Rutgers University‒Camden Professor Assists Small Businesses Locally And Globally

 

Justin Deng, a Rutgers School of Business‒Camden associate professor, is conducting a feasibility study for a commissary kitchen in Camden.

By Jeanne Leong

Justin Deng is helping communities in Camden and Haiti to combat poverty by offering assistance to small business owners.

Working with the Latin American Economic Development Association (LAEDA) in Camden, the Rutgers University–Camden scholar is exploring the feasibility of creating a commissary kitchen, a shared rental workspace that offers commercial-quality equipment for food truck owners and other food entrepreneurs to prepare and store their products.

Food trucks, catering businesses, and independent bakers provide jobs for many South Jersey residents, but New Jersey law prohibits food entrepreneurs from selling food made from home. The only option for these business owners is to rent space at a commercial-grade kitchen.

By surveying food truck operators, food product companies, and caterers, Deng and LAEDA staff learned that there is a significant demand for a commissary kitchen in South Jersey that offers a safe space that complies with state food preparation regulations and access to essential, but expensive, equipment that many small business owners cannot afford.

Just across the Delaware River, Philadelphia has several commissary kitchens, but there is nothing available on the South Jersey side. The closest commissary kitchens in New Jersey are well north of the southern portion of the state.

“Commissary kitchens, as a business model, have risen in popularity over the years because starting a food business is expensive and risky,” explains Deng, a Rutgers School of Business‒Camden assistant professor of accounting. “A commissary kitchen absorbs some of that risk from an individual entrepreneur and makes high-quality, specialized equipment affordable.”

Commissary kitchens offer equipment and provide practical solutions to food business operations. Dual ovens, double rotating rack ovens, and tilt skillets would make it more convenient and efficient to prepare food. In addition to kitchen rentals, the service offers overnight and temperature-controlled dry, cool, and freezer storage to keep food fresh, and secure parking for food trucks.

Ray Lamboy, CEO of LAEDA, is in the process of searching for a location in Camden for the facility and developing a strategy to obtain local, state, federal, and private funds to create the commissary kitchen.

Deng, a Cherry Hill native, moved away from the area for college and graduate school, but returned to his hometown in 2018 to teach at Rutgers‒Camden. LAEDA reached out to the Rutgers School of Business‒Camden for assistance to determine the feasibility of creating a commissary kitchen, and Deng volunteered to help.

He is also involved in a small business development project to assist entrepreneurs in Haiti with the Partners Worldwide organization, which works to end poverty by educating and assisting people to run their own businesses. Deng is working with Partners Worldwide to start a COVID-19 small business grant program to distribute funds to local businesses in Haiti to provide essential services, such as health care.

“I think that small business development is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to improve people’s lives,” says Deng. “A good business is inherently sustainable and it empowers people to use their skills productively.”

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