Urban Kitchen’s intimate classes teach the tricks of the trade

Raised in a home where her family connected over food and cooking, Michelle Hohman was inspired by the special moments she experienced growing up. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu with restaurant and test kitchen experience, she opened Urban Kitchen in 2013 to offer a space where people could create and enjoy meals together.

“Urban Kitchen is a culinary space that celebrates community and connection over the preparation and enjoyment of handcrafted meals,” Hohman says. “We do this through a variety of curated experiences, including our recreational classes and workshops, private dinners, corporate team-building events and kid camps.”

Cooking classes are offered in Urban Kitchen’s industrial loft-style space in South Pasadena, which includes a large kitchen that resembles one you’d find in a person’s home, not a restaurant. Hohman designed it this way this so that customers could learn how to make a meal and visualize themselves doing it at home.

The classes cover everything from pasta making, breads and desserts to farm-to-table Latin meals. Seasonal classes, such as making desserts as holiday gifts, are added to the schedule at various times of the year. Classes are taught by Hohman and her team of guest instructors—all are accomplished chefs who share knowledge, tips and tricks that participants can incorporate into their cooking at home. Previous instructors have included Food Network star Jane Soudah and chef Matthew Roberts of Union Restaurant, among others.

Class sizes are eight to 10 people and typically last three hours. The first two hours are spent cooking, followed by the last hour, where everyone sits together around a table and eats their creations. Hohman’s weekly classes were always full and quickly booked up on the website—so much, in fact, that the South Pasadena space had already reached full capacity. Hohman was planning to open more locations in other cities in order to accommodate people in other communities that wanted to enroll in her cooking courses. But then the COVID-19 crisis occurred and changed all of her plans.

“We had great momentum going into 2020 when the pandemic hit,” Hohman says. “I think initially we thought it would be somewhat short term, so we postponed our recreational classes and private events for the first few weeks. As the coronavirus numbers and casualties continued to mount, we realized this was going to be our new reality for the foreseeable future. The revenue stream was completely cut off.”

Back to square one, Hohman knew she had to get creative—and fast. She and her team members began reaching out to their loyal customer base and asking how they could be of service. Based on the feedback they received, Hohman built out a more robust recipe page on the website, provided meal plans and shopping lists via her newsletters, and hosted “Saturday Social” live lessons on IGTV.

“We also began promoting like-minded businesses who were also in need of help during this pandemic,” Hohman shares.

“These were not revenue-generating activities, but we felt it was important to be a resource to our customers and community. This pandemic has taught us so much. We learned to stay positive and turn to our customers as a resource for how we can best serve. It created the space and revealed the importance of reaching out to other businesses and developing long-lasting partnerships. It solidified the idea that we needed a revenue stream that we could maintain should this happen again. We are a family-owned and -operated business, and this pandemic certainly brought us closer together.”

Just prior to the shutdown, Hohman had been planning the addition of a pantry component. She picked up the pace on the project during the time that her business was closed.

“We’ve been working with our fabulous branding team, Designsake Studio, on building out the pantry component,” Hohman says. “Urban Kitchen Pantry will have an on-site and e-commerce presence and offer many of the products and ingredients we use in our classes and then some.”

As businesses have begun to gradually reopen, Hohman says she will offer her popular “Kids in the Kitchen” summer camps once again this year but with new guidelines. Designed for kids ages 9 to 14, each week-long session enables young chefs to learn new culinary skills, tips and techniques. On the last day of camp, participants get to compete in a friendly “Chopped” challenge as they put their new skills to the test.

Hohman and her team are excited to see its campers and have been busy redesigning the space and curriculum to adhere to Los Angeles County guidelines. Urban Kitchen’s adult recreational classes will also slowly restart, but their private parties, workshops and team-building events will remain on hold for now.

“The pandemic may have been a punch to the gut, but the recent display of minority-targeted brutality and violence knocked us out emotionally,” Hohman says. “Since the day we opened our doors, Urban Kitchen has been deeply committed to providing a safe culinary space to celebrate family, friends and community. Our community only thrives when we collaborate while celebrating our differences.”

For more information, visit urbankitchen-la.com.