You are here: Home / Blog / Shining Spots of Progress during a Pandemic

Shining Spots of Progress during a Pandemic

By Rachael Reagan, Kitchen 66 – As program manager of Kitchen 66, a shared-use incubator kitchen located along the stretch of Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I embrace the role of sideline cheerleader for food entrepreneurs. In our pop-up spaces located in Mother Road Market and our commercial kitchen facility, food entrepreneurs fill our program with incredible food and concepts that grow within the walls of a bustling food hall. Watching our community tackle every obstacle they face, I’ll be the first to rush the field with the rest of our team to celebrate every yard gained. When things don’t go as planned, I’ll join the team in the locker room (armed with snacks, obviously) to re-group and consult the playbook.

By Rachael Reagan, Kitchen 66

As program manager of Kitchen 66, a shared-use incubator kitchen located along the stretch of Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I embrace the role of sideline cheerleader for food entrepreneurs. In our pop-up spaces located in Mother Road Market and our commercial kitchen facility, food entrepreneurs fill our program with incredible food and concepts that grow within the walls of a bustling food hall. Watching our community tackle every obstacle they face, I’ll be the first to rush the field with the rest of our team to celebrate every yard gained. When things don’t go as planned, I’ll join the team in the locker room (armed with snacks, obviously) to re-group and consult the playbook.

Unfortunately, there’s not a playbook in the game that could prepare us, or anyone, for the current situation in which we find ourselves.

We’re no strangers to pivoting in the face of failure. We have had to adapt our own procedures to the uncertain climate and try to embrace the “new normal.”  For our commercial kitchen space, we’ve updated our cleaning policies and limited the number of companies in the facility.  Our Launch Class, a 12-week business training course for new food entrepreneurs, now meets weekly electronically with instructors and mentors. As much as we hate not being able to meet our cohort in person, we’ve been able to expand our instructor pool to include national industry experts and hold courses on e-commerce and website design––something we’ve never done before but will continue to keep in our curriculum.

Though we will have re-opened our commercial kitchen doors by the time you read this, there’s still a heavy shadow of uncertainty hanging over the food industry’s future. Today, the internet holds entire collections of well-researched articles outlining the impact and changes COVID-19 will force on different parts of our food system, and I certainly won’t add anything revolutionary to that part of this conversation. When this pandemic subsides, a very different food system and restaurant scene awaits us. While it undoubtedly will be filled with struggle, there’s also potential for shining spots of progress.

Recognizing Innovation in Adversity. As standard restaurant operations no longer became an option, Oklahoma gained a front row seat to the innovation and creativity that lies within every successful food entrepreneur––a seat we all at Kitchen 66 hold daily! Whether creating dishes to recreate at home with your family or simply providing you with some variety during your quarantine, restaurateurs and their hard-working employees hold the front lines to bring you delicious food.  The road to re-opening will be a slow one, and I hope we all remember the creativity and ingenuity of food workers and entrepreneurs and support them with our dollars in whatever form allowed under safety precautions and state mandates.

Local as the “New Normal.” While grocery store shelves slowly emptied and the full negative impact of the pandemic on small businesses made front page news, Oklahomans turned to their own backyard in search of food essentials. Farmers and ranchers equipped to handle online sales and deliveries have blossomed, leaving farmers without that knowledge, however, at an even greater disadvantage. With most farmers’ market seasons already behind schedule, I hope we, as a state, recognize the quality local food products Oklahoma proudly offers and make room in our lives to buy local and consider local an essential part of our own personal food systems.

The Bucks Stop Soon and What You Can Do About It. After weeks of social distancing and self-quarantining, most of us will breathe a sigh of relief when restrictions lift, grateful that a stressful, high-stakes lifestyle is behind us. For most entrepreneurs, however, the balance of profit and loss will continue to be as thin as it’s ever been. While grateful for the success of online sales and increased social media interactions, entrepreneurs share the concern that sales will inevitably begin to fall, and no one is certain when this bubble will pop. Though most of us look forward to the days of “normalcy,” some food entrepreneurs worry that is when the real struggle will begin.

Food entrepreneurs and workers are steadfast, creative and hardworking people in an industry always one crisis away from falling apart. If you’re in a position to safely reflect on the lessons we can learn from COVID-19, I hope some of those lessons are around the food you eat and who prepares it. I hope you remember the small farmer who sold you eggs in the midst of a crisis. I hope you remember the restaurant workers who prepared and delivered your food – potentially without health insurance. I hope you remember the entrepreneur behind the screen fulfilling your online order, wondering if it will be their last.

This pandemic highlighted the cracks in our food industry. While you as a consumer cannot solve it, you can do a lot to support those in the thick of it.