Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan
By Josh Paciorek
July 15, 2015
Detroit is known for its cars, music, and sports teams.
Now it’s time to add ‘food’ to that list, too.
Detroit Kitchen Connect, in partnership with Eastern Market and FoodLab-Detroit, is a program that helps food entrepreneurs overcome the high cost of setting up a commercial kitchen by providing access to commercial, licensed kitchen facilities and equipment. Restaurant entrepreneurs who are part of the program buy local goods at Eastern Market and in turn use them to make and sell their own value-added products.
Anika-Kafi Grose, the community kitchen coordinator for Detroit Kitchen Connect, says that the program has played a significant role in fostering entrepreneurship in the community.
“There’s been an explosion of food entrepreneurs in Detroit, and that’s because this is a location where people have been able to find support,” Grose said. “No one thought Detroit had anything great going on for a while. We were a city on the downslide. But because it was forgotten, people were able to take chances here they wouldn’t have been able to in other locations. They were able to start their businesses and then grow it.”
Starlett Simmons, who owns Five Star Cake Co., says that using DKC has given her the opportunity to pursue both her passion and her career.
“Detroit Kitchen Connect has allowed food entrepreneurs to start a business, get our name out to the public, and then to get our products into local stores,” Simmons said. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Johnny Lee Jenkins Jr. owns Crème Detroipolis and makes his sweet potato crème-based desserts using DKC’s equipment. When he first started his business, he said that he had trouble finding licensed commercial kitchen equipment.
“To make Crème Detroipolis into a national brand or even just to have any credentials even as a local brand, I needed to be associated with a commercial kitchen, and it was very hard to find a commercial kitchen locally to work out of,” Jenkins Jr. said. “Detroit Kitchen Connect and being associated with Eastern Market made it very easy.”
In June 2013, the Eastern Market Corporation received a $1 million grant as part of Governor Rick Snyder’s Michigan Community Revitalization Program. Eastern Market used the grant funding to build DKC and renovate one of the market’s sheds.
“The renovation of this beloved Detroit landmark, with its new community kitchen, builds on Detroit’s growing urban agriculture movement and will bring a new vitality to the Eastern Market district,” Governor Snyder said. “This project will support entrepreneurship and small businesses, strengthen the community and create jobs in Detroit.”
Today, Eastern Market and DKC serve as two examples of Detroit’s ongoing comeback.
Alecha Benson-Lockhart, who grew up in Detroit and opened her business, Nirvana Tea, thanks to DKC, said that she has noticed a lot of people who moved away from the city are now returning because they want to be part of Detroit’s resurgence.
“[The people who moved away] still had the spirit of Detroit. And now they’re coming back,” she said. “This is a place you can call home. You can retire here comfortably. You can grow not just your family, but if you have dreams of a business, you can grow that here too.”
“To be competitive, a city has to have a vibrant culinary scene. And right now Detroit’s culinary scene is as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it,” Jenkins Jr. added. “I’m very proud to be a Detroiter, to be from Detroit, and to be part of Detroit’s renaissance.”
As Detroit continues its comeback, Grose said that she believes DKC will continue to play an important role in the city’s future.
“I see DKC continuing to grow and foster business development,” she said. “There are just so many opportunities in Detroit for people to be successful in the things they love to do and make. You can start a business here and be successful if you have a lot of grit and a lot of gumption.”