What The Kitchen's social entrepreneurship means for Memphis

This week, it was announced that a farm-to-table restaurant is moving into two of the most highly anticipated development projects in the city. But what does a “community restaurant” from out of town mean to the city? 
This week, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and Crosstown Concourse announced that Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk, owners of The Kitchen, had inked two leases to bring their upscale farm-to-table chain to Memphis.

In 2016, Memphians can expect The Kitchen to open in the new restaurant space overlooking expanded Patriot Lake, part of Shelby Farms’ $70 million Heart of the Park capital campaign. Prices at the 5,000-square foot bistro will hover around $45 a head, and ingredients will be sourced from the surrounding areas. The Kitchen will also operate a “grab and go” vending station in the visitors’ center for picnic fare at a more moderate price point.

Musk is also in talks with Shelby Farms about taking over the gardening space at the Agricenter. “Our hope for that is to convert it to an organic farm," Musk said. “We've never done farming before. If it turns out that we have to do it because nobody else wants to do it, then we'll figure it out.”
Laura Morris, Executive Director at Shelby Farms Conservancy, is excited to incorporate The Kitchen’s vision for healthy communities into the Park’s programming efforts.
“The best parks are more than places that people come to play,” she added. “The best parks make their cities better and they do it by improving health, helping people understand the importance of environmental sustainability, and creating a a giant front porch for people to play at together.”
At Crosstown Concourse, the Kitchen will have a 4,500-spot overlooking the 2.5 acre public plaza. This restaurant will still feature organic and natural food, but it will be sourced from Whole Foods and Chipotle pipelines as opposed to the smaller farms that surround the city. To be called The Kitchen Next Door, the food will be more pub friendly at $15 a head.
The Kitchen is a nationally renowned institution going into a couple of the most highly anticipated development projects in the city. The Kitchen will kick off Memphis’ burgeoning “foodie” culture, but what will it provide in the way of lasting change?

Usually, these concerns don’t come up in business ventures, but Musk is no ordinary business man. He’s been highly successful as an entrepreneur, having invested with his brother Elon in companies like PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. He still sits on boards for some of the nation’s major tech and food companies, but he’s focused now on the work he can do with his eight “community restaurants.”

For an ordinary business man, Memphis would not be the first choice for a restaurant expansion. New York City or Los Angeles would be better suited to The Kitchen’s organic, small-farm produced fare. Musk, however, is a social investor, and Memphis has a lot of opportunities for growth. 

“We're not coming to Memphis to open a couple of restaurants,” Musk said. “We're here, our goal, is community through food and that means a thriving community, and that means in the challenged areas as well.”
Musk’s confidence in improving the city’s food culture is reflected in his unique funding model. His team has been approved for $10 million in community bonds to bring up to five Kitchen restaurants to Memphis.

A group of local foundations have backed the low interest loan, and in return, they expect certain social outcomes for Memphis’ economy.
“The problem with being a social entrepreneur currently is you get locked in with everyone else,” Musk said. “If you're selling a bad product, like cigarettes, and you go to the bank for the loan you get the same terms than if you're trying to do really good things for food in Memphis. And that's not correct. I just don't think that's right.”
The specifics of the social outcomes are based on percentages, so it’s hard to predict what the initial impact will be. Musk hopes that Memphis’ growth will emulate what he’s achieved in Colorado where he opened the first Kitchen restaurant in Boulder in 2004. His restaurant group brings in $20 million in annual revenue, and $1.3 million of that goes into the pockets of local produce farmers and $2 million from relationships with small-scale bakers, fishmongers and the like. His presence in Colorado has utterly transformed the small-ag economy.
A percentage also goes back to The Kitchen Community, the nonprofit arm of the for-profit restaurant.

Musk isn’t a newcomer to Memphis, necessarily. He’s had boots on the ground for months while in the process of building and cultivating 100 free gardens in schools across the city. These Learning Gardens come with dedicated staff and curriculum to help teachers foster the next generation of farmers and food activists.
The Kitchen is expected to create 270 jobs when at full-scale. Musk puts an emphasis on living wage jobs with salaried employees with benefits and opportunities to develop life and work skills.
These social outcomes are not subject to change. When The Kitchen comes to your city, things happen, and Memphis is about to happen in a very big way. 

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.
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