As CEO and Founder, Sarb launched Commissary Connect in 2012 after struggling to find a suitable shared kitchen space for his first entrepreneurial venture, a food truck called the Soho Road Naan Kebab. Although he loved running the food truck and learning to cook in a traditional tandoor oven, Sarb was frustrated by not having the ability to rent out a kitchen space and only pay for specific equipment that he used.
He saw this as a huge gap in the industry, but also as an opportunity. He was determined to fill that need by designing a commercial kitchen based on a shared-use technology where food entrepreneurs could rent a space where costs were adjusted on a case-by-case basis depending on which equipment was used and for how long.
However, Sarb did not want to not just be a landlord. His vision went far beyond renting cooking stations—he wanted to create a food business incubator that collaboratively connected people in the food industry all across the entire province. He envisioned a space where food entrepreneurs would become members and connect with each other while growing their businesses.
From the beginning, he was determined to play a significant role in creating a resilient and thriving food ecosystem in British Columbia. In 2017, he opened a second location a few doors down from the original kitchen in East Vancouver. This space was specifically designed to meet the needs of bakers and others focused on sweeter preparations.
By 2019, Commissary Connect was ready to grow again and a third location was constructed on Laurel Street in Vancouver. Built to the highest level of food safety standards, this kitchen is bigger than the other two—catering specifically to food producers who are ready to scale their production and grow their business.
The Laurel Street location is also the first Shared-Use Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certified site in Canada, and BC’s first Regional Food Hub and Pilot and Demonstration Site for the Provincial Food Hub Network. The BC Food Hub Network (Network) is designed to support growth and innovation in the processing sector through improved industry access to facilities, equipment, technology, technical services and business resources.
Today, through a state-of-the-art approach to shared kitchen spaces, Commissary Connect members have access to around the clock dedicated workstations, shared office space, and modern appliances with affordable rates based on a “pay-for-what-you-use” philosophy. Driving all of these innovations is patent-pending technology that enables online booking, tracks equipment usage and depreciation, and powers Wi-Fi-enabled door locks, all in a collaborative and supportive atmosphere. Data collection capabilities are also embedded directly into every aspect of operations.
Commissary Connect’s mission now focuses on connecting local food through technology, community, support and resources. Currently there are close to 50 members at various stages of their food business in all three Commissary Connect locations.
However, since opening their kitchens in 2013 to members, over 200 small business owners have used the facilities and many have had the extra benefit of tapping into Sarb and his team’s business expertise through their Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. For most, this has meant expanding their business models, but for some it has also meant shifting what they do and how they do it. The goal has been, and continues to be, to help everyone succeed. Sometimes that is getting them to the next level and at other times, it means helping to identify an exit strategy.
The overall scope for Sarb’s vision for Commissary Connect is always expanding. Next on their road to expansion is to create a viable way to connect food hubs and commissaries all across the province to each other, while also eventually increasing that reach nationwide.