If forced to summarize it in terms even a small child could understand, one could say quite simply that Ian Pasquarelli is into food and sharing. The founder of The Kitchen Network has devoted his schooling, work, and personal hobbies to the former field, touching almost all aspects of the food business from nutrition to dietetics to the regulatory process involved in launching a new food product. Similarly, he’s always had a keen passion for giving back to the local communities of which he’s been a part, eagerly sharing his knowledge and ideas with anyone who might benefit from them. These days, The Kitchen Network allows him to seamlessly do both – his online marketplace connects food service professionals in search of professional kitchen space with kitchen owners looking to better utilize their space. With the launch of The Kitchen Network, Pasquarelli has brought the sharing economy to the food business.
But his passion for all things food-related didn’t stem, like others who find themselves in the food biz, from childhood hours spent baking in the kitchen, or from a growing obsession with cooking competition shows. His inspiration came from a much harder-won life turning point. After being diagnosed with a serious illness as a junior in high school, Ian was forced to transform his diet from the sports-playing teenage boy’s typical pile of…whatever’s tasty, to one much more focused on optimizing his nutritional intake. As he went through that process, he began to realize just how challenging it is to achieve that nutritional balance on a daily basis, especially on a limited budget, which is the case for so many families throughout the country.
This realization led Ian to a Nutrition and Dietetics degree from the University of Maine in 2011, after which he eventually landed in Charlottesville at a job with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which he worked while also pursuing a Masters in Food Safety from Virginia Tech. But his passion clearly lay not just in nutrition, but in the intersection of the food and business worlds – from a young age, Ian had “always known that [he] wanted to create and do something for [him]self” and found himself continually drawn to many aspects of entrepreneurship. And that’s where the sharing comes in – this fascination with entrepreneurship didn’t stop with just a curiosity for what that path could do for his own life, it actually fueled a deeper mission to help others explore starting their own businesses as well.
During these years, Pasquarelli worked closely with several community organizations in Charlottesville, including the International Rescue Committee, teaching cooking classes to low-income families and helping nascent food entrepreneurs begin to navigate the paperwork and regulations involved with getting a new food business off the ground. Ian views food as the great equalizer – not only does every culture in every part of the world enjoy the rituals and pleasures associated with a good meal, but in America, it’s one of the few fields in which anyone can start a business and succeed, regardless of their educational opportunities, socio-economic background, or other circumstances beyond their control. He began cooking up the idea of opening his own food incubator so that he could continue this work on his own terms.
In 2015, Ian dug deeper into the viability of building a food incubator here in Virginia as a final project for his masters degree. As he researched, he began to uncover that the main barrier to his idea was that it wasn’t feasible to build new infrastructure here when the community’s existing infrastructure was already so underutilized. Instead of being discouraged, Pasquarelli was actually energized by the idea that he could benefit multiple stakeholders – kitchen owners who maintain expensive properties and state-of-the-art equipment as well as budding entrepreneurs who can’t afford the high upfront capital (those selling products at farmer’s markets, working small catering goods, or folks looking for a high-quality R&D space to experiment) – with one simultaneous service.
In the future, after tweaking the formula here in a market he knows well, he hopes to expand to additional, more metropolitan areas in which the supply and demand are even greater than here in Charlottesville. The irony of the fact that an idea to start his own incubator has ultimately landed him as an incubator participant himself is not lost on Pasquarelli, but he’s certainly a “practice what you preach” kind of guy. In order to launch The Kitchen Network this past winter, Ian became an avid participant in the sharing economy – he was “really feeling the hustle” and drove Uber and Lyft and Airbnb’d his house in order to devote more funds to the business. Now, he’s putting himself through the paces of his own platform – he’s working on a food business side project of his own, and he rents out space via The Kitchen Network in order to perfect his recipes. Fingers crossed that he’ll share some of his concoctions with the iLab crowd this summer – but knowing what he’s into, something tells me that we’ll be tasting some delicious samples very soon.