In one of the most innovative concepts ever to hit Music City, Citizen Kitchens is blazing a trail for local chefs, food artisans, food trucks and entrepreneurs. Nearly six years after its inception, the community kitchen and “food business incubator” has become the go-to coworking space for an extensive number of small food businesses, offering a production space for some of the city’s favorite pop-up vendors and culinary purveyors without the overhead costs and long-term commitment. We’re catching up with Citizen Kitchens Founder Laura Wilson to find out more, as well as highlighting three of the Citizen Kitchens’ members who are flexing their creative muscles at the facility.

Mariah Ragland and her daughter, in front of the Citizen Kitchens wall

Citizen Kitchens opens doors for chefs and food artisans throughout Music City. Here, Mariah Raglan, owner of Radical Rabbit, is all smiles with her daughter Rylan. Image: Provided

With locations in both West Nashville and East Nashville as well as a new annex kitchen that opened in January, the Citizen Kitchens’ locations are bustling zones of culinary creativity. At any given moment, onions hit the frying pan, flour is sifted, and pastry dough is rolled and shaped into something divine. The smells wafting through the buildings are enough to make your stomach growl and your mouth water, even if you’ve just finished eating a three-course meal. At the center of it all is founder Laura Wilson, whose cutting-edge concept of a “food business incubator” adds another layer of depth to the already progressive Nashville food and restaurant scene. “We provide all of the infrastructures for a startup food business,” she says. “We maintain all of the licensures and provide consulting, linen services, cleaning services, cleaning chemicals and properly maintained equipment. Food businesses can try out new concepts that may otherwise be a reach, and the cost of an idea that doesn’t work is much less.”

In a sense, the kitchen can thank the Nashville Farmers’ Market for its start, given that Laura came up with the idea while running its Grow Local Kitchen. “So many of the vendors there wanted to use it as a production space,” she says. “There just weren’t a lot of commissary kitchen options in Nashville.” She partnered with several others to work on a commissary kitchen model, and Citizen Kitchens West was born. By 2017, she partnered with Fresh Hospitality to begin executing the East Side project in Hunters Station. These days, she has more than 180 small food businesses working out of her venues, and the esteemed roster includes fan favorites Hot Sauce Nashville, Clawson’s Pub & Deli, and one of the kitchen’s longest-running members, Chivanada. “Some folks use us as a stepping stone to their own brick-and-mortar,” she says, “but many food trucks and businesses choose us as their permanent operations hub.”

Local greats who’ve gotten their start at Citizen Kitchens include Village Bakery + Provisions and Brightside Bakeshop, and Laura is particularly proud of the service- and donation-based businesses like Feeding Nashville. From pretzels and crepes to homemade pasta and fresh cheese, Citizen Kitchens is ground zero for every sweet and savory food concept you can imagine.

RELATED: Where to Find the Best Fresh-Baked Bread in Nashville

3 Local Food Concepts Based at Citizen Kitchens

CaityPies Bakery & BBQ

CaityPies Bakery & BBQ Owner Cait Guszkowski had no idea her love for baking would eventually evolve from a therapeutic hobby into a full-time business. “I moved to Nashville in 2016 for a finance job and used baking as therapy — both to make new friends in a town where I had no connections and to help me mitigate my own disordered eating challenges,” she says. Lacking fulfillment in her day job, she began researching how to open and operate a bakery, and the rest is history. She left her “other” job in March 2018 to become a full-time baker, starting exclusively with small-batch hand pies and growing from there. In July 2018, her husband brought his Texas-style barbecue into the mix, and the CaityPies story gained a plot twist. Now, her menu boasts everything from Midwest-influenced pies and baked goods to smoked meats.

Cait stumbled upon the Citizen Kitchens concept while ambitiously researching her business plan, and she began working nights at the West Nashville location. In August 2019, CaityPies had the distinction of being the first business to work out of the East Kitchen at Hunters Station. “We only had a few solid months of production before we were hit with the double whammy of the ‘tornademic,’” she says. “Piling onto the stress we had all been through waiting for the kitchen to open, it sometimes feels like we will never see normalcy again in any of the dreams we each set out to experience. It’s been very helpful to be in this shared space where we can learn through one another’s experiences, support each other as we grow, and remind ourselves that there are tons of ways to measure our success as we survive these tough times.”

Citizen Kitchens helps them on that journey, providing a safe and clean space from which to work, along with essential amenities such as ovens, ranges, fryers, blast freezers, freezer walk-ins, and more. According to Cait, part of the draw is that the Citizen Kitchens team also promotes a healthy work culture and continues to help businesses navigate each stage of development — no matter the size or level of production. Cait’s long-term goal is to open a freestanding bakery and restaurant in the next year or so, and Citizen Kitchens has put her well on her way. These days, she’s utilizing the space for roughly 40 hours each week. “It will be bittersweet when the day comes for us to move along,” she says. “We take up a lot of space and time and hope to free that up for other small businesses when our foundation stabilizes.” Until then, you can find Cait at Citizen Kitchens, whipping up everything from bourbon-glazed apple hand pies to her best-selling sea-salted chocolate chip cookies, which she currently sells at Citizen Market, Richland Farmers’ Market and her own website, caitypies.com.

