Cooking Up A Business Bonner Center Provides A Certified Kitchen Where Amateur Chefs Can Try To Create Money-Making Foods

Dressed in an apron and hairnet, Terry Stranahan stuffs handfuls of garlic into glass jars. He adds a hot pepper and covers them with a secret sauce.

When he’s done he’ll have concocted about 200 jars of “Dyn-o-myte Garlic” ready to distribute in stores from Boise to Sandpoint.

Stranahan’s “pickled food with an attitude” is one of about 25 specialty food products being whipped up in Sandpoint’s Bonner Business Center.

The center was built three years ago to help small businesses get started. The addition of the commercial kitchen Stranahan uses was something of an afterthought, but one that’s paying off.

“It’s doing much better than expected,” said center director Bob Larimer. “If you want to sell food products in Idaho they have to be prepared in a certified kitchen, and this is one of the few in the state.”

In fact, it’s the only commercial kitchen in a business incubator in all of Idaho. It’s drawing amateur cooks armed with family recipes from Rathdrum, Kellogg, and Newport, Wash.

Stranahan drives about 150 miles one-way from Avery, Idaho, to make his pickle and garlic products here.

“If this wasn’t here, I doubt I would be in business,” said the 51-year-old retired U.S. Forest Service worker.

Jack O’Brien and his wife, Elizabeth, own a cattle ranch south of Sandpoint. They decided to diversify two years ago and started growing raspberries.

“Once we grew them we had to figure out what to do with them. We decided to try and make jam,” O’Brien said.

The only place to do that was at Sandpoint’s business incubator, which has $165,000 worth of convection ovens, steam vats, mixers and walk-in coolers.

“This kitchen is a godsend as far as we are concerned,” said O’Brien. “We couldn’t afford to do this on our own, and there is no other place around here to produce food products.”

O’Brien’s first batch of jam won best new product in 1993 from the Idaho Specialty Foods Association. O’Brien’s company, Gem Berry Jams, now has a contract with Litehouse Salad Dressing to make huckleberry syrup and jam.

The O’Briens crank out about 36,000 jars of the sweet stuff annually.

Toni Crawford of Sandpoint started a chocolate company in the kitchen called Toni’s Edible Arts. Last year, she landed a contract with Nordstrom in San Francisco. Her chocolates, like most of the other incubator products, are distributed throughout Idaho and parts of Washington.

Business representatives from 10 other states have already toured the facility.

“Initially we envisioned people coming in with a few canning jars and ingredients. Now supplies are coming in on pallets,” Larimer said.

The kitchen is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an hourly fee.

Five caterers and 29 others now use the kitchen, making products like pie fillings, wild rice pancake mix, seasonings, barbecue sauce and salsa. A fledgling sandwich company, Philly Hanks, just started in the kitchen this week.

Crawford, O’Brien and Stranahan will pitch their products to QVC, a major cable television home shopping channel, this month. It could mean a national audience for their homemade treats, Larimer said.

“For years people told me they liked my pickles and garlic stuff and said I ought to do it commercially,” said Stranahan, adding in jest, “And I really hate them for that because it’s been a lot of work.”

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