A Sweet Partnership with Local Chefs

Some aspiring chefs in West Philadelphia jokingly refer to a partnership between Penn, its food service vendor Bon Appétit, and the Enterprise Center’s Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises as the “cookie contract.” It’s also a serious ticket to their future.

Because of this sweet partnership, some 6,000 cookies and three dozen individual cakes make their way each week from the culinary center to grateful consumers in Penn dining halls and Bon Appétit’s campus retail outlets.

The “cookie contract” helps newbie chefs overcome some obstacles to making and selling items, from a weak product distribution system to the lack of a business plan. The partnership also provides necessary commercial kitchen space to local chefs, since selling products made in a home kitchen is illegal.

Penn has a long history with the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia, which has a mission to provide high-potential, minority entrepreneurs with access to capital, capacity-building, business education, and economic development opportunities. Its Center for Culinary Enterprises gives fledging chefs access to professional equipment, as well as mentors who help them with business plans, distribution outlets, and access to local ingredients so they can take part in the current farm-to-fork trend.

This culinary enterprise is an example of how Penn and Bon Appétit’s goals of sustainability, food accessibility, and community engagement align, says Marie Witt, vice president of Business Services at Penn.

“It’s a perfect marriage,” Witt says, “by helping individuals or businesses who want to get into food service access to kinds of equipment they couldn’t get on their own, having Bon Appetit there to teach skills and help them figure out how to market their program.

“Bon Appetit has also committed to buying a half-million dollars of products from the chefs at the culinary enterprise center,” she adds.

At the culinary center, Bon Appetit chefs teach their mentees food safety and transport, and how to shop, price out their product, and hire employees. More importantly, though, they see a commonality in their craft: Both groups are chef-driven, cook from scratch, and locally source their ingredients.

Witt says this type of community engagement is unique. “We haven’t seen this kind of partnership anywhere across the country,” she notes. “It grew organically from our relationship with the Enterprise Center, but the way it evolved has become a model for the rest of the country.”

Text by Julie McWilliams
Video by Kurtis Sensenig