Eva Michelsen is showing me around Eldstæðið, Reykjavík’s latest commercial kitchen for food entrepreneurs and small producers. The kitchen is a modern all-white and stainless steel affair, with only the synchronised movements of people tempering chocolate, shaping patties and packing kormas belying the industrious air of what really goes on in its quiet, sanitised spaces.
I first met Eva Michelsen, a spirited food tech entrepreneur, when she was organising the Nordic Kitchen Workshop in 2018. Over the next two days, amongst a room full of food start-ups, participants shared the trials and hurdles of getting their product to market.
Between now and then, she has gone on to start Eldstæðið, a commercial kitchen impressive not only for its ambition, but also for bringing six food vendors to store shelves in just six months of operations! So if you recognise names like Arctic Pie, Bao Bao Buns, Anna Marta pesto, Keto Eldhúsið’s ready to eat meals, Ella Stína’s vegan patties, Svava Sinnep and The Grumpy Whale Hot Chocolate, they are all working out of Eldstæðið.
A new solution for an old problem
As many learnt during the pandemic, especially around Christmas, one simply does not whip up Sarah Bernhardts in their kitchen to sell online. “Packaged food products are a whole other thing,” Eva smiles knowingly. With a confectionery business of her own, Michelsen Konfekt, she knows first hand the many challenges with being a small producer.
But when there is MATIS, the government-run kitchen, why Eldstæðið? “They’re a test kitchen and they only allow one producer at a time,” Eva clarifies “There is limited storage space. Eldstæðið, on the other hand, is a fully equipped commercial kitchen where up to three producers can work alongside one another at a time. We have shared infrastructure and offer a community and network of shared experiences,” she shares.
Why should someone choose Eldstæðið and not go it on their own instead? “Do you have 15-16 million króna?” Eva quips, bluntly. “I did the numbers and if I had to take on a loan, I simply wouldn’t have done it,” she confesses. “The hurdle for a lot of people is knowing where to start,” she explains. “What are the rules, what is packaging, what is a quality handbook? It can all get overwhelming. Because I am responsible for a lot of the things at Eldstæðið—fire safety, insurance, pest control—the undertakings of the producers are a lot easier,” she explains.
“If I was a governmental agency, I couldn’t say no to anyone, but being privately run like this, I can stipulate my own conditions—for instance, we don’t allow deep frying, we are flexible with our opening times. We can do what we want to, when we want to,” she laughs jokingly.
As we walk around the facilities, Eva excitedly shares that they are looking forward to new blast chillers, as the swanky coolers are already proving insufficient due to the rising demand for a spot at Eldstæðið. “There is a growing waiting list,” she beams proudly.
There is a tangible barrier to entry for novice home cooks looking to scale their operations. When legalese and licenses can stifle that entrepreneurial spirit, Eldstæðið is a “one-stop shop,” as Eva succinctly describes. With their Icelandic and English policy in place, it has naturally proven popular with New Icelanders wanting to share their taste of home as well.
Besides the kitchen area, there is an event space, conference and meeting rooms. “Each month we get a food entrepreneur to tell their story. We’ve had Óskar from Omnom, we’re expecting BitaViking next,” Eva shares. “I know first hand how paralysing it can be to take that leap of faith. So this is about creating this network, to create these shared experiences.”
“What we offer is a community.”
Visit Eldstæðið at Nýbýlavegur 8. For more information click here.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!