For culinary visionaries, catering can be a dream career, but sometimes the lack of access to a commercial kitchen can stop them before they even start. This is a problem that Ty McDuffie, Founder and Owner of Raleigh-based Space-n-Thyme, wants to help solve.
When Ty McDuffie’s wife and sister-in-law decided they wanted to open their own catering company several years ago, he didn’t know the intricacies involved. For one, he learned that caterers are not permitted to operate from their home kitchens in North Carolina; they must use a commercial kitchen. When McDuffie attempted to find out more about what a caterer does if they don’t have access to a commercial kitchen, the Health Department told him they typically rent commercial kitchen space from a restaurant or church during off hours, but didn’t know any specifics beyond that.
“So instantly, I was like, ‘bing!’” McDuffie said. “An idea popped into my head that if I could become an intermediary between the people who needed kitchens and then the other people who have kitchens and they’re not being used fully, that would be a great service to offer.”
McDuffie put the idea on the back burner, though, as he focused on his day job as an inside sales account manager at Vanguard Software in Cary. Then a year and a half ago, while sitting in church on Sunday and letting his mind wander a bit, the idea came back and sparked McDuffie into action. After calling the Health Department and local commercial kitchens, McDuffie heard again about the huge need and opportunity for a platform like Space-n-Thyme.
Coming To Life
So while he’s toyed with the idea for Space-n-Thyme for years, McDuffie’s been working on it in earnest for around five months. He expects the website will launch in July, and a mobile app will follow shortly.
“Most people know somebody that’s a great cook who would love to cater, but they just don’t have access to do it legally,” McDuffie said. “Further, as I continued doing research, I learned that a lot of people, they do it anyway out of their home. That’s not safe and they can get into a lot of trouble for that, but they don’t feel as if they have any other opportunity.”
But the startup will not just target caterers. Food entrepreneurs of any kind will be able to utilize Space-n-Thyme to find commercial kitchens.
“I know a few who want to start subscription services, like subscription cookie services,” said McDuffie, “but they can’t do it right now.”
Space-n-Thyme has various advisers, including Triangle-based angel investor Jeff Strief; NC State Business Counselor Talitha Batts; Sherard Griffin, the Co-Founder of Durham’s Gain Ground Foundation; and Bill Spruill, the Co-Founder and CEO of Raleigh’s Global Data Consortium (and GrepBeat Q&A subject). McDuffie said he also has two interested potential investors.
The startup will vet the food entrepreneurs and caterers who want to rent kitchen space by requiring a ServSafe certification, $2 million in liability insurance and an orientation with the kitchen owner they are renting from, which Space-n-Tyme will also benefit.
Early Inventory Lined Up
Currently, McDuffie said Space-n-Thyme has a verbal agreement with a restaurant group that owns 10 restaurants, nine of them in North Carolina. When McDuffie originally reached out to this restaurant group with a survey, he received a positive message regarding the usefulness of a platform like Space-n-Thyme.
“I think he actually said something to the effect of, ‘it would be awesome if we could make money when we’re not open’ because if it’s not making money, it’s just a liability for you,” McDuffie said. “It’s not being used. It’s not like you have to rebuild it because somebody else used it.”
The startup plans to take 12% of the rent every hour. McDuffie’s goal is to begin with 6% of the restaurant businesses in the state and move Space-n-Thyme to a national level where it can eventually make an impact with food entrepreneurs more broadly.
Says McDuffie, “I think it’s going to empower a lot of people that want to start food-related businesses and that will probably be successful with them, help empower them to actually get going.”