Among the fear and controversy that usually surround dark kitchens, there is room in the market for more creative and less aggressive business models of the so-called shared kitchens, capable of living better with the neighborhood and even bringing a little extra charm and flavor to the neighborhood where they are located. A kind of “good” dark kitchen. This is the case with the Kitchenette Pop Up Café, a small space, but with big pretensions in Campo de Ourique.

It has been operating since December 2021, in a very discreet but charming spot in Correia Teles Street. There are 20 square meters of space at street level, with a counter and 18 seats, divided between the indoor tables and the terrace, and another 30 square meters of kitchen space in the basement.

Kitchenette Pop Up Café opened its doors in Campo de Ourique in December 2021. Photo: Rita Ansone.

Created by part-time marketing strategist and full-time entrepreneur Joana Duarte, the Kitchenette is, in short, a kitchen that has a café, when the opposite would normally be the case.

A kitchen that welcomes aspiring chefs without much space and structure at home to start their business, but that has Joana’s café support in the form of an incubator. Not only for having a piece of professional equipment to put their hands in the dough but also an additional pinch of marketing strategy.

“It was designed for those who are not going to spend seven days in a kitchen, but twice a week, for example, and don’t have a very large space at home or a refrigerator capable of storing large quantities,” says Joana, who at the age of 40 was finally able to fulfill a dream that had haunted her since late teenage years.

A sweet dream.

A sugar, flour, and cinnamon dream

A dream that began to be born in parallel with her activity in the marketing area. Joana was turning twenty working in an agency on a nine-to-five schedule, between meetings and brainstorms, but there was still room in her busy schedule and her head to dream about sugar, flour, yeast, and cinnamon.

Joana Duarte, a marketing strategist who pursued and realized her dream in the gastronomy business, with Kitchenette. Photo: Rita Ansone.

“A friend and I started making cupcakes to sell abroad. We made cupcakes when nobody in Portugal talked about them. Cupcakes inspired by traditional Portuguese pastries, orange and cinnamon cakes, with fruit on top,” she recalls.

The marketing manager’s parallel life in partnership with her friend went on for about a decade until Joana decided to step forward and walk on her own feet. “I always wanted to have my own business and thought that if not now, before I was 40, it wouldn’t be anymore,” she says.

Joana left her full-time contract at the agency for the uncertain life of a freelancer, while looking for spaces to open her dream business. “From the beginning I was thinking of a small structure, to set up a kitchen and a few tables to test how it would work,” she explains.

“It was designed for those who are not going to spend seven days in a kitchen, but twice a week, for example, and don’t have a very large space at home”

Joana Duarte

Between one job and another, Joana would walk through the streets of Campo de Ourique, where she lives, in search of an ideal space. “When I saw a closed door in a promising place, even if it didn’t have an ad for rent, I’d put a note underneath with my contacts saying I was interested in renting it,” she says laughing.

That’s how the first version of Kitchenette, Pop Up Kitchen, appeared in 2019, a few streets away from the current address, in a store with only eight square meters. The original idea was to operate along the lines of a traditional café, but just like in the famous meme, in the face of expectation, the reality was imposed.

“In the very first year, a huge marketing job came up that consumed months of my dedication. I only had time to go there two, or three times a week. So I thought about turning it into a space for people who, like me, couldn’t stay in a kitchen for seven days, but needed one for two, three days,” she says.

Doors open to Campo de Ourique

And Joana wasn’t alone. In two years, about 50 brands have passed through the eight square meters of Pop Up Kitchen. “People were interested in finding a place for themselves in the market, and they ended up finding it. Today, most of them operate on their own, in their kitchens,” she says proudly.

Kitchenette café in Campo de Ourique is a way for brands to test products face to face with customers. Photo: Rita Ansone.

The initial version operated on a scheme similar to the so-called dark kitchens, kitchens divided between brands interested in testing the market, also sharing the costs. In Joana’s case, it is different from the aggressive “ghost kitchens”, without the excessive odors, noise, and traffic of the delivery vehicles.

In the best “less is more” style, the eight square meters of area in Joana’s kitchen, far from being a problem, ended up being an advantage in the relationship with the neighborhood. “There was no way to receive many projects at once, but only a couple of them. They would stay a month at least, and three at most,” she explains.

The low turnover also allowed Joana to dedicate herself more to the clients, in her specific case, with the added value of a marketing and communication consultancy. “We have always offered advice from choosing the name and creating the brand to producing content for the digital environment,” Joana says.

“We have always offered advice from choosing the name and creating the brand to producing content for the digital environment”

Joana Duarte

From a Darwinian entrepreneurial perspective, the Kitchenette, open since the end of 2021, is a natural evolution of Joana’s first experience, offering the same physical, marketing, and communication support facilities to the incubates, in an expanded structure and dimensions.  

Besides the virtual environment, it is also possible for incubated brands to test themselves face-to-face with customers. A brand specialized in offering vegan cakes can, for example, have its product tested at the counter of the café, with the doors open to the neighbors in Campo de Ourique.

The logic also works with brigadeiros cakes, cheese bread, and cookies in general, but also with gourmet hamburgers and sophisticated cuisine produced by Vietnamese home chefs.

Investing in pop-up events

In addition to the open-door café, Joana organizes sporadic pop-up events that give the Kitchenette its nickname, where brands undergo a key test, trying out new products for the neighbors who, in the future, may repeat the dose in a take-away system.

At Kitchenette, the business naming events are a test for customers to evaluate the brands incubated in the project. Photo: Rita Ansone

The support in marketing and communication continues to be a card up Joana’s sleeve, offered initially as a “tasting”, to then be served as part of the incubation plan, which averages around 400 euros a month and includes, in addition to consulting and the use of space, water, electricity and internet costs.

The kitchen, installed in the basement, in a larger area than the café, has a complete structure of ovens, including pastries, a huge refrigerator, storage spaces for ingredients and dry beans, and lockers for customers to keep their work uniforms and personal belongings.

To illustrate the operation practically, on the day that Mensagem visited the site, there was a French cook who no longer had any space at home and now uses the kitchen to prepare marmites to be delivered for the neighbors in Campo de Ourique to freeze and have a meal on hand whenever they want.

“The space has grown, and so has the work, but the goal is still the same as always, to help those who are starting and want to make themselves known in the market.”

Joana Duarte

The interest in marketing, however, continues to run in Joana’s blood, who has also taken advantage of her venture to test the clients she continues to manage in her role as a part-time strategist. One of them, a spice brand, for example, will make itself known at a pop-up event with artisanal hamburgers.

About to complete the first year in the new house, Kitchenette already counts two dozen projects incubated between its kitchen and the pop-ups. Joana doesn’t hide that satisfied smile of someone who has managed to realize a dream she imagined for 15 years but still requires a good dose of dedication and creativity.

“The space has grown, and so has the work, but the goal is still the same as always, to help those who are starting and want to make themselves known in the market. We do our part, our partners do theirs, and so, as the saying goes, the rest is history,” she concludes.

You can read this article in Portuguese.

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