2021 Charlotteans of the Year: Jossie Lukacik
Pastry chef Jossie Lukacik opened Sweet Spot Studio in 2018 to host classes and workshops for amateur and professional bakers. But the Oakwold studio also houses a commercial kitchen where local bakers who couldn’t otherwise afford to rent a workspace can bake their confections for a flat monthly rate. As a small-business owner, it’s a struggle Lukacik knows well. “I couldn’t get my business going until I got a space, and I couldn’t get a space until I got my business going,” she says. “That’s the catch-22 in the food business.”
Lukacik took the shared kitchen approach as a way to pay her rent as she launched her bakery in 2015. She started with four tenants, but when she opened Sweet Spot Studio in 2018 and was able to expand, she went up to 12. At the onset of the pandemic, she opened her kitchen to six more tenants on the verge of losing their businesses. Today, she has a 75% retention rate and a roster that includes Whisk & Wood Bakery, A.H. Wright Baking Co., Bake Mohr Sweets, and many others who once relied on pop-ups and farmers markets to stay afloat.
Many commissary kitchens charge a $25 hourly rate, which makes it difficult for small bakeries to gain traction. Lukacik charges a flat base rate of $350 per month. Tenants get 24-hour access to double-stack commercial convection ovens, a 30-quart floor mixer, professional KitchenAid mixers, induction burners, and more. “If it’s Christmas, your rent shouldn’t go up because you have a bigger month; you’ll never be able to get ahead,” she says. “It doesn’t do me any good to run someone out of business in the first two months.”
And she hasn’t. If a tenant couldn’t pay rent during the pandemic, Lukacik let them pay it back when they could. She stopped paying herself a salary, and she and her husband, a software developer, scaled back their lifestyle. “Sometimes he wishes I wouldn’t be as generous,” she laughs. “But as long as I’m able to cover my expenses, I’d rather us all come out of it together. From the beginning, it was, ‘How can I make it through this and carry as many people with me as I can?’”
Lukacik continues to employ a staff of six (three full-time, three part-time), and, unlike others in the food and drink sector, she’s never had staffing issues. “I give every perk outside of money to make my employees stay,” she says. “They give me 110%, and they’re not going anywhere. There are things you can do to treat your employees well that go farther than money.”
Though she regularly has to turn tenants away, Lukacik plans to keep the commissary kitchen indefinitely and remains committed to helping as many small businesses as she can. “If there weren’t shared-use kitchens, the majority of my tenants wouldn’t be in business,” she says. “Beyond the financial side of it, there’s the aspect of community. It’s become very clear to me in this niche of small baking businesses that we can’t do it without each other.”
THE 2021 CHARLOTTEANS OF THE YEAR