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 enthusiastically about the business she hopes to build there.

The grandmother, who lives a half-mile from the Southeast Side kitchen, started pickling vegetables during the Covid-19 pandemic, giving them to friends and family to put on hot dogs, sandwiches and dinner boards. After taking an entrepreneurship program hosted by Spring GR, he decided to take his hobby to the next level and start Papa.

“I can take my idea and make it a reality,” said Hudnell, who plans to lease space in the incubator’s kitchen to launch Papa Peppers.

Papa’s Peppers is an example of the type of businesses Spring GR and community development group Amplify GR are looking to create at Kzoo Station. The two organizations partnered to create the kitchen, located at 1445 Kalamazoo Ave., which was completed in December, with the goal of creating a place to start or expand food and hospitality businesses.

Space for rent in a 1,400-square-foot kitchen owned by an LLC associated with Rockford Construction costs $20 an hour.

Inside the building, a former car dealership that has been vacant for years, users have access to a sleek new kitchen with two electric convection ovens, a deep fryer, a flat grill, a griddle, and a 12-burner gas stove. Also freezer and refrigerator. Fix or six tenants are expected to use the space by April after obtaining the required permits.

John Apple, 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 those things that a lot of neighbors were passionate about, were incredibly good at, and in many cases ran small businesses out of their kitchens,” she said.

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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 in the Third Ward, which is home to a large portion of the city’s black population and does not have the same level of investment as other parts of the city.

After the renovations were completed in December, the Kzoo station is slowly coming back to life.

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

“It’s a new facility, which means everything works, and they have programs that are going to be here to help entrepreneurs succeed,” said Mitchell, a Spring GR graduate whose business sells barbecue sauce and barbecue food. gave

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 after Spring GR came to Kzoo station and told him about the kitchen.

“I can network better here because it’s probably the Spring GR students that are here,” said Mitchell, who runs a mobile food cart and sells her barbecue sauce at the Bridge Street Market, Sobi Meats and the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.

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Spring GR, a business venture created by the DeVos family, will manage the Kzoo station.

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

Idea Lab is a free and open workshop available to anyone designed to provide guidance to residents who have an idea for a food business.

The Kitchen Incubator program is a 15-week course designed to help food entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses and obtain the necessary licenses and certifications. 10 to 12 people can participate in this program, which is held twice a year.

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

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

Sitting at a table in the kitchen, Hudnell talks about his dream of selling his pickled peppers to restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and more. One combination he’s excited about is jalapeno peppers and Brussels sprouts.

“I know people have never heard of it before, but we’re doing it,” said Hudnell, who has spent her adulthood as a mother, caregiver and “professional student.”

My father just passed away and I was taking care of him and I need to make a change in my life. So this is my time, and this is a great opportunity to take the idea and turn it into a business.”

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Other entrepreneurs planning to use 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 improvements Amplify has in store for the area.

In partnership with neighbors, Amplify created a plan to redevelop 9 acres of Boston’s commercial district, bordered on the east and west by Fuller and Kalamazoo avenues and on the north and south by Adams and Ramona avenues.

The plan calls for 101 mixed-income apartments, retail space, a community center with an early childhood education center, a park, green space and more. The official start date for the apartments has not been set. However, Amplify has been awarded a low-income housing tax credit for the project, Apple said.

Once the housing is completed, it will boost business at Kzoo Station, he said.

“I envision a day when a hundred new families live across the street and what that will mean for businesses in terms of having a hundred new potential customers,” he said. “This will provide more convenience and opportunities for families, but it will also create more business opportunities for the people who are going to work at the Kzoo station.”

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