Incubator kitchen brings hope, opportunity to Grand Rapids food startups

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Inside Kzoo Station, a new incubator kitchen opening in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square Business District, Jeanetta Hudnell talks passionately about the businesses she hopes to build there.

His grandmother, who lives half an hour away from the southeast kitchen, began harvesting vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic and giving them to friends and family to put on hot dogs, sandwiches and charcuterie boards. . After going through an entrepreneurial program organized by Spring GR, he decided to take his hobby to the next level and start Papa’s Peppers.

“I can take my idea and make it come to life,” said Hudnell, who plans to rent space in the incubator kitchen to raise Papa Peppers.

Papa’s Peppers is an example of the type of business that Spring GR and community development group Amplify GR are looking to nurture at Kzoo Station. The two organizations collaborated to create the kitchen, located at 1445 Kalamazoo Ave. SE and was completed in December, with the aim of providing space for food and dining businesses to start or expand.

Space for rent in the 1,400-square-foot kitchen, which is owned by a limited liability company affiliated with Rockford Construction, costs $20 an hour.

Inside the building, a former car dealership that has sat empty for years, users have access to a bright new kitchen, complete with two electric ovens, a toaster, a flat-top grill, a sink, a 12-burner oven, and also refrigerators and cold storage. Fix or six tenants are expected to use the space in April after receiving the necessary permits.

John Ippel, executive director of Amplify GR, a nonprofit organization working to revitalize the Southeast, said the idea for the kitchen was born out of a community conversation.

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“It really became one of those things where a lot of neighbors loved food, had great skills, and often ran small businesses out of their kitchens,” he said.

Kzoo Station, which cost approximately $600,000 to complete, is one of Amplify’s first projects in the Boston Square Business District.

The non-profit organization was created by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Cheri DeVos Foundation with the goal of redeveloping the Cottage Grove, Boston Square and Madison Square neighborhoods. The neighborhood is part of the city’s Third Ward, which is home to a large portion of the city’s black population and has not shared the same level of investment as other parts of the city.

After the renovation in December, Kzoo Station slowly came back to life.

On Wednesday morning, Debbie Mitchell, owner of Momma D’s Kitchen, met with Kent County Health Department officials at Kzoo Station to obtain a permit to begin operating the space. this week.

“It’s a new approach, which means everything works, and they have a program here to help entrepreneurs succeed,” said Mitchell, a Spring GR graduate who sells barbecue sauce and barbecue food.

Mitchell, 55, said he has leased space at other kitchen incubators in the area, including Downtown Market in Grand Rapids and Prep Space in Wyoming. He decided to go to Kzoo Station when the GR spring arrived and told him about the kitchen.

“I can relate better here because it’s probably GR spring graduates coming here,” said Mitchell, who operates a mobile food cart and sells barbecue sauce at Bridge Street Market, Sobie Meats and Fulton Street. Farmer’s Market.

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Kzoo Station will be managed by Spring GR, a DeVos family-owned business.

Three program areas are planned for the space: Idea Lab, Kitchen Incubator Program, and Maker Space.

Idea Lab is a free and open workshop, open to all, designed to provide guidance to residents with food business ideas.

The Kitchen Incubator Program is a 15-week course designed to provide food entrepreneurs with the knowledge to start and grow their businesses and obtain the necessary licenses and certifications. Ten to 12 people can participate in the program, which is held twice a year.

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

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

Sitting at her kitchen table, Hudnell talked about her dream of selling her sliced ​​peppers to restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and more. One exciting combination is jalapeno peppers and brussels sprouts.

“I know people haven’t heard of it before, but we do,” said Hudnell, who has spent most of her life as a mother, caregiver and “professional student.”

“My father passed away recently, and I was raising him, and I needed to change my life. So now is my time, and now is a good time to take my idea and turn it into a business. “

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

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

Working with neighbors, Amplify created a plan to redevelop nine acres of the Boston Square Business District bounded east and west by Fuller and Kalamazoo avenues, and north and south by Ave. Adams and Ramona.

The plan calls for 101 mixed-income apartments, retail, a community center with an early childhood education center, parks, space and more. Groundbreaking dates for these buildings have not yet been determined. However, Amplify received a low-income property tax credit for the project, Ippel said.

Once the building is completed, it will give a boost to the business at Kzoo Station, he said.

“I think of a day where there are hundreds of new families living across the street and what that means to the business in terms of having hundreds of new customers,” he said. “It provides more satisfaction and opportunity for families, but also brings more business opportunities for the people who will work at Kzoo Station.”

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