Joi Chevalier is getting ready to launch a multi-purpose shared kitchen and food startup incubator in East Austin, which is poised to help food innovators get their ideas to market. We’ll get to that in a second. But, first, let’s check out that Porsche Cayman.
Chevalier spent about 15 years helping develop and personalize products at companies including Dell, Matrix.net and Activerse. She married her husband, Jon, a technologist at IBM, about 16 years ago. And he happens to be a performance driving instructor who helps car enthusiasts learn how to race on big tracks, such as the Circuit of the Americas where Formula 1 cars will be zooming around this weekend.
Chevalier, who will be on our Austin Inno Food and Beverage Innovation panel next week, has an impressive set of hobbies: She is a purple belt in Tai Chi with ambitions for the black sash; she’s the chair of the Girl Scouts of Texas Alumni Association; she’s an amateur astronomer; and she occasionally races her Porsche Cayman.
“I have my husband to blame for that one,” she said with a laugh.
With some good instruction, Chevalier now usually races at an intermediate level at amateur racing events at Harris Hill Raceway, near San Marcos; Circuit of the Americas, in Austin; Texas World Speedway, in College Station; and MotorSport Ranch, southwest of Fort Worth.
She says it’s a thrilling hobby and a great outlet.
“That’s really about quiet and discipline and improving over and over and over everytime you do it,” she said. “And, going fast!”
Surprisingly, she said, it’s not so much about the horsepower of your car as it is about following a specific line around the tracks. For example, she said she has seen pro drivers in regular sedans race past drivers in Ferraris. She said the tracks give people a real chance to test the limits.
“Most people don’t know what their cars are really capable of doing,” she said. “The time when you figure out what the car can do is not while having an accident.”
Now back to Chevalier’s new venture — a shared commercial kitchen and culinary incubator.
A Path For Austin’s Food Innovators
Chevalier grew up in a large Creole and Texan family. After focusing for years on big tech projects and watching the rise of Austin tech incubator programs, she began seeing an opportunity for a high-quality commissary and food startup incubator.
“I thought, why don’t we have this same sort of community and development for new products in innovation in culinary,” she said. “We know we have it in technology.”
So, for the past year, she has been transforming a residential property at 502 Thompson Lane southeast of the Colorado River and Highway 183, en route to the airport. It’s called The Cook’s Nook, and it’s slated to open early 2016, presuming city permits are granted.
Chevalier sees Cook’s Nook as a unique route to help chefs and entrepreneurs develop menus, perfect recipes, photograph and film the experience for marketing purposes and learn about how to bring a startup food business to profitability. In addition to creating a community of food entrepreneurs, Chevalier is discussing a possible partnership with TechRanch to given Cook’s Nook clients more networking and business development resource. Members will pay monthly dues.
She envisions the home and its outdoor space to also become an option for bridal party tastings, small business and product launch events. Inside, it will have eight cooking stations, dry storage, a walk-in fridge and freezer and access for deliveries.
Chevalier said she hasn’t seen a similar set up in Austin, but she has seen great examples of the idea at places like KitchenCru in Portland. Too many Austin food innovators have to rely on friends and luck to get good business advice and a place to develop their products, she said.
“It’s limited and there’s no set path,” she said. “The folks who have become successful have gotten there by different means and there’s no way to replecate them. And it’s hard to tell people to do these 17 things and you’ll be a success.”
She thinks a well-planned commissary and incubator could provide a great option.
“I’m hoping The Cook’s Nook is a place where, at least, there’s potential for a path and for being focused and having a space that’s purpose-built for creative food entrepreneurs.”