Culture of cooking
Jason Jackson's love of making chocolate began in his grandmother's kitchen, where she would whip together sugary delights every holiday for family and friends.
Those tasty treats had a big impact on Jackson, leading him to later pivot from a career in medicine to follow his passion and start his own business — Jason's Artisan Chocolates.
And while he was able to launch the business on his own, it's thanks to a restaurant incubator in the heart of Rockwood that his business has expanded and he's looking forward to moving into a brick and motor location.
"When you are a business getting started on a shoestring budget, it's nice having people help," Jackson said.
Jason's Artisan Chocolates is just one of the food businesses that is thriving at the Sunrise Center Kitchen, 18901 E. Burnside St. The commercial kitchen, operated by the Rockwood CDC in a building rented from the city of Gresham, offers amenities and advice for up-and-coming food entrepreneurs.
On Friday, Feb. 1, a celebration was held in recognition of the expansion of the kitchen area, meaning it will be able to serve even more businesses.
"It's our joy to get to see what it looks like for cultures from around the world to gather together," said Brad Ketch, president and CEO of the Rockwood CDC.
The event was a chance for the community to visit the new space and try some of the food being made in the kitchen. They needed to expand the commercial kitchen, because they were finding themselves having to turn people away due to a lack of space.
The room used to be filled with junk. It was cluttered, unsanitary, didn't connect to the main building and had no lights. But dozens of volunteers — including many of the food makers — spent months transforming the space. Jackson took a break from his chocolate making to help hang sheetrock.
The new space is for production, shipping and packaging. It will be used for times when a food maker needs to put together a large order. One example is the local vegan sandwich caterer, who often needs to put together 800 sandwiches at one time.
Before the expansion, the kitchen was serving between 15 to 20 makers, but now they expect to double that capacity.
"The need and demand was there," said Willie Chambers, kitchen manager.
Popi's Pastries made its way to the Sunrise Kitchen as a way to escape a brutal commute.
Owner Fernanda Lay, who lives in Rockwood, was driving out to a kitchen in the shadow of the Ross Island Bridge, near Southeast Powell Boulevard and Southeast Ninth Avenue, to make her authentic Brazilian appetizers.
"When you save on time, you save on money," Lay said. "I love this kitchen."
For Khadro Abdi, it was a desire for space that led her to the kitchen, which she joined in 2017.
The owner of Alleamin Products, LLC, pivoted from running a Somalian restaurant to focus on operating a catering business in Rockwood. Now she whips up Somalian dishes like chicken with rice and sauce, injera (flatbread) with vegetable soup, vegetarian sambusas (stuffed pastries) and many other delicacies that aren't easy to come by in Gresham.
"I'm glad to have the space for my stuff — before I had just a small space," Abdi said. "They are good people here, we all know each other."
That connectivity allows for a blending of ideas and tastes that otherwise would remain siloed. Jackson was inspired to create an Asian Chocolate Bar, with goji berries, hazelnuts, coconut and organic sprouted rice for crunch, thanks to his proximity to Asian food makers.
"Without this place, I never would have come up with that idea," Jackson said. "We are able to work with a variety of other food makers, able to brainstorm."
The Sunrise Center's Commercial Kitchen also pushes back against the struggles many burgeoning restaurants face. Usually 80 percent of new restaurants fail.
"A lot of businesses and entrepreneurs of color have a vision and concept, but don't have stuff on the front end to make it successful," Chambers said.
The whole Sunrise Center is filled with services, from being a gathering place to English classes and legal advice for immigrants and refugees. But in the kitchen, the focus is on removing the stress new businesses must deal with.
They offer discounts to Rockwood residents, and have micro grants to offset the first year of rent — of which Jackson was a recipient.
"The Sunrise Center lets us focus on making good chocolate," Jackson said.
And that also allows the food makers to give back to the community. Jackson made and donated hundreds of his famous chocolate flowers with Oreo cookies inside for a Valentine's Ball hosted by Play-Grow-Learn, which hosts camps for homeless and sheltered children.
"Jason was great to work with, and his chocolates brightened the day for those kids," said Anthony Bradley, Play-Grow-Learn executive director.
Contact info for up-and-coming businesses in the Sunrise Center Kitchen:
Jason's Artisan Chocolates
Alleamin Products, LLC
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