Culinary Incubator Forage Kitchen Brings New Food Options to Oakland

Culinary Incubator Forage Kitchen Brings New Food Options to Oakland


Four years in the making, Iso Rabins' dream of opening a tripped out, community-centered, co-working kitchen space is finally a reality. Rabins, along with business partner and cousin Matt Johansen, opened Forage Kitchen, a 2,700-square-foot collaborative culinary incubator in Uptown Oakland this month.

Rabins is no stranger to the Bay Area food world. The Santa Cruz-native, occasional chef, and frequent forager, founded ForageSF in 2008 to support local foragers. In 2009, he started the Wild Kitchen, an underground supper series featuring locally-foraged foods, and later that year launched the less-than-legal Underground Market, a pop-up where unlicensed local vendors peddled their homemade goods before the authorities shut it down. On the heels of the Underground Market, Rabins launched a Kickstarter campaign for his pinnacle project— the creation of Forage Kitchen.

"Starting a business is a lonely endeavor," said Rabins. "I wanted to create something that could help people get the support they need from their fellow creators."

Rabin's brought in Johansen, a long-time Bay Area resident and a founder of Hayes Valley's beloved Biergarten, to help in creating his new concept, which is far more than a shared kitchen space.

"We want to create a space where members interact and support each other, as well as take advantage of all the opportunities for exposure we're creating; that's what will make this more than just a kitchen, but a hub for food makers."

Co-owners and cousins Iso Rabins (left) and Matt Johansen (right) show their new Forage Kitchen project in Oakland.(Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle)

Though Rabins and Johansen began looking for a location in San Francisco, they ended up at a storage space in Oakland they spotted on a First Friday in 2014. In the two years since, they have put in new infrastructure, plumbing, and tiling. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has seen its own changes, with Uber setting up offices nearby and the Hive welcoming innovators, artists, and epicureans of all kinds with its co-working office space and specialty shops and restaurants (including local favorites Drake's and Calavera).

Rabins and Johansen welcome the new vibe. "We want Forage Kitchen to be a home for anyone who loves food," said Rabins. "My vision is a space abuzz with activity—people eating in the cafe, a hard cider workshop going on in the kitchen, a business class in session upstairs, and people in the office talking through recipe development."

Forage Kitchen is divided into a café with outdoor seating, spacious industrial kitchen, and upstairs office spaces, which are shared with the Food Craft Institute, a local non-profit that supports artisan food businesses through classes, business skill development and entrepreneurial mentorship. Enter through the Kitchen's front door and you'll find a counter and mini mercantile where locals can pick up merchandise or grab lunch from one of the kitchen's featured members. First to fill the space will be Pal's Takeaway, a nomadic sandwich shop and local favorite that has moved from its Mission location to the cafe of Firebrand Artisan Breads to the Forage Kitchen cafe in less than a year.

Aunt Malai's deep-fried Lao sausage sandwich at Pal's Take Away.(Jen Fedrizzi, via The Chronicle)

"I've known Jeff for years and love his sandwiches," said Rabins. "When I heard he was looking for a home, I invited him to join us. We were originally going to rotate every three months, but we love Jeff, so we changed the rules for him." Rabins isn't sure how long Pal's will stay, but it will be, "a good spell" by his estimations.

Other businesses will also be afforded the opportunity to sell from the space, with a portion of the proceeds going back to the kitchen. "We will try to get as many of the products created in the kitchen sold in the cafe, and possibly have them do popups at night," said Rabins.

Forage members will work in a spacious kitchen with a 32-foot cook line, tripped out with convection ovens, ranges and plenty of table space. The kitchen can hold up to 16 teams of two at any given time. In the back are a walk-in, freezers, and shelves for dry storage. Rabins has placed an emphasis on identifying and eliminating as many pain points as possible. Case in point—a full-time dishwasher will do all of the dirty work, doing away with the frustration of sharing sinks and giving makers more time for making.

"This is the space I wish I'd had when I started my business," said Rabins.

Beyond the kitchen, upstairs offices will provide business space for meetings and workshops, as well as mailboxes and work space for culinary entrepreneurs.

Forage Kitchen members fall into four categories: Day Use, Maker, Santoku and Chef. Day Use members pay $30/hour (with a 10-hour minimum), while Maker members pay $99/month for Sunday-only kitchen space. On the more committed end of the spectrum are Santoku and Chef members who commit to 40-hour and 80-hour minimums and are given access to storage and office space. As of mid-August, over 400 applications had been submitted, though only 30 businesses can use the space in a week.

The key to funneling so much interest comes in Forage Kitchen's reservations app, which allows members to sign up for specific stations and identify open slots and spaces. The kitchen will be open 21 hours a day, (with a three-hour window for cleaning), allowing for plenty of rotation and opportunity.

"We want to figure out how to utilize everyone's time most efficiently," said Rabins.

Made to Gather offer a variety of services including cooking classes, workshops, and private meals, overseen by a personal chef.(Courtesy of Made to Gather)

Early members of Forage Kitchen include Sally Rogers' Eat Nibble (healthy office snacks), Prosper Tea (infused teas), Kazschu (cashew butter), Simmer Soups (soups and bone broths), and Lee Davidson's Made to Gather (cooking classes).

"I was in search of a community kitchen where I could host events and create workshops and experiences. I met Iso and we just connected immediately," said Davidson. "We share the same values and are on a similar mission within the food industry in Oakland. The location is excellent, and the layout and energy [are great]. It's not just a communal kitchen but a thriving creative hub."

Rogers echoed similar sentiments. "The time and attention that Iso and Matt have spent on every last detail in their space is obvious—from the tree outside the kitchen to the flooring in the offices to the paint color in the cafe area. The integration of kitchen and cafe makes for a unique setup where creators and makers can speak directly to people who may have no prior knowledge of their product."

Though the doors have yet to open, Rabins is already planning unconventional uses for the space. "We have lots of plans!" he said. "Movie nights, a Makers Market where Makers who are using the space can sell their stuff, markets where our vendors can sell their wares, First Friday events with games like 4-square and cornhole, storytelling nights, plus the space will be open to rent for interesting events."

// Look for Forage Kitchen at 478 25th St. (Oakland),

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