October 16, 2023

How the K-State Olathe kitchens support local entrepreneurs and graduate students

3 min read

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What’s happening in the kitchens at Kansas State University Olathe? More than you might think.

The kitchen space at K-State Olathe is designed to support entrepreneurs, graduate students and on-campus events and much more. They’re a space to launch big ideas and to explore new possibilities, pursue passions and of course, cook fantastic food. 

We sat down with Bryan Severns, food programs and services manager at K-State Olathe, to talk about the kitchen space on campus. Severns oversaw the development of the kitchens in 2011 and has been guiding their growth over the past decade. In addition to being a professional chef, he also understands exactly what it takes to launch new businesses, create innovative products and support both entrepreneurs and graduate students. 

What are some of the things that the K-State Olathe kitchens are known for? 

That depends on who you ask. Regulatory people, like the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture know us as clean and well-kept with knowledgeable staff, plus a great food safety record. For entrepreneurs, they know us as really helpful with great facilities. They’re overwhelmed by what’s here as far as the equipment and how nice it is, as well as what services are provided. People can come in and do almost anything.  

What was the inception of the K-State Olathe kitchens like? 

It was so cool from a chef's standpoint watching it develop from the ground up. Being able to watch it grow from just a cement pad to a complete kitchen and all of the little things that go from building a kitchen. I’ve been involved with other startups, so I had some experience already, but nothing like this. Doing this was huge, and it’s a different thing because it’s not just a restaurant. 

We have a restaurant kitchen, a teaching kitchen and a studio kitchen. In addition, there’s a research and development (R and D) kitchen that also functions as a large quantity kitchen. If someone comes in and they want to create a lot of something, we can make it happen. 

What are some of the cool things people have done in the kitchen? 

The first thing was 37,000 pounds of raw cabbage to 27,000 pounds of sauerkraut. A local company came in that you can find in stores. Hoganville Family Farms came in and their team was able to use a lot of our equipment, as well as custom kitchen equipment that they were able to use for canning. They would load up to 400 jars at a time. They spent a week canning here. By the time they were finished, they were exhausted, we were exhausted, and the building was exhausted. However, it was an incredible experience, and we all had such a great time.  

How do the kitchens on K-State Olathe support local businesses? 

We know that launching a business can be tough. New entrepreneurs may not have the culinary background or kitchen training to know how to use large equipment, which is why our team provides on-site training and best practices for anyone who wants to use our kitchen space. When a business comes to us with an idea, our first goal is to learn the scope and design of the project. Then we can decide whether the project is viable and how we can support the vision of everyone who walks through our doors.  

Just the idea that small producers can come in and grow a business is great. Everybody knows about Three Bears Bakery starting here and growing to become successful. Day one, they made 16 loaves of bread and about three to four dozen desserts. Two years later, they were making 90 loaves of bread, which is an example of how we can help a business literally grow.  

How can graduate students learn in the kitchens at K-State Olathe? 

If you’re a K-State student and you need to use the kitchens for research or classwork, it’s free to use. We would love to have students who are in Kansas City for the summer and taking classes or even distant students use the kitchen for their R and D projects or their food research projects, we have that capability and we want them here.  

Bryan Severns is the food programs and services manager at K-State Olathe. His areas of expertise include fermented foods, protein fabrication and food safety.

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