Lackawanna College’s Ghost Kitchen Program Helps Grow Start-Up Businesses

For this baking session, Marissa Fallon didn’t just use the usual amount of ingredients for her signature cookies.

She needed much more.   Standing at the commercial-grade mixer in the kitchen at 409 on Adams, Lackawanna College’s student-run restaurant, Fallon watched as the butter and other ingredients blended together into what would be used to make 15 dozen cookies.

“I’m able to make a large number of cookies in one visit because of Lackawanna College,” Fallon said, smiling. “I used to make one tray of cookies at a time at home. Now instead of taking two days to make 15 dozen cookies, I can make that amount in two hours.”   Fallon, owner of Cookies by Marissa, is the first person to participate in Lackawanna College’s Ghost Kitchen program, which helps food entrepreneurs access commercial kitchen facilities at 409 on Adams when not in use for instructional purposes. The program started a few months ago as a way to give entrepreneurs access to certified commercial kitchens.

“Not only do we offer degree, certificate and training programs, but we also offer other unique learning opportunities,” said Lackawanna College President Dr. Jill Murray. “People starting off as food entrepreneurs may not have the experience in a commercial kitchen or access to one. Our Ghost Kitchen program gives them a chance to learn what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen without having to rent a storefront and buy the equipment, which can be cost prohibitive when just starting out.”

The Ghost Kitchen program is a joint venture between the Culinary Program and the Venture Lab. The two entities identify qualified startups and provide them with temporary, short-term access to commercial kitchen facilities to test market opportunities.   “This program gives food entrepreneurs certified space where they can make their dishes,” said Michael Jensen, Lackawanna College’s Venture Lab director.

“The idea came from the pandemic. In places like New York City, they would have five or six people using a shared kitchen facility. There was no dining, just delivery. The restaurant only exists digitally. With less overhead, entrepreneurs in ghost kitchens are able to make their food and sell it online at a higher profit margin. We thought it was a great idea and wanted to offer that to local entrepreneurs.”

Participants are able to use preparation areas, sinks, mixers, ovens, stove tops, bowls, cooking trays, pots and pans, measuring cups, and a variety of cooking utensils. The program also may allow limited dry and cold storage space.

After a business is approved, Culinary staff give participants an orientation of the facilities by reviewing the equipment and space available. A participant has access to the site when a Culinary staff member or designated representative can be on-hand to unlock access to kitchen areas, monitor activity and verify exit procedures are followed.   Participants also must complete food safety and equipment use and safety training, be a registered Pennsylvania company, pass a City of Scranton health inspection, maintain an accurate record of facility utilization for billing purposes and clean up the kitchen area after each use.  

“After talking to Marissa, we knew she would be a perfect fit for our Ghost Kitchen program,” said Susan Markovich, coordinator and dining room manager for 409 at Adams. “Instead of Marissa having to buy or rent a storefront and invest in the commercial-grade kitchen equipment, which can be expensive, she can continue her new business by participating in our program. We’re pleased we can partner with local businesses that are just starting off so they can be successful in the local communities. At Lackawanna, we value those partnerships, which makes the local communities we serve even better.”

Fallon said Lackawanna’s program has made her better able to meet the needs of her customers so she can continue to provide a quality product.

“Before I felt like I was more of a small-town business, making cookies for friends and family,” Fallon said. “Now people see where I work and know I’m a legitimate business.”