SHERIDAN — A group of four Sheridan businesses are coming together under one roof to share a single retail space and commercial kitchen. The Hometown Bakery Co-Op, LLC, is evidence of a national trend sprouting local roots.
The new Sheridan County-based cooperative will include four existing Sheridan businesses: Cupcakes by Design, Big Horn Cakes, Andrew’s Cheesecakes and Prairie Rose Tea Company. The businesses are sharing a retail space that has been created by remodeling a house at 1245 N. Main St.
The property is currently being transformed to industrial specifications by its owner, Rob Bernard. Everything from a triple-section deep sink to code-compliant kitchen appliances are being installed in the former home’s kitchen, while the front room is being converted into a show room and retail space. Both the kitchen and show room will be subleased to smaller companies with ambitions to multiply their trajectory.
“It’s not a new concept, but it’s re-emerging in a very interesting way,” Bernard explained, noting the national trend of hometown businesses organizing to reclaim a slice of the economy that, in recent years, has largely become dominated by impersonal megastores.
The divergent niche, where many farmers markets and co-ops thrive, is in custom items tailored to the specific needs of customers. For the Hometown Bakery Co-op, it means offering customized catering, artisan-level goods and products that are sugar or gluten free.
Co-op organizer Robyn Belinskey, also the proprietor of Cupcakes by Design, explained that the availability of a shared commercial kitchen can be one of the biggest barriers to expansion for a family business. However, when the resource is shared with other small businesses, it multiplies the ability of each to establish more of a public presence than any single business could do on its own.
“It’s never been tried in Sheridan, as far as I know,” Belinskey said, adding that even renting a commercial kitchen without retail space on the local market is often cost prohibitive for a small specialty shop.
“It’s a huge risk and a huge expense,” she said.
However, it has become possible for her and her business partners to establish a presence in Sheridan’s North Main business district by banding together.
“I’ve been operating out of my home for the last three years, and under the Food Cottage Laws, you’re very limited on what you can make,” Big Horn Cakes owner Carri Carey said. “You can’t make anything that has to be refrigerated.”
Carey went on to explain that until she secured access to a commercial kitchen, she couldn’t make creams, custard fillings, cream cheese or whipped frostings to be sold to customers.
“To be in a commercial kitchen opens the possibility to provide products I couldn’t from my home,” Carey said.
Partner Andrew Price has been in the food industry for more than 20 years, and today runs Andrew’s Cheesecakes. He said he feels the Hometown Bakery Co-Op can serve both the individual businesses and help revitalize North Main Street.
“The advantage of this is obviously financial for start-up fees,” he said. “It’s also about being more involved in the community. We’re all artists, it’s deeply personal, and for me, it’s a dream come true.”
Cathy Cline of Prairie Rose Tea Company said she’s excited about being a part of the cooperative effort because of the exposure she can gain for her specialty blended tea leaves and scones.
“We all have a vested interest in the business’s success,” Cline said. “When you’re looking at the trend of co-ops, it’s about a cooperation of people merging their talents and businesses together under one roof.”
“I love the co-op idea because we’re all benefitting from each other,” Carey agreed. “We’re bringing our own loyal customers to each other.”
The Hometown Bakery Co-op will open with an official ribbon cutting sponsored by the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce April 10.