Photos by Katie Turpen.
handmade in hoover
Food entrepreneurs at Chef’s Workshop include caterers, bakers, mobile food vendors and specialty food product makers.
When Bob Lepley reached retirement, he realized he still had work to do. After owning a real estate company for 27 years, he was ready to set his sights elsewhere.
“I decided I wanted to do something new and different,” Lepley said.
He observed a void in the local food market. In April 2013, Lepley opened Chef’s Workshop, a unique business incubator of the food world, in Hoover. Though not a chef, Lepley said he felt there were many people creating food products in their homes that were not able to take their business to the next level professionally.
Lepley’s facility gives caterers, bakers, mobile food vendors and specialty food product makers a location in which they can comply with health regulations and obtain proper permits to conduct their food business in a professional manner.
“People are able to network and share experiences here,” Lepley said. “This support enables clients to not just go at it alone and benefit from the knowledge of others.”
Swing open the front doors of Chef’s Workshop, and the “Handmade in Hoover” sign hangs over a display full of various local treats made right inside. The 5,000-square-foot facility houses four private professionally equipped commercial kitchens available for rent on an hourly, daily or monthly basis. Three are chef’s kitchens and one is specifically equipped for bakers.
Chef’s Workshop also offers basic food education, marketing support and an area for events such as food tastings. Lepley encourages entrepreneurs to use this area to meet with clients and promote their products.
He said one of his main goals for the business this year is to develop relationships with grocers to help them sell local products in their stores. He said he hopes to partner with Piggly Wiggly, Western, Whole Foods and Fresh Market.
“Birmingham has really become a hot area for food culture,” Lepley said. “We have two culinary schools and boast some of the best restaurants in the South. It’s so important to create these small food communities.”
As Lepley continues to support small business entrepreneurs selling everything from noodles to pimiento cheese to dog biscuits, he looks forward to a strong future for Chef’s Workshop. He currently rents to 18 food entrepreneurs, and has seven more in the permit process.
For him, it’s just the beginning.
“I would be thrilled if the next Sister Schubert could say they got their start here,” Lepley said. “The excitement people have here is contagious.”
For more information, visit chefsworkshop.com.