Incubator kitchen brings hope, opportunity to Grand Rapids food startups

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Inside Kzoo Station, a new incubator kitchen launched in the Boston Square business district in Grand Rapids, Jeanetta Hudnell talks excitedly about the business she hopes to build there.

The grandmother, who lives half a mile from the kitchen on the southeast side, started pickling vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic and giving them to friends and family to layer on hot dogs, sandwiches and charcuterie boards. After completing an entrepreneurship program hosted by Spring GR, she decided to take her hobby to the next level and start Papa’s Peppers.

“I can take my idea and it comes to life,” said Hudnell, who plans to rent space in the incubator’s kitchen to get Papa’s Peppers up and running.

Papa’s Peppers is an example of the type of businesses that Spring GR and community development group Amplify GR seek to promote at Kzoo Station. The two organizations have partnered to create the kitchen, which is located at 1445 Kalamazoo Ave. SE and was completed in December, with the aim of providing a place to launch or expand food and restaurant businesses.

Rental space in the 1,400-square-foot kitchen, which is owned by a limited company tied to Rockford Construction, costs $20 an hour.

Inside the building, a former car dealership that had been vacant for years, users have access to a shiny new kitchen equipped with two electric convection ovens, deep fryer, flat grill, griddle , a 12-burner stove as well as a freezer and a cold room. Fix or six tenants are expected to use the space by April after obtaining the required licenses.

John Ippel, executive director of Amplify GR, a nonprofit working to redevelop several neighborhoods in the Southeast, said the idea for the kitchen was born out of community conversations.

“Food really became one of those things that a lot of neighbors had a passion for, had tremendous skills, and in many cases ran small businesses out of their kitchens,” he said. .

The Kzoo station, which cost around $600,000, was one of Amplify’s first completed projects in the Boston Square business district.

The nonprofit was created by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Cheri DeVos Foundation to redevelop the Cottage Grove, Boston Square and Madison Square neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are located in the city’s Third Ward, which is home to much of the city’s black population and has not shared the same level of investment as other parts of the city.

After renovations were completed in December, Kzoo Station slowly came back to life.

On Wednesday morning, Debbie Mitchell, the owner of Momma D’s Kitchen, met with a Kent County Health Department employee at Kzoo Station to receive a license to begin using the space this week.

“It’s a new facility, which means everything is running smoothly, and they have programs they’re going to put in place here to help entrepreneurs succeed,” said Mitchell, a Spring GR graduate whose company sells barbecue sauce and barbecue food.

Mitchell, 55, said she has rented space at other area cooking incubators, including Downtown Market in Grand Rapids and Prep Space in Wyoming. She decided to come to Kzoo Station after Spring GR contacted her and told her about the kitchen.

“I can network better here because it’s probably going to be Spring GR graduates here,” said Mitchell, who operates a mobile food cart and sells his barbecue sauce at Bridge Street Market, Sobie Meats and Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.

Spring GR, a company created by the DeVos family, will manage Kzoo Station.

Three program areas are planned for the space: Idea Lab, a cooking incubator program and Maker Space.

Idea Lab is a free and open workshop, accessible to everyone, designed to offer advice to residents who have an idea for a food business.

The Kitchen Incubator program is a 15-week course designed to give entrepreneurs in the food business the knowledge to start and grow their business and obtain the required licenses and certifications. Ten to twelve people can participate in the program, which takes place twice a year.

The final area, Maker Space, is designed for food businesses that are licensed, insured, and certified in proper food safety procedures, and want to rent space in the kitchen for $20 an hour. The goal is to have five or six tenants of this type by April.

“Our mission is to help businesses grow and become profitable so they can grow and achieve what they dream of,” said Arlene Campbell, Director of Spring GR.

Sitting at a table inside the kitchen, Hudnell talks about her dream of selling her pickled peppers to restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and more. A mixture that excites him is that of jalapeno peppers and Brussels sprouts.

“I know people haven’t heard of this before, but we make it work,” said Hudnell, who spent her adult life serving as a mother, caregiver and “professional student.”

“My dad passed away recently, and I was a caregiver for him, and I needed to turn my life around. So now is my time, and it’s a great opportunity to take my idea and make it a business.

Other entrepreneurs considering using the kitchen include Shantal Ferrell, owner of Savor the Flavor, as well as Kayla Munoz, owner of Let’s Taco.

Officials hope the Kzoo station will benefit from other developments Amplify has planned for the area.

In partnership with neighbors, Amplify has created a redevelopment plan for a nine-acre stretch of the Boston Square business district bordered on the east and west by Fuller and Kalamazoo Avenues, and on the north and south via Adams and Ramona streets.

The plan calls for 101 mixed-income apartments, commercial spaces, a community center with an early childhood education center, a park, green spaces and more. An official date for the inauguration of the apartments has not been set. However, Amplify obtained a low-income housing tax credit for the project, Ippel said.

Once the accommodations are completed, they will give a boost to businesses at Kzoo Station, he said.

“I imagine a day when there will be a hundred new families living across the street and what that will mean for businesses in terms of having a hundred new potential customers,” he said. declared. “It provides more convenience and opportunities for families, but also creates more business opportunities for people who go to work at Kzoo Station.”

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