, Dream Kitchen allows those with a home-based catering or other food-based business to rent space in a fully outfitted commercial kitchen, making it legal to sell their wares to clients and the public.
Since then, he opened a Lake in the Hills location, and is also managing Dream Kitchens in Naperville and Schaumburg now as well.
“This gives them a platform for their products,” Echevarria said of the Localvore location.
“If you are hosting a celebration, all of the foods and services can come from local companies,” he explained.
On the restaurant side, the space allows chefs to show off their skills and test restaurant concepts before signing a lease and opening their own locations, he said.
Existing restaurants could also use the space to test new foods before rolling it out to their clients.
“We will be creating our own list of VIPS — local trendsetters. We want them to sign up and we’d send free tickets to some of the trendsetters. We want that list to be 25 to 50 people — our ambassadors who support these small start ups,” he explained.
Echevarria believes many of these dinners will be price-fixed events with limited menus and limited space available.
The format allows the chefs to determine what menu diners are interested in.
Elgin, he added, is also the perfect location for the idea.
“If it works in Elgin two years from now, people who had pop ups will be in their own storefronts in downtown Elgin. If they do well in Elgin, they can recreate it anywhere else,” he said.
“Elgin is a powerhouse,” for start ups, based on the rental cost per square foot. “We believe downtown Elgin is the place to be.”
There are a few hurdles to cross before opening. The Planning and Zoning Commission will hear Echevarria’s request for a conditional use permit in March, said city planner Sarosh Saher.
The conditional use permit is required by city code because of the “assembly of people,” part of the concept, as opposed to just a restaurant, Saher said.
Once the planning and zoning commission makes a recommendation, the plan would go on to the full city council. Echevarria would also need to get a liquor license, although he plans to work with the Martini Room owners for that portion of the businesses.
Shared Kitchen and Localvore aren’t the only businesses Echevarria is running. He recently took over the office space above the Douglas Street location for the property owner and is running Envisage, a coworking space for professionals.
“We come in and we manage space. We own the concepts, but we split income with the property owner as well,” he said.
The coworking model allows the property owner to make a higher rate of return on each square foot, Echevarria said.
He’s working with property brokers to help them embrace the share workspace plan.
“We have come to the conclusion that shared real estate is a niche real estate market,” that is growing, he said.
Janelle Walker is a freelance reporter.