The Joys of Installing a Commercial Kitchen in an Old Bldg

This is from a conversation on the old forum:

Commercial kitchens installed in newly built bed and breakfasts are truly wonderful. If the contractor is up on the local health code regarding kitchen design and if he has designed the facility in cooperation with a chef or kitchen manager, the newly built kitchen should be a joy to behold.

Unfortunately, most of us have to remodel kitchens in existing facilities. Most of these facilities were never built as commercial units and if they were, the kitchens were designed according to codes that have long since become outdated.

My bed and breakfast is housed in an old building that was originally constructed as a single family house in 1883. In 1990, a contractor bought this building for his wife and converted it into a 7 bedroom bed and breakfast. He also rebuilt the kitchen along commercial lines. When this facility was licensed for operation in 1991 as a bed and breakfast, it also had a restaurant license.

Time passed.

The first innkeeper/owner got divorced. His wife moved away. The restaurant closed and the B&B was sold. I am now the third innkeeper/owner.

“Not to worry,” said the first owner who still lives in town. “This place used to have a restaurant license. How hard could it be to get a new license?”

As it happens, it was pretty hard.

In the 14 years since the restaurant first became operational, the building codes and health codes have changed.

Pennsylvania now requires all building plans to be submitted to the Department of Labor and Industry for their approval. Persons submitting these plans are required to have their plans proved by their municipal government.

Elizabethville is a small coummunity of some 1,300 people. Our borough council doesn’t examine building plans.

“Just send the plans in to the state,” adviced a council member.

“Not good enough,” grumbled a member of L&I. “All plans must have prior approval by a municipal authority.”

“But Elizabethville doesn’t review building plans!” I wailed. “What do I do?”

“Well,” mused the government official. “I suppose you could submit the plans directly to us. If you submitted them, they’d sit in our in-box until we got to them. Once we examined them, they would automatically be rejected for non-compliance of our policy. You could then resubmit them and request a variance to excuse your blueprints on the grounds that there is no municipal oversight.”

“Why can’t I request a variance from the get go?” I asked.

“Because that’s not policy.”


On top of that, chapter 46 of the new food code no longer grants variances to old buildings. When this facility had a restaurant license back in 1991, it had old wooden floors, and an electric range with a wall mounted exhaust. Variances were granted to this facility for its old wooden floors and the lack of a fire suppression hood.

The NEW regulations require that all floors be NON PERMEABLE. I’ve had to have the beautiful old wooden floors in the kitchen covered with tile. Since I now had a non permeable floor, I also had to have a mop sink installed.

An NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 1995 certified vent exhaust hood with a built in fire suppression system had to be added. The three tiered sink had to be replaced because it was too small to fit the average pot. The loss of this sink shrank the area of my already limited counter space.

The health inspector didn’t like the refrigerator that I purchased last year. It really needs to be commercial he grumbled. (He gave me a pass after examining the thermometers in the freezer and refrigerator). He also didn’t like the home use microwave. “It needs to be commercial.” (A home use microwave only costs around $70. A relatively cheap commercial unit costs $700!)

The biggest problem I’ve had with the installation of a commercial kitchen, other than cost, is the fact that this old building was never designed for a modern commercial kitchen. The room is much too small for what I really need. Instead of having a room where the needs of service dictate the arrangement of equipment and counters, I’ve had to design my service around my equipment.

The inclusion of a hand wash station inside the kitchen eliminated one of my pot racks. I’ve had to consolidate my pots and pans and store the rest in the basement along with my commercial freezer and all dry goods and canned goods.

Space is definitely at a premium and I suppose it’s just as well that I can’t seat more than 20 people as my tiny kitchen can barely cook and hot hold food for that many guests.

If I want a bigger capacity kitchen, I’ll have to expand the kitchen into my only ground floor bedroom. This will double the size of the kitchen but will eliminate my disabled guest room that’s fully ADA compliant.

At this point I’ve decided not to expand operations. Since I’ve owned my facility for less than two years, I want to continue developing the B&B. The kitchen I have isn’t ideal – but it works for our current needs.

3 thoughts on “The Joys of Installing a Commercial Kitchen in an Old Bldg”

  1. I had the same issues here. Not from the health inspector but from the fire marshal. We opted to install the hood at a cost of $5600.00 to get them off our backs. At least we didn’t have to install a sprinkler system for the building basement as the heating equipment was less than the BTU’s specified so “shame on you Ms fire marshal for not checking the ratings of the equipment before giving me a heart attack!”

  2. Thanks Terry,
    Some of the best advice we got when we started planning our B&B was to fully check out the septic requirements (health department) and the fire codes. I guess the same could be said of upgrading to a commercial kitchen

  3. Terry, where have you finally landed? Tell us about your B&B, other than it has a great kitchen hood.
    Years ago an innkeeping client of mine installed a commercial-grade kitchen. The inspector had been a royal pain (RP)during the entire construction process. At the final inspection, the RP checked the self-extinguishing, vented hood — but forgot to turn it to “test” mode; he covered himself and the kitchen with foam. Just like in the movies, he removed his glasses, exposing his eyes and skin. The innkeepers laughed so hard they had to leave the room to keep from falling over into the foam.
    I love that story, and think about it each time someone mentions installing a commercial kitchen. Or dealing with power-hungry inspectors.

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