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Peoria Heights negotiating lease with Bradley University for shared commercial kitchen in pump house

Collin Schopp
Peoria Heights Village Hall

A budding food entrepreneur looking to cook up a catering or farmer's market business needs more than just an idea. It needs space.

"The challenge is that to scale up into your own brick and mortar can be expensive," said Jim Foley, the director for the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship at Bradley University.

That's why Bradley University is in negotiations with Peoria Heights to open a commercial kitchen in the village's historic 1934 pump house.

Foley said many communities have health department licensed shared kitchens available for use by the hour, but Peoria isn't currently one of them.

"So they would come in and have access to stoves, convection ovens, grills, and then use it for the time that they need in order to accomplish what they're doing," Foley said.

The commercial kitchen would also provide professional guidance for everything from fleshing out an idea to selling to a supermarket. Veteran Peoria Heights caterer Connie Randall is also donating her equipment and expertise for the next generation of food business owners.

The timing was right to look into Peoria Heights, which is looking for a new tenant for its Kingman Avenue pump house property after its lease with KDB Group ended. The site was formerly home of Popcorn Works.

The commercial kitchen concept won out over other pitches, which included a cafe and office space.

Wayne Aldrich is the village's community development director.

"It really fits in well with what we do here in Peoria Heights," said Aldrich. "This shared kitchen concept would really promote new entrepreneurs in that area. So I think there's a possibility even to work with local businesses, to help develop folks that want to go into into the restaurant business."

Foley said the demand is certainly there. A Peoria-area communal commercial kitchen is consistently near the top of the wish list at the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University.

"We're going to come up with a really tremendous asset for the community. It's an economic development asset that's going to lead to creating jobs and growing companies. And that's what we need right now," Foley said.

The Turner Center for Entrepreneurship is funded through grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and U.S. Small Business Administration, with matching funds from Bradley.

Aldrich said he hopes to have an agreement ready for board approval within the month. Foley hopes it takes just a few months after that to get a shared kitchen operational.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.