Finding a Commercial Kitchen
In order to operate legally as a caterer, you'll have to cook in a licensed commercial kitchen. This will provide you with proper working conditions and large-scale equipment. If you don't have access to a commercial kitchen, there are several ways to find a suitable location.
Shared-Use Commercial Kitchens
This segment of the market is relatively new and small, but it's growing. New York State, for example, has about a dozen shared-use commercial kitchens. Some are run as not-for-profit businesses. These kitchens rent out time to caterers and small food manufacturers who don't have their own kitchens. The people who run the kitchen maintain the licenses and permits with the local authorities and pay for the location's insurance. In return, they charge an hourly fee for using their cooking facilities.
Check to see if your area has a shared-use commercial kitchen. If not, find out where the closest one is. Some resources with location listings are in Appendix A.
Underutilized Commercial Kitchens
Many churches and community centers have commercial kitchens and are willing to rent time to local entrepreneurs. If you're doing kosher catering, visit the synagogues in your area, the Jewish community center, and other local Jewish organizations to see if there's a kitchen that you can use.
Catering Commercial Kitchens
It's not unheard of for a caterer with their own commercial kitchen to rent time to other small caterers. If you need the kitchen when the caterer is busy, however, you might be out of luck.
This isn't an ideal option, since restaurant kitchens are usually quite busy during many hours of the day, but if you can find a restaurant that is closed during the day and only serves dinner, you might be able to work in the kitchen in the morning before the cooks come in to start prepping for dinner.
It never hurts to ask. Call local schools and colleges in your area and ask if they have a commercial kitchen. Talk to the person who manages the kitchen and see if you can negotiate to work during times that the kitchen is empty or when the school is closed to students.