By Ed Sealover – Denver Business Journal The Kitchen is going through a growth spurt now, but that wasn’t always the plan for the Boulder restaurant. After the original location opened on Pearl Street in 2004, The Kitchen Upstairs — a community bar — opened on top of it in 2005. But co-founder Kimbal Musk recalled that he and his partners could not figure out how to scale up their business model to open additional locations after that. Then he suffered a serious accident while skiing on Valentine’s Day 2010, leaving him hospital-ridden for months, with lots of time to think. And the idea came to him: The upscale eatery would grow into smaller, more casual spaces and would make extra effort to expand its Learning Gardens program for teaching kids how to grow food even ahead of the restaurant going into a new city. By the end of 2014, the formerly two-store restaurant will have eight locations, including The Kitchen Chicago, its first move out of Colorado. “Our goal is community through food, and a bigger community means we’re reaching our goal,” Musk said. “Every single opportunity we have done has been kind of a unique opportunity.” That’s especially true of The Kitchen Next Door Glendale, part of the more casual “Next Door” series of restaurants that opened on Feb. 26 in the City Set development. Normally a fan of historic buildings, Musk said he wasn’t interested in going into a “concrete jungle” until he realized the change he could bring to the community. Through the Learning Gardens program since September 2011, The Kitchen has built gardens in 166 elementary schools where children learn to raise vegetables. Because Glendale didn’t have an elementary school, it constructed a food-cultivation area instead in a city-owned park near low-income apartments, and city officials hope the project both serves an educational tool for kids and makes a statement about the community. “What it shows is that in Glendale, we’re very pro-business and we’re very philanthropic at the same time,” Mayor Pro Tem Paula Bovo said, echoing restaurant leaders’ goals. “If there’s anything we can do to go that extra mile for a business, we end up doing it.” Where does The Kitchen grow after its planned fall opening in Chicago, where it already has built about 100 learning gardens? It all depends on what locations show an interest in the restaurant concept and what locations look good, Musk said. “We really have our approach to growth, which is: Let’s just make sure we do a great job,” he said. “If we wanted to grow, we could grow a hell of a lot faster … The spaces we have just come to us.”
The amazing Musks
In case you’re thinking Kimbal Musk’s last name sounds familiar, you’re right — the co-founder of The Kitchen is the younger brother of Elon Musk, the innovator who launched PayPal and operates Tesla Motors. Growing up in South Africa, the siblings were part of an entrepreneurial family, descended from a grandfather who had explored Africa. They often came up with business ideas as teens and once rounded up access to enough machines to start a video arcade just down from their school, as video games were hard to find in the country in the 1980s, Kimbal remembered. But Elon was 16 at the time and Kimbal was 15, and the boys — who hatched the plan with their 15- and 13-year-old cousins — learned only as they arrived at the city offices to sign operational permits that someone in charge of the company had to be at least 18. So, they took the papers back to their parents, figuring they would praise their business acumen. That, however, did not happen, Kimbal recalled. Instead they got a stern lecture about concentrating on school. “They squashed that,” he remembered, laughing. The incident didn’t crush their spirits, however. While Kimbal is busy building restaurants and community gardens, Elon is working on a proposal for a subsonic air travel machine that can minimize the travel time between two far-off points. Guess the family still thinks outside the box.