An incubator kitchen brings hope and opportunity to food startups in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Inside Kzoo Station, a new incubator kitchen launched in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square business district, Janita Hudnell speaks excitedly about the business she hopes to build there.

Grandma, who lives a half mile from the South East Side Kitchen, started pickling vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic and giving them away to friends and family to put on hot dogs, sandwiches and charcuterie boards. After going through an entrepreneurship program hosted by Spring GR, she decided to take her hobby to the next level and launch Papa’s Peppers.

“I can take my idea and bring it to life,” said Hudnell, who plans to rent space in an incubator’s kitchen to start Papa’s Peppers.

Papa’s Peppers is just one example of the type of business Spring GR and community development group Amplify GR are looking to foster in Kzoo Station. The two organizations teamed up to create the kitchen, which is located at 1445 Kalamazoo Ave. SE and completed in December, with the aim of providing a venue for a food and catering business to launch or expand.

The rental space for the 1,400-square-foot kitchen, which is owned by an LLC connected to Rockford Construction, is $20 an hour.

Inside the building, a former auto dealership that has been vacant for years, users have access to a shiny new kitchen complete with two electric ovens, a skillet, flat grill, rotisserie, and stove with 12 burners. In addition to freezer and cold storage. Fix or six tenants are expected to use the space by April after the required licenses are obtained.

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

“Food really became one of the things that a lot of the neighbors had a passion for, had tremendous skill with, and in many cases ran small businesses out of their own kitchen,” he said.

The Kzoo station, which cost about $600,000 to complete, is one of the first projects completed by Amplify in the Boston Square business district.

The nonprofit 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 neighborhoods are located within the city’s 3rd district, 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 completing renovations in December, Kzoo Station is slowly coming to life.

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

“It’s a new facility, which means everything works, and they have programs they’ll do here to help entrepreneurs succeed,” said Mitchell, a Spring GR graduate whose business sells barbecue sauce and barbecue foods.

Mitchell, 55, said she has rented space at other kitchen incubators in the area, including Downtown Market in Grand Rapids and PrepSpace in Wyoming. I decided to come to Kzoo Station after Spring GR reached out and told her about the kitchen.

“I can communicate better here because often it will be Spring GR alumni who are here,” said Mitchell, who runs a mobile food cart and sells her barbecue sauce at Bridge Street Market, Soupy Meats, and Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.

Spring GR, the entrepreneurial startup created by the DeVos family, will operate the Kzoo station.

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

The Idea Lab is a free and open workshop, open to anyone, designed to provide guidance to residents with a food business idea.

The Kitchen Incubator Program is a 15-week course designed to give food entrepreneurs the knowledge to start and grow their businesses and obtain the required license and certification. Ten to 12 people can take part in the programme, which is held twice a year.

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

“Our mission is to help companies grow and be profitable so they can develop and do what they dream of,” said Arlene Campbell, Spring GR Director.

Sitting at a table inside the kitchen, Hudnell talks about her dream of selling her pickled peppers at restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and more. One combination she’s excited about is jalapeno peppers and Brussels sprouts.

“I know people have never heard of this, but we make it work,” said Hudnell, who has spent her adult life working as a mother, caregiver and “professional student.”

“My dad recently passed away, and I was his caregiver, and I needed to make a life change. So this is my time, and this is a great opportunity to take my idea and turn it into a business.”

Other entrepreneurs planning to use the kitchen include Chantal Ferrel, owner of Savor the Flavor, as well as Kayla Munoz, owner of Let’s Taco.

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

In partnership with neighbors, Amplify has created a plan to redevelop a nine-acre stretch of the Boston Square Business District bounded on the east and west by Fuller and Kalamazoo Streets, and on the north and south by Adams and Ramona Streets.

The plan calls for 101 mixed-income apartments, retail space and a community center with an early childhood education center, park, green space and more. No official date has been set for laying the foundation stone for the apartments. However, Amplify did take a low-income housing tax credit for the project, Ippel said.

Once the housing is complete, he said, it will provide a boost to businesses at Kzoo Station.

He said, “I imagine a day when a hundred new families live across the street, and what that will mean to companies in terms of having a hundred potential new customers.” “It provides more convenience and opportunities for families but also more employment opportunities for the people who will work at Kzoo station.”

Read more:

Greek snack company opens US headquarters in Kentwood, plans to create up to 185 jobs

A new bagel and waffle shop opens in Grand Rapids

Will this town leave the Kent County Library system behind? Voters decide.

The Kum & Go gas station opened its first of 4 planned stations in the Grand Rapids area

Leave a Comment