Name: Kiah Gibian (they/them, she/her)
Class Year: 2008
Business Name: Our Time Kitchen and Wild Thyme
How long did you attend Sidwell Friends?
I started in 2nd Grade, so 11 years.
What is your relationship to the food & beverage industry, and how long have you been in that role?
My entryway to the food industry was through farming and farm-to-table education in 2012. I continued to work in farming and farm education, but my curiosity of where equity was being built and held in the industry led me to the kitchen. I worked in kitchens and a food truck until I eventually started my own food truck, Wilde Thyme, in Baltimore in 2017. I was continually baffled by the challenges small minority food businesses faced in building and retaining equity in this industry, so I eventually opened a commercial shared kitchen, Our Time Kitchen, with my friend Chef Cat, in July 2022. It is set up for members to join on an hourly basis to eliminate some of the overhead in starting up. The kitchen also offers several ways for members to generate revenue onsite (with a to-go window, food truck, backyard event space, and grab-and-go market). We also teach classes, consult, and share resources. My role now is multi-faceted, and I love it. I support a stage where small businesses can grow and shine and I also get to experiment and get creative in self-expression with my own food events at the kitchen.
What do you like most about your work?
I like that my work is interconnected in a bigger picture of social justice and social change. I had been working at a domestic violence center prior to getting involved in food. It was a challenging field to stay positive in and I became more and more interested in the ways that people nourish and recover from harm and oppression. Food is so integral to the way we take care of ourselves and our community. I entered into farming because I craved being outside, moving, and interacting with a bigger picture. Now, my interest in understanding the bigger picture has me zoomed out to a role I never anticipated for myself. Managing a kitchen that is shared by nearly 30+ small food businesses. I’m able to use food as a focal point to address social justice issues and explore bigger questions involving city legislation, the oppressive nature of banking institutions, the hazing of permitting, why people devalue the act of cleaning, how people can build new generational equity, and what gets in the way of people’s ability to build a business from scratch (from obstacles like not having a car to get to the farmer’s market, to societal structures around who takes care of the kids).
What is something you are most proud of accomplishing in your career?
My partnership with the co-owner of Our Time Kitchen, Catina Smith. I am so proud of the work we’ve put in together to be able to share a co-leadership role. Cat and I had met in the food industry because Cat would host “Chef Meet-ups”, an opportunity for small food business owners to get together and trade industry gossip and how-tos. I loved her energy immediately and we formed a friendship over the next five years, helping each other on big events and continuing to show up for one another. There was a pivotal moment at the start of the pandemic where we were making free meals for a local non-profit, paying high rent for the kitchen space we were using, sharing the space with a greasy BBQ truck that always left a mess, and Cat was one month postpartum and her baby was in the kitchen with us. Her baby dropped his bottle and it shattered on the ground and in that moment of absolute chaos we looked at each other and both expressed we believed we could create a more thoughtful kitchen space to help support small food businesses making good food for good reasons. Over the next two years we took out a loan, shared intimate personal finances, balanced slow income with big life events and navigating our own mental health and egos as we worked far too much. By the end of construction our tanks were low and we had a brand new kitchen to open. It has taken so much self-growth, love, communication, trust, and understanding to be able to build something of this scale with someone. It has changed my entire understanding of how we should build- from having the experience of being a sole proprietor, to working thoughtfully with someone, I don’t think any of us should be building alone anymore. Not only does it support accountability, it also gives the opportunity to build creatively and in new ways, something that doesn’t happen as often when building alone.
What are some of the most important skills you need to be successful in your current role within the food & beverage industry?
The ability to self-regulate and self-love! Cheesy, but bare with me. The food industry is a wild beast. The hours, the physicality, the default hierarchy, the demand, you can get sucked into it. Especially because it is also so alluring- it’s tactile, active, it is the house of celebration and reward, it is creative, it is culture, memory, and history, it is ever-changing. And those being pulled in are alternative, they’re the dyslexics (hi!), the ADHD, the part-timers, and the self/community taught. So you have all this- the chaos of work, and the collection of misfits, and you end up with a lot of stimulation entangled with small profit margins and lots and lots of feedback/optics/critique. Growing the skill to self-regulate after a 14-hour day on a 90º food truck is a must. Building the confidence to take feedback and keep it moving is vital. Loving yourself, after the good days and the bad, is important!
What piece of advice would you give to anyone, especially SFS students or young alums, who want to enter the food/beverage industry?
Be inquisitive? What facet of the industry are you drawn to? Why? Who holds power in that part of the industry? Why? Do you have an example of someone doing something you’d like to be doing? Ask them questions! There are so many teachers in this industry. I think a lot of people have the idea that everyone is holding onto that “family recipe”, “that secret ingredient”. But don’t let nepotism and competition rule your experience in this industry. Allow yourself to ask questions, ask for help, and practice! Practice can look like shadowing YouTube videos in your home kitchen, it can look like quitting from a cafe with a toxic work environment, and it can also look like trying a new food from a local business. Allow yourself to take time to understand what the draw is, and what you want your energy to go towards, because food is focal to so many things, and it’s worth taking some time to figure out how you want to dig in.
What is the most surprising thing about your job?
How social it is. I considered myself that cute delicate balance of introvert/extrovert prior to getting involved in this industry. Once I started working in food service and kitchens I was blown away by how much of my social juices got spent on a single shift. Whether you’re navigating social dynamics in the kitchen, or putting on a show for a customer, a lot of the hours at work can feel very very social. I have grown to appreciate recharging with alone time or out in nature.
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