By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
A church considering a commercial kitchen finds out quickly it’s a big undertaking. They must navigate a multitude of equipment and construction requirements, plus liabilities, staffing and inspection considerations.
For starters, it helps to understand the basic differences between a commercial kitchen and a warming (residential-style) setup. Ernest C. (Terry) Biglow, III, AIA — managing principal at CDH Partners, Inc., in Marietta, GA — often leads church clients through this complex territory.
“Commercial kitchens are subject to inspections for compliance with the local health department, and the number of meals served might influence the frequency of those inspections,” he explains. “On the equipment side, anything more than a microwave could be considered a commercial kitchen in some areas of the U.S.”
On the intended use side of the equation, Eric MacInerney, principal and project architect at Heimsath Architects in Austin, TX, says three kinds of activities put a church kitchen on the health department’s radar as a commercial operation: serving a day school, serving the homeless, and selling food. “These create a situation where there’s public trust in the food.”
Since many churches will want to offer these services, a commercial kitchen becomes the logical choice. Once that decision is made, the issue of vent hoods and exhaust systems isn’t far behind. There’s a reason: They’re expensive — and non-negotiable.
All the bells and whistles
The primary purpose of an exhaust hood over a commercial range is to remove the combustion gases of the more powerful burners, according to the experts at Comstock-Castle Stove Co., based in Quincy, IL.
“A properly sized commercial hood needs to be physically matched to the equipment underneath it, as well as for the BTU rating of that equipment,” advises the company’s website. “Generally, the hood must extend a certain distance left to right and front to back over the equipment under it.” Plus, the fan motor must remove a certain amount of air (measured in cubic feet per minute) in relation to the BTU rating, as determined by local commercial build code.
From a cost perspective, Ogden, UT-based Building God’s Way (BGW) founder Dan Cook says yearly fire suppression, insurance and cleaning costs associated with a type-2 vent hoods (common in commercial kitchens) range from $6,000 to $8,000.
As Libby Shoop, marketing manager at Indianapolis-based C&T Design and Equipment Co., Inc., points out, aesthetics also matter. “Beautiful church design doesn’t lend itself to ugly exhaust systems, so the vapors that usually escape through the roof might need to be rerouted to go out the side of the building. That can add cost.”
Additionally, BGW’s Cook says a commercial kitchen can have three times as many sinks and/or dishwashing systems as a warming kitchen. “All those sinks — coupled with a walk-in cooler or freezer — typically occupy 500 to 1,000 square feet.”
CDH Partners’ Biglow says most jurisdictions require plumbing drain lines in commercial kitchens to be routed to a grease trap outside the building. “Typically, these are a minimum of 1,500-gallon, in-ground tanks designed to trap grease in the water before it gets into municipal sewer lines,” he explains. “The size of the required trap is based on the number of meals that are planned per week, but this can be an expensive item.”
All about functionality
Beyond equipment, design experts focus on flow — on one of the most important, and hardest to achieve, elements.
“Where dishes, pots and pans are washed, where they’re stored, and how they get back to where they’re being used is just one aspect to consider,” explains Darrell Devore, senior project manager at Churches by Daniels Construction in Broken Arrow, OK. Other factors include: how much room is necessary between work stations, where to position the pantry, how far away the walk-in is and who you have to pass to get there and back. “Flow — or the lack of it — can make or break a busy kitchen.”
Positioning the cooler is one flow-related challenge. According to Pamela Goldstein, vice president of operations at Nevada-based Humidity Control Systems — maker of CoolerKING, an all-natural mineral filter — the cooler should be located as far away as possible from heat-generating appliances, such as stoves and dishwashers. “Heat and moisture enters the cooler when the door is opened, causing the equipment to work harder and use more energy to maintain proper food storage temperatures,” she explains.
Space planning is easier to do in a brand-new commercial kitchen. For existing setups, her company’s filters are designed to absorb heat and water vapor, resulting in lower temperatures and less energy use. “The filters then release purified moisture back into the air as needed, creating an ideal food storage environment,” Goldstein says.
More and more the norm
At this point, a commercial church kitchen sounds like a major undertaking. But, it can also be a beneficial long-term ministry — and monetary — investment. Plenty of churches have figured that out, and not just big ones.
At BGW, for instance, Cook estimates about 98 percent of church clients have opted to build commercial kitchens. “The size of the church is mostly irrelevant,” he adds.
Jack Berry, architectural manager for Perrysburg, OH-based Midwest Church Construction, agrees. In his experience, the kitchen a church builds depends more on ministry than money. “In some churches, food is a big deal. In others, not so much,” he says.
Likewise, Stuart Powell, CEO and president of Oklahoma-based Cookshack — offering smoker ovens, pellet grills and more — says the type of kitchen his church clients build is driven almost exclusively by mission. “A congregation that wants to serve meals to the homeless will certainly want a commercial kitchen,” he says. “A church that wants to do potluck meals once a month will likely opt for a warming setup.”
A self-sustaining ministry
To offset the construction and maintenance costs of a commercial kitchen, church leaders are honing in on their revenue potential. First Baptist Church of Orlando is a kitchen-as-revenue-stream case study. Marcus White, director of hospitality at the church and executive director of Global Association of Christian Hospitality Professionals (GACHP), manages a full-service banquet hall that seats 1,000, as well as a 15,000-square-foot commercial kitchen. As many as 40 staff and volunteers can be working in it at once.
Outside groups or people aren’t allowed to use the kitchen; everyone must use the staff in place. “We generate $1.5 million in sales a year from our kitchen setup,” White shares. “It’s a self-sustaining ministry.”
The cost of going commercial
The price tag for building a commercial kitchen varies quite a bit based on design. It becomes even more difficult to estimate when a kitchen is just one part of a large construction project. Even so, design experts offer some ballpark ranges, drawing on their own projects.
Ernie Archuleta, project administrator at BGW, says it costs $75,000 to $100,000 more to build a commercial kitchen than a warming kitchen.
Churches by Daniels’ Devore recalls a large commercial kitchen project designed to feed more than 1,000 churchgoers at each sitting.
“The equipment alone ran more than $600,000,” he says. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, he helped a church remodel its existing kitchen into a commercial setup. Food service space was doubled, and all-new equipment was purchased — except the dishwasher, dish carts and racks. That project was completed, turn-key, for about $350,000.
C&T Design and Equipment’s Shop says her firm’s commercial church kitchen projects range from $100,000 and $200,000. “Most accommodate separate banquet facilities,” she points out.
While Cookshack’s Powell concedes the price of a commercial kitchen can vary greatly, he typically works with budgets between $250,000 and $500,000.
Finally, when built as one part of a large-scale construction project, CDH Partners’ Biglow says a commercial kitchen can add $100,000 to $250,000 to the bottom line.
Making the case for commercial
For a church construction committee, those are some big numbers. Even so, design experts agree that commercial kitchens are fantastic investments.
“In my opinion, the cost difference doesn’t warrant building a warming kitchen instead,” asserts GACHP’s Marcus White. “In fact, it’s sometimes more expensive to run a warming kitchen because everyone thinks they ‘own’ it, but no one takes responsibility for it. That kind of use takes its toll on equipment and supplies, but commercial kitchen fosters a sense of accountability.”