USI commissary kitchen is where West Seattle food dreams come true
Many people love to cook and for some that passion has led them first to an avocation, then the pursuit of something bigger.
That's a primary reason that USI Kitchen Rental has been around in the West Seattle triangle for so long. It's a commissary/kitchen rental space that is home to some remarkable local food providers that are surprising in their variety and scale.
The companies that rent space there at 4611 37th SW include caterers, BBQ makers, food trucks, candy makers, tea makers, pot pie bakers, coffee roasters and more.
They have 3 different levels of kitchen rental at the facility.
1. Full Time = With key access, come & go as you please, use all equipment, and storage
2. Part Time = No key, access during business hours only, equipment restrictions, and no storage
3. Hourly = No key, access during business hours only, equipment restrictions, pay by the hour, no storage
It's run by Claiborne D. Bell the business and was run by his mother and father Samuel Bell & Belinda Butler-Bell for two decades. After getting a degree in Regional Economics he joined the company in 2008 "for six months" and has been there ever since.
USI lets companies use their extensive array of equipment and kitchen space for an agreed upon time to come in and prepare their foods. They have three different levels of rental to choose from so no matter what size company you have they can accommodate you at a fair price. USI Kitchen Rental also serves as a distribution point for some companies like The Pot Pie Factory where orders can be picked up by consumers or delivery services.
Bell said he loves helping small companies find their feet and get established, some moving on to their own brick and mortar space. "We had about five more companies operating out of here before the pandemic but some were restaurant suppliers and when that business went away, they were forced stop. Some of that is coming back now as these companies have shifted business models and as restaurants are opening again," Bell explained.
Chef Patrick Fagan in back here is the driving force at Green City Kitchens. Photo by Patrick Robinson.
Kombucha Tea from the Kombucha Company in production in large jars. Photo by Patrick Robinson
Seattle Sorbets come in a variety flavor combinations. Photo courtesy Seattle Sorbets
Here's a bit about who is producing food there.
Precise catering has been serving the Seattle area for over 25 years with all types of gourmet catering; weddings, corporate events, and everything in between.
Green City Catering makes retail grab and go meals, cakes, pies, cheese cakes, and many other great tasting food items found in many local retail outlets. Tenant of HSI for 8 years.
Michael Poole uses the kitchen facility to do chocolate and macaron classes. He also sells hand made and hand painted chocolates and macarons on his website.
Girls Gone BBQ has been a tenant for 5 years and she has gone from a one woman operation to a crew of 5-6 people during her busy time in the summer. She does a lot of corporate catering and has been a vendor at the West Seattle Farmers Market for over 5 years.
Gerardo owns and operates multiple mexican cuisine food trucks with his brother primarily serving construction sites but they also doing catering for large scale events of 1000-1500 people.
Yo Yo and her Husband Tim have ben tenants for 3 years and they own and operate a really good Teriyaki food truck. They also do corporate catering
Christina was an accomlished pastry maker at Café Besalu before she started her own business. She was voted one of the top 5 pastry makers in Seattle Magazine in 2018. She also started as a one woman operation and now has 2 employees. She is opening a cafe in the Central District of Seattle in October.
Renee has been making world class almond roca for years and she finally, after years of her family telling her to, started her own company. Renee sells her almond roca at farmers markets and it can be found in some tasting rooms in the Woodinville wine area.
Chip Jacob makes Resveratrol lozenges that he believes have healing properties. Resveratrol is a natural plant polyphenol found in red wine. It has been shown to mimic effects of caloric restriction, exert anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects, and affect the initiation and progression of a variety of diseases.
Sonia Carlson started Sifted Tea less than a year ago. They get their husks from organic cacao farmers based in Ecuador. They dry roast cacao beans in the warm sun, hand sorting to keep only the best quality. The husks are carefully separated from the nib after being roasted to perfection. Their cacao tea carries high levels of cacao butter and antioxidants.
Lance Leasure has been roasting custom coffee blends at the kitchen for less than a year. He makes some of the best coffee in Seattle, offering custom blends to select customers.
Chris Burris is from Texas so he knows BBQ, he will talk to you about BBQ from its origins to the present day. He is on his way to Texas right now to pick up a bigger smoker capable of smoking 37 briskets at the same time.
Chef Logan Niles has been a tenant since February. She got mentioned by the Seattle Times and her orders went through the roof. She needed to scale up so she started renting kitchen space here and hired about 4-5 people. The pandemic doesn’t seem to have had much affect on her business.
Jeanette Macias & Lyzbeth Bartolome are two California girls that moved to Seattle and have started a Kombucha company. They are very knowledgeable about Kombucha and how it helps stomach health. Their most popular flavor is Purple Reign. They are in about 4 farmers markets and adding more as things open up.
This is the food company owned and run by Claiborne D. Bell, USI's owner. They produce a variety of flavors including Raspberry Merlot, Coconut, Mango Sunset, Champagne Orange, Blueberry Zinfandel, Blackberry Cabernet, Tequila Lime and more. The sorbets can be found at Metropolitan Markets and online aat WestSeattleLocalFoods.com.
And one of the newest food makers on the premises is Jet City Beignet whose southern pastry creations can be found at two pop ups each week on Thursdays and Sundays at the USI Kitchen Rental location.
Products from all these companies can be found on a website just recently launched called West Seattle Local Foods
Gourmet art piece chocolates from Hot Chocolat. Photo by Patrick Robinson
Hot Chocolat is a rising star
One tenant at USI really stands out for reasons almost too numerous to mention. Chef Michael Poole is a 39 year veteran Seattle Firefighter whose service to the city took him all over the area but he's a West Seattle resident. When he was a fledgling in the department he got his first transfer by telling the Captain he could cook even though that was only partially true. Still, he threw himself into the task and taught himself the ways and means of feeding a hungry crew. His family upbringing was always around food and he recalled some of those lessons but he found he had a real passion for it and set his sights on professional achievement. Even as he was being promoted in the Department, he would put in extra hours throughout the year so he could take 3 months off every year to go to Paris and attend the most famous Culinary Academy in the world, Le Cordon Bleu.
Though the course takes 9 months he could only spare three per year so for the next four years he went back. That became a tradition and he's since been there more than 20 times. Along the way he would take more classes, refine his skills and expand them, doing the occasional short term apprenticeship and thus also grew his love of teaching. If you ask him about these experiences you are likely to hear dozens of stories about stern chefs and how he kept expanding his repertoire of skills. He's spent time cooking Jamaican cuisine at street fairs, and branched off into catering but his classes, held at USI which are hands on for around 8 students. The cost is $85 for a three hour training. Covid 19 forced him to shut down so he reopened his temporarily closed online store for gourmet chocolates and macarons and orders grew exponentially. He sells them in five and twelve piece boxes, each piece, a unique shape and flavor. All of them are literally airbrushed individually meaning each one is a work of art.
Believe it or not he is still ambitious and said,"What I'd love to do become an ambassador for one of the world's largest chocolate makers such as Callebaut or Valrona. "I'm a lifelong learner," he said.
Chef Michael Poole is the owner of Hot Chocolat. The name comes from combination of his firefighting career and love of chocolate making.
Photo by Patrick Robinson
Each chocolate piece is either hand painted with brushes or with an airbrush, making each one unique. Photo by Patrick Robinson