Start-up Businesses Flourish in 2020 Through the Downtown Market Food Business Incubator Program

Posted on December 21, 2020 by Downtown Market

As 2020 comes to a close, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market today shared highlights of successes experienced this year by the start-up food businesses that operate through the Market’s Incubator Kitchen program. 

The Incubator Kitchen program at the Downtown Market 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. Since beginning in 2013, 1,000+ start-up food entrepreneurs have received individualized business counselling services through the program and 14 have graduated from the program. In 2020 alone, 170 local entrepreneurs have been mentored, with 11 launching a new food start-up and 6 graduating on from the program to their own facilities.

“Though the pandemic has significantly impacted restaurants and food businesses, it has not hindered our community’s creative entrepreneurial spirit,” said Ryan Bolhuis, Culinary Operations Manager at the Downtown Market. “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.” 

When Kalene McElveen dreamed of launching her business, she never imagined the journey it would take her on in 2020. After winning the 5x5 pitch competition hosted by Start Garden in 2019, McElveen began Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts to produce healthy sweets that taste delicious, focusing on desserts that are allergen-free and naturally sweetened. Initially planning to launch in April 2020, McElveen paused to focus on her family at the start of the pandemic. After taking time for her family, McElveen launched her business through the Incubator Kitchen in July 2020. This fall, McElveen participated in the Black Entrepreneurs Expo where she completely sold out of her Tastefull products and further established her customer base who continue to support the business through online orders and curbside delivery. 

“The resources and support that are available to me through the Incubator Kitchen program are truly priceless,” McElveen said. “It’s such an encouragement for me to be surrounded by business owners who have been on the road I’m just starting on.” Next year, McElveen plans to add new items to the Tastefull menu including ice cream sandwiches and other frozen dessert favorites.

Street Chef Shaw also launched from the Incubator Kitchen this year. Co-owners Kirel Shaw and Myke Worthem began their Swahili-Mexican inspired food business in May 2020 by hosting Front Yard Cookouts with free meals available for curbside pick-up. Momentum built, and over the summer Street Chef Shaw participated in many farmers markets, food truck events, and fundraisers with a focus on giving back to the community. As gathering limits and indoor dining restrictions increased, Shaw and Worthem found success by offering online ordering for pickup and delivery. In 2021, the co-owners plan to continue building on their success and sharing their Swahili-Mexican dishes with Grand Rapids with a mobile cooking unit and a few other tricks up their sleeves, while maintaining a focus on giving back to the community. 

Steven Martinez-Thiel, owner of Basalt, knows the difference a mobile cooking unit can make. Inspired by a love of breakfast tacos and Tex-Mex cuisine, Martinez-Thiel launched Basalt from the Incubator Kitchen in February 2020. He participated in local farmers markets and pop-up markets throughout the year, cultivating a loyal following of breakfast taco lovers. Over the summer, Basalt transitioned its menu from pre-made to made-to-order with the purchase of a mobile kitchen trailer. Looking ahead to 2021, Martinez-Thiel plans to give Grand Rapids even more opportunities to enjoy breakfast tacos with a consistent market schedule and expanded menu.

Luxe Artisan Preserves, founded and owned by Kimberly Slaikeu, PhD, is also focused on expansions in 2021. Dr. Slaikeu intends on adding even more amazing and unique flavor profiles to Luxe’s line of preserves, while also adding new product lines. “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,” Dr. Slaikeu 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.”  

“I am encouraged by the way the West Michigan community has supported our local businesses this year,” said Bolhuis. “And I am excited to see how the entrepreneurs in the Incubator Kitchen program continue to develop and prosper.” 

To say up to date, place online orders, and connect with the businesses mentioned, find them at:

Tastefull Vegan Desserts - | @TastefullVeganIceCream

Street Chef Shaw  - | @StreetChefShaw

Basalt - | @BasaltGR

Luxe Artisan Preserves - |  @LuxeArtisanPreserves


About the Incubator Kitchen

The Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen offers affordable kitchen rates and practical business tools to give budding entrepreneurs a leg up in starting food businesses. The Incubator Kitchen strives to foster entrepreneurship, good food, and community in a supportive, efficient, flexible environment. The licensed commercial kitchen spaces are open 24/7 and are fully outfitted with professional-grade equipment ready for food production, packaging, prepping, catering and more. For more info, contact Ryan at 616.805.5308 (ext. 206) or