Kzoo Station project takes next step

Interest form now open for prospective tenants of incubator kitchen and food business space.
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When completed, Kzoo Station could be home to several neighborhood food entrepreneurs. Courtesy Nancy Toledo for Amplify GR

The partners behind Kzoo Station: A Community Kitchen + Eatery are inviting entrepreneurs in the 49507 ZIP code to explore being a tenant of their new space when it opens this spring or summer.

Kzoo Station: A Community Kitchen + Eatery, a partnership of the small business training organization SpringGR and the economic development nonprofit Amplify GR, will be a commercial kitchen and multitenant retail food business space that will provide opportunities for southeast side residents looking to grow or start a food business.

The two organizations last fall began renovating the 1,416-square-foot former Good Shepherd Auto Repair building at 1445 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in the Boston Square neighborhood to create Kzoo Station, which is expected to open next summer.

It will be the first development in the collective community design known as Boston Square Together, a 10-acre parcel in the center of the Boston Square neighborhood in Grand Rapids that will include affordable housing, an early childhood learning center, a park, a food hall and retail space.

The Boston Square Together project is run by a partnership of local organizations, including Amplify GR, the Boston Square Neighborhood Association and Oakdale Neighbors, as well as businesses and residents, all of whom are working together to create and execute a shared vision of widening economic pathways in a neighborhood that has experienced decades of inequity.

SpringGR and Amplify GR have started collecting contact information from businesses and entrepreneurs who might be interested in occupying space at the Kzoo Station facility.

The tenant interest form is available at springgr.com/kzoo-station.

Danielle Williams Courtesy Amplify GR

Danielle Williams, director of economic opportunities for Amplify GR, said the partners aren’t quite ready to start signing tenants, but they are conducting conversations and interviews with those who express interest.

Amplify GR’s service area includes most of the 49507 ZIP code, and so Williams said she expects the entrepreneurs likely would be based in either Boston Square, Madison Square, Garfield Park, Alger Heights or Franklin/Eastern.

“The impetus for the project really came from neighbor feedback in two different areas,” she said. “One was that we have folks in the community who are existing food businesses, who are either working out of their home or who are working out of other kitchens across the area, and so there was a need for space that was closer to the neighborhood, as well as the space that would offer, in addition to the kitchen space, some technical assistance and resources for food businesses (and) a point-of-sale option for food businesses.

“The other thing that really resonated with neighbors was the desire for more diverse food options in the neighborhood. … There were a lot of references to the old Boston House, and how people missed that environment of a neighborhood place where people could gather, could get food, could have good conversation, and so while this building won’t be able to provide all of those things right away or all at once, that was the energy that went into how this project should feel.”

With that in mind, there eventually will be a public-facing element of Kzoo Station, offering takeout and/or retail sales.

Although Kzoo Station will be a small space, footprint-wise, Williams said the partners estimate they should be able to accommodate about 20 businesses, between those that want to use the kitchen for catering or packaging products for distribution full time and those that are more interested in SpringGR’s part-time technical assistance resources, training, classes or pop-up events.

Williams said the space mostly will cater to earlier-stage entrepreneurs.

“That’s where that technical assistance piece comes into play, whether it is looking for financing or figuring out how to package a product and distribute your product, or maybe you’re just looking to strengthen your culinary skills — those are all things that we want to be able to offer out of this space for businesses,” she said.

Amplify GR and SpringGR are aware this project won’t be able to meet the needs of all the community’s entrepreneurs, so Williams said they will strive to connect the entrepreneurs that can’t operate at Kzoo Station to other underutilized kitchens in the community, such as those at churches or community centers.

Williams said as Kzoo Station is an incubator, the hope is that it will constantly be graduating entrepreneurs and adding new ones.

“The hope is that we’ll have businesses that will incubate in Kzoo Station that will grow out of that space and maybe grow into their own stall in the food hall, or into packaged goods, or into their own restaurant space,” she said. “We’re really hoping that this is a catalyst to other opportunities for neighbors and for businesses.”

While there are other incubator kitchen concepts in West Michigan, such as the Grand Rapids Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen, the Can-Do Kitchen in Kalamazoo and Kitchen 242 in Muskegon (a partnership between the Muskegon Farmers Market and Michigan State University), Williams said Kzoo Station more closely follows a model similar to that of Purpose Built Communities, a national network of 28 communities of which Amplify GR is part, designed to take a place-based approach to community development.

“We’ve had conversations with our partners in other cities who have either done something similar or who have experienced similar types of spaces,” she said. “They’re all a little bit different. … I think the real thing about this project that makes it unique is it’s drawing on the feedback and the needs of these residents and these neighbors.”

Funding for the Kzoo Station is being provided through Amplify GR, which also received a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) for equipment and services. The MDARD grant also will support the Kzoo Station chefs’ produce and dry good procurement from South East Market, which is across the street, in turn supporting the market’s supply chain of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers from Michigan.

More information on Kzoo Station is at bit.ly/kzoostation.

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