LANSING, MI — The Allen Neighborhood Center’s new accelerator kitchen will give you a sense of the entrepreneurial talent that Lansing has to offer.
The $655,000 shared-use kitchen opened in mid-March to serve as a food hub for graduates of the non-profit’s incubator kitchen program.
The incubator kitchen opened in February 2014. It provides affordable kitchen rental and business development support for entry-level food entrepreneurs.
Joan Nelson the Director of the Allen Neighborhood Center says 57 small food business start-ups have participated in the incubator program since then.
“It’s sort of the next step between an incubator program and moving into one's own bricks and mortar operation,” Nelson said
Right now the kitchen features four different businesses, Smoothie Queen, Tantay, Mr. Leslie's Cheesecakes, and Slow B-B-Q.
They each have their own designated space to work with prep tables, sinks, and storage. They also share a commercial hood, two ranges, a convection oven, freezer, counter, display case, and public seating area with each other.
On one side you’ll find Tammara McCollum, the owner of Smoothie Queen, blending up smoothies fit for royalty in her pink apron.
"We have all different types of smoothies they are 100% dairy-free."
She started selling smoothies in 2019 from her apartment but last year things got tough for her.
"I was trying to run this business with no knowledge of how to do it. No knowledge of how to save money for a business. So i ended up falling on hard times and I lost my apartment and during the wintertime, I had to live in my car," McCollum said.
"That’s also around the time that I found out about Allen Neighborhood Center so I knew that was my next step whenever I was able to get back on my feet.”
With the help of her friends and the community, she started to bounce back, and began selling smoothies once again. This time, out of the trunk of her car.
Then, during quarantine, she got her food license and started with the program in August of last year. She says the energy inside the kitchen is great.
“It’s like a blessing. it’s like our own little space. We can do pretty much whatever we want here. We have our own stations so it's really awesome,” McCollum said.
On the other side of the kitchen wall, you can find Marcus Leslie Sr, the owner of Mr. Leslie's Cheesecakes, perfecting them to put a smile on your face.
"What i want people to know is when they get a piece of cheesecake it’s kind of like you’re part of the family. You get to take that experience and share it with other people hopefully,” Leslie said.
He says he loves cheesecakes and grew up baking as a kid. But it was a dinner party he was invited to that made a difference in his life.
"They told me they had cheesecakes which were my favorite dessert so I was like bet. He said I’m going to take it out the oven and I said wait hold up cheesecake isn’t supposed to be hot,” Leslie said.
"I tasted it and it was the best cheesecake I ever had and so I begged for the recipe and from there on I just made it my own."
He says he actually used to get his hair cut in the place where the accelerator kitchen now stands and he loves the fact that he can come back and give to a community where he once struggled.
"Now I’m able to employ people and kind of help them in this time of needs,” Leslie said.
And lastly, you have Jose Aste, the owner of Tantay keeping things hot in the kitchen.
"It’s Peruvian cuisine. You can’t get that anywhere in central Michigan other than here. We are the second Peruvian restaurant in the whole state of Michigan. We try really hard to use local products.”
He says the difference between his Peruvian Cuisine with the rest is that he's trying to cater to people who want gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian.
He was born in Peru and grew up in Miami. He says his love for food started with his family.
"That getting together revolved in a kitchen just really stuck with me forever. that’s basically what I’m trying to do,” Aste said.
"This is a big stepping stone to create what we really wanted which is to create an environment that’s very inclusive that brings people together kids anybody.”
Slows B-B-Q will soon be added to the mix.
Nelson says there is no time limit for how long the makers can stay working out of the kitchen.
All three entrepreneurs say they are learning every day from this program and are grateful for the opportunity to work in an environment with amazing people.
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