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When Lani Dy moved to the United States from Indonesia in 1981, she had little more than the two suitcases she brought with her and knew just a few English words.
"When I came here, I only knew how to say, 'thank you,' and 'how are you' -- it was horrible," Dy said with a laugh.
"When I came here, I went to Cal State (Stanislaus) in Turlock, way out in the Modesto area. There were a lot of Indonesians out there, and when we hung around, they don't want to speak English, but I thought, 'How are we going to improve our English, then?'
"So, after I graduated from Modesto Junior College, I went to Brigham Young University in Utah, and that's where I learned my English," she said.
It's a work ethic that eventually helped her open her own commercial and residential real estate management company -- Dy Associates in Oakland.
Now, she and her husband, Nick Watchorn, are working to also provide a place where fledgling food service businesses can get their start at the three commercial kitchens the couple owns in Oakland and Ashland.
The goal at Kitchen 1014 is to lower overhead costs for startup food preparers and vendors by providing a place where they can lease space in a commercial kitchen and use the equipment there.
Because the commercial kitchens are inspected routinely and are covered under Alameda County environmental health department-issued permits, tenants avoid having to foot those costs and take on those liabilities, Dy said.
"We are open, actually, to help build a small community and help them get off the ground," Dy said during a visit to the Kitchen 1014 location in Ashland, at the corner of Elgin and East 14th streets.
"Rent is expensive, if you want to open your own restaurant -- you still have to pay rent whether you do well or not, and you still have your employee costs. But here, if you decide that you cannot make it, you can just give me a 30-day notice and then go," she said.
The nearly 2,000-square-foot Ashland kitchen, at 16695 E. 14th St., opened in March and is the company's newest location. The other two fully leased kitchens are both in Oakland, one on MacArthur Boulevard above Interstate 580 and the other on Fruitvale Avenue next to Fruitvale BART.
Plans to create Kitchen 1014 began in early 2014, when one of the couple's properties, a former Fruitvale warehouse that once housed an auto body repair shop and window screen replacement business, became available after a tenant's plans for a beer garden and pizza restaurant fell through.
By then, the couple said they were looking to take on a side project.
"We were looking at what to do with the space ... and what we liked was the idea of setting up a small community market, so we started building out 12 separate little kitchenettes or stalls where they could sell products from," recalled Watchorn, a retired police sergeant from Tasmania, Australia.
"Unfortunately, we got a very poor response from that, but when we were around the farmers markets, people were saying that there was a need for commercial kitchens because there weren't enough of them around," he said.
This is particularly important for many food vendors, since the Alameda County environmental health department requires food and beverage vendors to "prepare and/or store food in a commercial kitchen" before any sales, according to the county department's website.
After doing some research, the couple wasted little time and demolished the warehouse and community market area they built. Within months, they had construction plans drawn up for a new commercial kitchen on the site. It opened in March 2015.
"During the first two months, we were testing and had no idea what we were doing," Dy said, laughing.
"We had a beautiful kitchen, people were coming and we interviewed them. At the end, after four months, we were full, because the kitchen was so big, beautiful and clean," she said.
In January, the couple opened the second Kitchen 1014 location in Oakland and had it fully leased soon afterward to an undisclosed food and tech company.
Meanwhile, plans were already in the works to open the third Kitchen 1014 location in Ashland to keep up with the growing demand for commercial kitchen space.
In all, at least five different food preparers and vendors, who declined to be named, use the Kitchen 1014 space in Ashland and come in throughout the day and night to do their craft.
"When we get someone who requires all the ovens, then we block out that time for them. Otherwise it's a shared kitchen, which means someone's using the oven, someone else is preparing and someone else is packaging, so they rotate around the equipment," Watchorn said.
"It's interesting, because they're very protective of what their recipes are, so some even block themselves off to work when no one else is around," he said.
The tenants who use the commercial kitchen space are mixed and often include caterers looking for additional space and startups testing out new products and recipes.
"There are people who are using restaurant (kitchens), but they're really restricted in the hours that they can use it and it can be a really small space, so they're looking to expand, and we can accommodate them here," Watchorn said.
Contact Darin Moriki at 510-293-2480 or follow him at Twitter.com/darinmoriki.
If You're Interested:
Who: Kitchen 1014
Where: 16695 E. 14th St., Ashland