Kitchen 242 offers opportunity for a new generation of food entrepreneurs

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– PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE EXCEPT WHERE NOTED

By Cynthia Price

People have to eat, so that has usually meant that there are a lot of business ideas popping up around food ­– food products, restaurants, caterers, and more.

In Muskegon, there’s a lot of help available for people with those ideas to make them a reality at Kitchen 242.

Many people may associate the kitchen, which is on the premises of the Muskegon Farmers’ Market, with cooking classes – and that is certainly something they do, including allowing chefs to  test out ideas for food teaching.

But the complex’s main function is as an “incubator” for food businesses. Services focus primarily around the use of the kitchen, but there is a constellation of references and additional help for budding food entrepreneurs.

Renae?Hesselink, who has a long history of successful projects, is serving as the manager of the project. Nichols, where Hesselink is Vice President of Sustainability, contracts her out for the job. Her broad knowledge of food systems and the business world have made her the perfect director for the first four years of the Kitchen 242 incubator project.

The kitchen, which charges very reasonable rental prices, not only offers a place to test out recipes and experiment with gearing up to scale for potential businesses, but also can be used by existing restaurants or caterers who need additional space for certain events or for larger trainings. It is even available for groups who want to get together and do something like make big batches of holiday cookies.

There are currently 12 food businesses working out of Kitchen 242, from the well-known Abeshi’s Ghana Cuisine?(see article below  about Taste of Muskegon) to What’s your Jam, which offers a variety of flavors made with local ingredients, to The Italian Spoon.

There are also several graduates, including Bodhi Tree Juice Company (about which more in a future issue) and The Only Cannoli.

Kitchen 242 helps businesses work their way through the licensing maze and offers some business development advice, but also partners with business development agencies such as Grand Valley State University’s Innovation HUB, Michigan State University Product Center (see below), MSU Extension, and the retirees’ group SCORE for further counseling. “It’s great to refer them to SCORE here because one of the?counselors is John Riegler who is married to The Cheese Lady and helped her to be a success,” says Hesselink.

There is a lot more in store at Kitchen 242. “We’re launching a chef incubator too,” she says. “We’ll be holding a food hall, kind of a jazzed-up version of a food court on Friday night, June 28. We’re working with Baker Culinary, and different chefs will present foods for sampling.”

It is clear that Kitchen 242 is Hesselink’s passion. “There are just so many great people working through here, and they all have these wonderful stories,” she says.

One such story is of Davine and Brian Calkins, who began creating batches of cookies at the kitchen, for what is now called 490 Bakery.

The cookies are named after well-known places in Muskegon, especially neighborhoods, for example, the McLaughlin Victorian Molasses Cookie. “My husband came up with that idea during one of our late night brainstorming sessions, and I said to him, that’s really good,” says Davine Calkins. “It was fun researching and looking around. It’s a lot of stuff we knew already, but it was just enjoyable to see really how wonderful our community is.?I want to highlight Muskegon as so much more than just the shoreline and the fun touristy stuff in the
summer.”

The cookies are currently available at Sweet Annie’s in Montague and Drip Drop Drink in Muskegon, but when the new Boom Town Market opens up downtown they will be sold there too. Calkins is looking for other outlets, and cookies can also be ordered through the website, www.the490bakery.com

What is unique about the project is that 490 Bakery will also hire the formerly incarcerated, partnering with Fresh Coast Alliance where Calkins works. She has recently cut back her hours so she can concentrate on this. The returning citizens will be hired on for short terms as they transition back to normal lives, since Calkins knows that it is often difficult for them to go right back to a 40-hour work  in addition to all the other things they need to do.

At least for now, 490 Bakery will continue to bake cookies at Kitchen 242. “We don’t have any intention of going into debt financially,” she says. “So sometimes we’re going a little slower than we’d like.

“I talked to Renae so many times before I finally took the plunge,” says Calkins, who is also working with Kendra Wills of the MSU Product Innovation Center. “Renae is so amazing, she and Kendra both. Kendra really cares.”

Wills is currently working with a few Kitchen 242 “makers,” as they are called, and would like to help more people in Muskegon. She holds hours on Thursday (and other times by appointment) at Drip Drop Drink, and invites people to just stop by, whether they have specific business questions or just a great idea. “We try not to make too much noise,” she says, laughing.

The Center charges a $50 application fee once an entrepreneur determines to go forward, but after that there is no fee involved. People producing pet or health/beauty products made from “natural resources” are also eligible to apply.

Wills in turn refers some of her clients to places like Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women or the Small Business Development Administration. “We’re all team members, including Renae, who want to help grow the entrepreneur. We all have roles to play.”

For help, visit the website, kitchen242.com/contacts, and fill out the form, or call 231-769-2202.

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