Episode 15 – Adam Friedberg
Guest: Adam Friedberg, Brand & Co. Welcome to episode number 15 of the Everything Coworking Podcast!
This week I talk with Adam Friedberg, Managing Broker and Principal at Brand and Company. I connected with Adam about a year ago and you’re going to love his story.
Brand and Company is a an opportunity-driven real estate company that allows the team to do projects that they can really get excited about. Adam is originally from Ohio, went to undergrad at Syracuse University, met his wife while studying abroad in London and ended up in Chicago which was her hometown. He has a broad real estate background and is now leveraging his experience in ways that a lot of real estate professionals probably dream of. He and his partners just bought a building in River Forest, IL which is just outside Chicago and turned it into a shared commercial kitchen space with a strong focus on incubating the member businesses and building a strong community among the members. There’s a great story behind how this came about and Adam shares it during our conversation. He also shares his advice for other real estate professionals that want to get involved in shared workspace and a bit of a warning to any folks in the real estate industry that are ignoring this huge paradigm shift in how commercial space gets used. Enjoy our Conversation!
Tell us a little bit about how Brand & Co. does business. The great thing about Brand & Co. is that it’s a small company – three guys. They pick and choose their projects, and don’t tie themselves down to any specific formulas or policies. If a project sounds fun, they do it!
What is your office situation? How did you get to know the concept of shared space and coworking? Adam learned about the concept through a sushi rolling class he took with his wife! The class took place at Enerspace Chicago, and that was the first time he’d ever been inside of a coworking space. Prior to that experience, he assumed that coworking spaces were only beneficial for those in the tech world. The class at Enerspace changes his opinion a bit, but he still didn’t realize how useful coworking could be.
He got into the shared space business unintentionally, by buying a building in River Forest. They had six or seven spare offices when they finished renovating the building. They thought about renting the offices out on Craigslist, but realized it made better sense to rent them out to peers in their business network. After adding a banker, a developer, and an architect to the mix, it became a real estate incubator office. Their work since the move has been exponentially better, since the close quarters mean that they collaborate on many of their projects. As Adam puts it, a coworking space would be ideal for anyone trying to grow their business and jumpstart their career through interaction with their peers
It sounds like you were very selective about who you included in your space. It started out as an unintentional process, and Adam feels that most of the real estate industry is moving (though not as quickly) towards a similar type of arrangement. From an investment perspective, it makes sense. By diversifying your tenant base, you mitigate some of your risk.
Let’s talk about how you got into the kitchen business! As a real estate professional, Adam meets a lot of people. One of those people, Elizabeth, the owner of Rare Bird Preserves, approached Adam because she’d just moved out of her commercial kitchen and moved her distribution to Wisconsin. They rented her a space in their real estate incubator, and as they talked, she shared her need for a kitchen. Without a kitchen, she had little ability to test recipes or teach classes, and she had many friends who needed the exact same thing. Building a commercial kitchen is an extremely expensive endeavor, one that many artisans who are just getting started might not be able to fund. There is a market to provide expensive resources to start up artisans who can’t make the investment themselves. There has been an incredible demand for access to the kitchen, so Adam and his team have had to approach things very carefully.
Can you tell us a bit more about your vision for River Forest Kitchen as a coworking space? Adam wants to provide an environment that gives the professionals working at River Forest Kitchen everything they need to grow their business. They offer an event space and meeting rooms for face-to-face interaction with clients. They also recognize that it is a difficult, expensive process to learn everything you need to know to make your business thrive, so they host events to help their members learn how to grow into different distribution networks such as Whole Foods. They have an accountant who stops in once per month to help members, and a food photographer, Kelly Allison, who is based on the second floor of the building. In that sense, River Forest Kitchen is an incubator with an open menu of resources. Their goal is to help clients thrive until they outgrow the kitchen and need additional space, at which point Brand & Co. will partner with them to meet their real estate needs. They’re already beginning to see the fruits of their labor, with local restaurants opening that were born in River Forest Kitchen, and products in the local Whole Foods that were made there.
Who handles programming and operations in the space? Adam has taken advantage of as much automation as possible. He uses the website to set up scheduling and online auto-payments. Tenants have had great experiences paying rent and booking hours. The space is also self-cleaning, to an extent: All of Adam’s clients are extremely tidy! For every two hours they rent in the kitchen, they tend to spend one cleaning. Adam’s office is right across the street, so he handles tours personally.
Elizabeth, of Rare Bird Preserves, has also been a great resource. She meets with new members, helps set schedules a month or two in advance, and ensure that there are no conflicts when two chefs schedule the space at the same time. She directed much of the initial remodel of the space, from children’s learning kitchen to professional chef’s kitchen. She also encourages members to teach classes to expand their businesses, and helps Adam understand the type of resources chefs need to operate their businesses successfully.
If you were talking to another real estate professional about getting into a shared space, what type of advice would you give them? Get a really good partner who knows what they’re doing. Find someone in your target market who’s an expert, and who needs a space. For example, Adam partnered with Elizabeth when she needed a kitchen. For his next investment in shared space, for example, a general coworking space like EnerSpace, he’d want to partner with someone who had experience in the field. His experience is providing top of the line real estate, and selling that space.
Does operating a coworking space make you feel more engaged in the building? It does. Adam wanted to really feel a connection to what he was doing, so he started in real estate. All of his projects have been great (and he’s dabbled in everything from retail to student housing), but he feels that, with this project, he’s making a difference. He’s helping the community, and growing something. He’s provided a platform for talented individuals to start businesses, and that feeling is often worth more than knowing that a rent check is on the way. It’s inspiring and fulfilling.
You mentioned that you use Nexudus software as a space management platform. Does that handle scheduling, as well? It does! Adam interviewed a lot of different scheduling and billing softwares, and this one made the most sense. The staff has been extremely helpful in learning to use the software. It sets up a profile for each client, allows clients to pay rent online, and exchange credits to schedule time in the kitchen. The schedule then goes to Adam and Elizabeth for approval. It rolls billing, invoicing, accounting, and scheduling into one. There’s actually another culinary coworking and incubator space in Washington, D.C. that also uses Nexudus.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your experience with River Forest Kitchen? Adam says it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in the real estate world. This is the forefront of the new way to invest in property. When you’re looking for what you need to start a shared space, look for good walkability and good infrastructure, and surround yourself with good people.
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