Chapel Hill News

Carrboro foodie brings love of cooking, community to Chapel Hill

A local food lover is cooking up a blend of educational, community and entrepreneurial opportunities for West Rosemary Street next year.

Carrboro resident Kathy Gunn plans to open her Midway Community Kitchen in March in a 1,250-square-foot, former convenience store at 505 W. Rosemary St. The space is across North Graham Street from the Greenbridge condominiums.

Gunn is the former kitchen manager for the now-closed Magnolia Grill in Durham, where she worked her way up from chopping vegetables under the tutorship of celebrated chefs Ben and Karen Barker. She has worked the last few years with her husband Cray Gunn at their Custom Carpentry Group.

“I was already in love with food and cooking, and (the Barkers) took me to the next level,” she said. “If you were willing to learn, they were willing to teach you, and they had a lot to teach.”

Gunn’s goal for the Midway Community Kitchen is to provide commercial-style space for catering, small business startups, community dinners, and food and nutrition classes, she said. She also wants to provide local chefs and food lovers with space to open “pop-up,” or temporary, restaurants.

She’s already spoken with some local business owners and teachers who are interested in the project, Gunn said.

“I think it would work here, because you have a lot of people who love to cook and already own restaurants,” she said. “It would be a fun way for them to come and try something new, low-cost and make a splash if it’s something they want to do. Or just to have fun.”

Entrepreneurs will need insurance and a business license or, at the least, be operating as a limited liability company, in order to use the space, she said.

The kitchen also will provide more opportunities for amateur cooks, she said, particularly residents of the nearby Northside neighborhood who want to try new dishes or learn new techniques.

“The community aspect doesn’t necessarily mean me letting community groups come in,” she said. “It’s me sharing food and knowledge about food and nutrition and healthy cooking. Someone that’s a professional would be cooking, and the community would come in and enjoy the food.”

Gunn expects it to cost $75,000 to $100,000 to open the kitchen and is working with Jim Spencer Architects to design the space. She also plans eventually to hire an assistant to manage the kitchen on a daily basis.

“I’d love somebody in here who’s young and excited, and who has the same values that I do about education and the community,” she said.

Gunn said she’s been thinking about the community kitchen idea for several years, especially after seeing what local schools were serving kids for lunch.

She shared her concerns with Todd LoFrese, the assistant superintendent for support services in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and the district soon after formed a committee to find a new food service provider. That five-year contract is being reviewed again this year, she said.

School budgets are tight, Gunn said, but she wants to see more cafeteria workers cooking food, instead of reheating meals from boxes and cans.

“It had been so long since (school kitchens were) cooked in,” she said. “It made me so sad, I thought how can I get people exposed to good food and good nutrition, outside of the schools.”

You don’t need a lot of money, time or labor to cook good food, she said.

“I don’t want to feel like I’m shoving anything down anybody’s throat. I think that’s where people fall off the wagon,” she said. “I just want to present things and say, hey, let’s have a conversation as a community of people who want everybody to be included and healthy.”