In addition to the many other hats she wears, a local self-described creative and foodie started making artisan preserves as an outlet for her passion for cooking and her love for entertaining friends with unique and great-tasting offerings. Now, her onetime hobby is a business that’s selling product in 22 states.
Kimberly Slaikeu, who holds a Ph.D. in nursing and urban studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is a published author, certified life coach, former Grand Valley State University assistant professor of nursing and award-winning nurse executive and clinician.
In August 2019, she added the title of founder and business owner to her list of accomplishments with the formation of Luxe Artisan Preserves.
Slaikeu said she has always believed that food is “one of the highest expressions of love.” Starting at age 6, she began helping her mother and grandmother harvest fruits and vegetables from their urban garden to be freshly cooked or preserved.
As a lover of entertaining, Slaikeu said she always strives to create experiences that are unique to her space and dishes that friends can’t find anywhere else. Luxe was unofficially born a while back when she was entertaining a group of guests and decided to whip up some preserves using blackberries, basil and port wine she had on hand. After the success of that endeavor, she continued to play with various flavor profiles.
After her official launch last August, she became a tenant in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen. In September 2019, she was selected as one of the top 100 finalists of Start Garden’s 100 Ideas competition.
The Downtown Market incubator kitchen program provides “customized business counseling to budding and existing food entrepreneurs in a supportive and flexible environment that fosters production and creativity in a licensed commercial kitchen,” according to the market. Since its beginnings in 2013, 1,000-plus startup food entrepreneurs have received individualized business counseling services through the program, and 14 have graduated from it. In 2020, 170 local entrepreneurs were mentored, with 11 launching a new food startup and six graduating to their own facilities.
Ryan Bolhuis, culinary operations manager at the Downtown Market, said he has been impressed and encouraged by the food startups incubating in the kitchen in 2020, a year that has made everything difficult for small businesses.
“Food entrepreneurs are resilient, and the businesses in the incubator kitchen program have creatively adapted to challenges they’ve faced this year so that they can continue providing quality food products to our community,” he said.
Slaikeu said she has loved being in a clean and well-appointed space with a view of the city she can watch while she spends hours making her products. She added Bolhuis — a classically trained chef — has offered a wealth of knowledge to Luxe and the other food businesses in the incubator.
Although Slaikeu had to pause her business for part of the year due to COVID-19, she said she is grateful for the time it provided for her to further develop her concept.
“The pandemic was an opportunity for me to evaluate what is most important to me and align myself with those things as consistently as possible,” she said. “It was a blessing in disguise for me. I was able to spend a significant amount of time working on the business, instead of in the business; most entrepreneurs know how challenging that can be. I spent a lot of time in research and development, engaging with my customers on a more intimate level.”
Slaikeu noted the versatility of Luxe’s products, with her customers posting photos on social media showing they use the preserves not primarily as a breakfast item, such as a spread on toast, but as a cooking ingredient in dishes, a marinade for meats, a pairing/accompaniment for hors d’oeuvres and an “accessory,” i.e., a slight drizzle on some of their favorite desserts and dishes.
“Luxe can be used to change the traditional construct of a dish,” she said. “That’s the part I think I’m most proud of and one of the reasons I continue to make it. Even though people might enjoy cooking, we just don’t have a lot of time to be in the kitchen … so why not take a product where you can have salmon three nights a week and just change the profile of the marinade you use, and it tastes totally different every single night? That’s one of the goals of Luxe is to provide ease to people in the kitchen and still have their food taste really, really good.”
Luxe sells products online and at Capital City Market in Lansing, and Slaikeu said she is looking to place her goods in a grocery store with locations across the U.S., if all goes well, with the eventual goal of doing international sales at retail stores, hotels, resorts and even restaurants someday, after the industry has had space to recover.
She said her expansions in 2021 will focus on adding more flavor profiles to her line of preserves, while also growing her brand to include new product lines, such as luxury self-care items.
Slaikeu is currently handling all her own production, sales, marketing and social media, but she said she hopes to eventually hire employees once it is safe to do so.
More information about Luxe Artisan Preserves and online ordering is available at luxepreserves.com.