A slice of lemon meringue pie from CaityPies, made at Citizen Incubator Kitchens

A slice of lemon meringue pie from CaityPies Bakery & BBQ will have you skipping dinner and going straight to dessert. Image: Rachel Growden

Radical Rabbit

Pop-up concept Radical Rabbit officially began in Mariah Ragland’s former apartment in 2018. Inspired by several factors, including the animal liberation movement, she began pursuing a lifetime career of cooking vegan soul food and sharing it. “At Radical Rabbit, the focus is on providing progressive, natural and revolutionary food to all people,” she says. She specializes in working with jackfruit, which offers an alternative to meat. “Since it’s a fruit, it has a lot more benefits,” says Mariah. “It is also very delicious, and we smother it in different sauces like Carolina Gold, lemon pepper and jerk sauce.”

These days, Mariah runs her operation out of Citizen Kitchens East, and she’s there nearly every day. It’s a far cry from her early days of selling food out of her apartment. “I would have people come into the apartment to pick up their food, but after neighbor complaints, I had to figure out a new method,” she says. She initially set up pick-up locations around town and sold out of her trunk, but pretty soon, the demand called for a more permanent solution. She found space in Citizen Kitchens West. “I was searching around for kitchen spaces to rent in Nashville, and I stumbled across Citizen Kitchens’ website,” she says. “I heard a lot about Laura and did my research. I knew that she was a powerhouse of a woman and that she was someone I needed to be around.”

Citizen Kitchens became her saving grace. “We cook out of Citizen Kitchens two days out of the week, but I’m there to [get] food out of the cooler space almost every day,” she says. “The benefits of using the space are endless. It really takes your business up a notch and allows you to take on more business without a huge financial burden. The pricing is also cool — you can pay what you want depending on if you need cooler storage, freezer space or dry storage, and you only pay for the hours you’re there. They even offer [silverware and dish washing], which is a big benefit to my company because I don’t have to hire an extra person. They have an amazing person already there.” Moreover, having Citizen Market directly above the kitchen facility makes it easy for Mariah to get her food out to the community, which is exactly what she wanted. “It’s one of the best opportunities I’ve had as a pop-up concept,” she says. You can find more information on Radical Rabbit and where to purchase Mariah’s vegan soul food at radrab.com.

Mariah Ragland of Radical Rabbit, holding a jackfruit

Mariah Ragland of Radical Rabbit holds up one of her favorite ingredients — a jackfruit. Image: LeXander Bryant

RELATED: 14 Local Vegan Dishes You’ve Got to Try

Cocorico Cuisine

Moving to Nashville from her native country of France in 2016, Elodie Habert quickly discovered she was homesick for the authentic French cuisine she’d grown up with. After immersing herself in English classes and making connections within the community, she began making homemade baguettes to sell at local farmers’ markets. Not long after, she and a friend joined forces to launch Cocorico Cuisine — an avenue to bring beautiful, classic French food to Music City. “What began as a side hustle turned into a full-time job for me in August 2019, thanks to the community’s response and excitement for our food,” Elodie says. Using seasonal ingredients and recipes, she offers everything from baguette sandwiches to salted butter caramel. “Our products are baked daily, with l’amour and from scratch,” she says. “What we do is simple; we transport you to my home country with your first bite of one of our handmade goods!”

Though she began baking out of her own kitchen, Elodie outgrew it in no time. In search of professional kitchen space, she moved her operations to Citizen Kitchens East in October of 2019. “I was looking for a fully equipped kitchen to grow my business,” she says, “and I heard Laura Wilson speaking at a food symposium in the Nashville area. I thought Citizen Kitchens could be the perfect spot for me, and I toured the kitchen the next week.” It was a match made in heaven. Elodie not only found the ideal place in which to cook, but she also discovered a community of fellow chefs and artisans to offer camaraderie and culinary like-mindedness. “We support, challenge and collaborate to learn, improve and thrive,” she says of the Citizen Kitchens atmosphere. “It’s such a great opportunity to meet inspiring people in the food industry while growing your own small business. I’m really thankful to be part of Citizen Kitchens!” She also touts the benefits of having 24/7 access to a professional kitchen and equipment as well as storage rental and incredible on-site staff support. She currently uses the kitchen six days a week and sells at Citizen Market and local farmers’ markets such as Richland Park, 12South, East Nashville and Farmin’ in the Hall. Additionally, Elodie partners with local restaurants and grocery stores to sell her products, and she does catering for private and corporate events. You can find out more about her delicious French cuisine at cocoricocuisine.com.

Elodie Habert of Cocorico holding a baguette sandwich made in Citizen Incubator Kitchens

Founder of Cocorico Cuisine, Elodie Habert makes her delicious baguette sandwiches out of Citizen Kitchens. Image: Chrissy Nix

Eat up, Nashville! If you’re looking to find some of the delicious items mentioned above or explore more of what the Citizen Kitchens vendors have to offer, you can visit Citizen Market, located at 975 Main St. Suite 105, Nashville, TN 37206. The market is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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