New cloud kitchen is a solution for South Dallas culinary entrepreneurs

By |Published On: August 31, 2023|Categories: South Dallas|

Dee Powell has been waiting for this day — the opening of the South Dallas Cloud Kitchen.

“It’s opening the door for opportunity in South Dallas,” Powell says. “This project is a domino for other dope things around South Dallas, especially around food and economic mobility.”

And, she would know. She’s an urban planner who operates the Sunny South Dallas Food Park, which was held in Fair Park over the past several months. Powell says the Cloud Kitchen, which debuted last Friday, will mobilize South Dallas culinary entrepreneurs. 

This new kitchen at 2839 S. Ervay is the final piece in Cornerstone Baptist Church’s development project at The Crossing. The laundromat, Southpoint Community Market and the Cloud Kitchen were a collaboration between The Real Estate Council (TREC), its Associate Leadership Council and Community Investors, and Cornerstone Baptist Church.

A cloud kitchen, sometimes called a ghost kitchen, is a facility that allows for multiple businesses to use a commercial kitchen with minimal cost to the entrepreneur. For example, when a person rents time in the cloud kitchen, they don’t have to worry about paying for kitchen permits, safety inspections and equipment maintenance.

Cornerstone Pastor Chris Simmons shares how the kitchen will stir economic development on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. Photo by Michaela Rush

According to Cornerstone Pastor Chris Simmons, the average cost in Dallas for commercial kitchen rentals is $35 an hour, but the Cloud Kitchen rental is only $15 an hour, prioritizing South Dallas entrepreneurs. This fee covers the kitchen’s utilities and wages for the full-time managers, who are certified food handlers. Cornerstone’s Pastor Chris Simmons says the inspiration for the facility was the initial MLK Food Park in spring 2021, which Powell managed.

“People like Pastor Chris have always seen [the potential] in the community, but haven’t necessarily been able to put that vision to paper or get the funding behind it,” she says.

Powell met Simmons through that initial MLK Food Park, an idea which she carried forward and eventually renamed the Sunny South Dallas Food Park. The MLK Food Park was located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Holmes, a block away from where the Cloud Kitchen now sits.

“In the midst of the MLK Food Park, we discovered that many of those entrepreneurs struggled because they had to have access to a commercial kitchen, and there were none in the neighborhood,” Simmons says. “That’s where the idea came from for the cloud kitchen, providing a dedicated space for entrepreneurs in this community where they could have access 24/7 to expand their business models and create affordable and liveable wages in this particular neighborhood.”

South Dallas residents and entrepreneurs, community partners and city staff attend the South Dallas Cloud Kitchen ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. Photo by Michaela Rush

Powell says this kitchen will make things easier on local entrepreneurs, as some had to travel to North Dallas for commercial kitchens, incurring transportation costs in addition to rental and permitting costs. The South Dallas location will reduce costs, Powell says, and help sprout new businesses.

“For businesses of color, particularly, capital and capacity are the biggest challenges,” Powell says. “When you’re a new business, you’re taking a leap of faith, whether you’ve left your 9-to-5 or doubled down, you are thinking in the immediate need of making money and paying bills. It can be challenging at the beginning for a food business to plan appropriately and be sustainable.”

Entrepreneurs who utilize the space also will be able to sell their goods in the next-door Southpoint Community Market, the proceeds of which will go solely to the entrepreneur, not to the Market or to Cornerstone. The Market also wants to connect with chefs to create healthy hot meals, which can be sold and served to community members using SNAP benefits. 

Simmons says the new kitchen is an opportunity not only for economic growth, but also for promoting healthy eating in South Dallas. Cornerstone partners with Baylor Scott & White for healthy cooking classes, and also will work with the North Texas Food Bank for future demonstrations.

“Many people don’t eat healthy because they don’t know how to cook healthy,” Simmons says. “It will be a place where individuals can not only increase their economic outlooks, but hopefully their health outlooks as well.”

The South Dallas Cloud Kitchen will host its first free adult nutrition workshop on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

The Cloud Kitchen, along with other TREC’s Associate Leadership Council ventures, are based on community proposals and needs, and the Council and Community Investors offer funding and connections to complete the projects. The project cost a total of $800,000 and was funded by Community Investors, which included $100,000 from TREC, the land and building donated by Cornerstone, $70,000 from Texas Capital Bank, and $390,000 from the City of Dallas, with the final portion of materials and services coming from donations through relationships built by the Council. 

While council project commitments typically last 10 months, the 2021 class has worked for three years to complete the kitchen project. Project manager Max Schwartzstein says the council was excited by this challenge, and wanted to bring resources to existing and future food businesses in South Dallas.  

“When we were given the opportunity to choose between three projects, we chose the one that had the biggest budget, biggest scope, most time commitment and really the most difficult project that you could’ve possibly thought to choose,” Schwartztein says. “It also had the biggest community impact, and I believe that’s why our class was not afraid of the challenge.”

The Crossing, where the Cloud Kitchen is located, is part of a larger partnership with TREC, the Dallas Catalyst Project, which chose South Dallas as a neighborhood of focus in 2017. Their community partners include Cornerstone, St. Philip’s School and Forest Forward. Felicia Pierson, TREC’s senior director of community investment, says this project has outdone its original goals. 

“We started, initially, with three projects that we were going to invest $1 million, so by the end of this year we [will have] completed 22 projects in the neighborhood, with $3 million in cash, $1 million in in-kind and pro-bono services, over 3,000 volunteer hours and, finally, we’ve leveraged additional investments that have come in over $19 million,” Pierson says.

During the ribbon cutting ceremony, entrepreneur Monisha Clifton, owner of Moe’s Delights, said that by providing her business with opportunities, she is able to patronize other local businesses, and allows the wider community to benefit. 

Monisha Clifton, founder of Moe’s Delights, shares how her business has been supported by the South Dallas community to close the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. “I will use the kitchen to expand my shipping services during the holiday season,” she says.

“When you invest in me, you’re not just investing in me,” Clifton says. “You’re creating a ripple of economic opportunities for people I’m connected with, who are also residents of South Dallas, or are connected with Cornerstone in some way. I thank you for allowing me to be a vessel to bless other people.”

Neighbors who are interested in utilizing the space will be required to have food safety and food handler certifications, and can pursue lower-cost short or long-term rentals, without worrying about health inspections, equipment repairs, or other prohibitive costs. 

One local entrepreneur, 12-year-old Dallas Wise, owner of Dallas Sized Cookies, says he’s looking forward to using the space, particularly the industrial-sized stand mixer, to keep up with his growing orders.

Dallas’ mother, Shanay Wise, owner of Catering Done Wisely, participated in the original MLK Food Park and subsequent events Powell convened for entrepreneurs of color, and 

“I’m most excited because of the opportunities it allows me as a cook that targets people that need good, healthy food,” Wise says. “This gives me the opportunity to teach them, show them different things. It’s been really hard to find a location, and I live in South Dallas so I need this to be in South Dallas, and the people I want to affect and reach are here in South Dallas.”

“This, as an entrepreneur and caterer of 15 years,” Wise says, “is a dream to drive up the street and use this kitchen.”

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

About the Author: Michaela Rush

Michaela Rush joined Dallas Free Press in July 2023, as a Report for America Corps Member. Prior to joining RFA and DFP, Michaela worked at The Battalion student newspaper at Texas A&M, most recently as the editor-in-chief, covering campus news, local businesses, student organizations and LGBTQ+ topics. Outside of journalism, she plays several instruments, including flute and alto saxophone, and is a self-proclaimed “band nerd.”

Official Title:

Report for America Corps Member