The EPIC Awards were created by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce as a way to recognize individuals and businesses in the Grand Rapids community who support and work towards entrepreneurial, progressive, innovative, and collaborative (hence, EPIC) efforts. The awards honor categories, including Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
This year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner was Kelly LeCoy of Uptown Kitchen. Uptown Kitchen, brainchild of LeCoy, is an affordable kitchen space in Grand Rapids that serves as an incubator for start-up businesses, bridging the gap between cooking out of a home and purchasing a full-time licensed commercial kitchen. LeCoy spoke with me on what it felt like to win an EPIC award and what Uptown Kitchen does for the community.
Kristin Coppens: Where did the idea behind Uptown Kitchen come from?
Kelly LeCoy: I was actually working on my final thesis at Calvin College and we had to write a business plan. Through research and speaking with business owners in the Uptown neighborhood, I learned there was a lack of a commercial kitchen in Grand Rapids for people to sell their homemade goods and get their start. This idea is prevalent in big cities with food cultures and I knew that Grand Rapids would be receptive to the plan.
KC: Why is your mission/vision important for Grand Rapids?
KL: Grand Rapids is home to a sort of “food rising” and farm to table movement. Uptown Kitchen is very focused on the Grand Rapids community and harvesting the food economy. It’s important to foster and grow our food culture in Grand Rapids. Uptown Kitchen does this by supporting entrepreneurs in our kitchen space and opening up the conversation around food.
KC: What does winning the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award mean to you, and to your business?
KL: Honestly, I’m extremely honored, as it was unexpected. Simply stated, winning an award, and even being nominated in the first place, is an affirmation that not only do people care about what Uptown Kitchen is doing, but that people are truly paying attention to the food business and culture around us.
KC: Tell us a little about your past experiences and your involvement in the community today.
KL: Uptown Kitchen started as a project and then transformed into a public idea. Winning funding from 5×5 Night is what got the ball rolling for me in realizing this business plan could come to fruition. My background in business rather than in culinary arts sparked my interest in supporting small businesses in our local economy. I’m also very involved in Local First and what they are doing for our community.
KC: In your opinion, why is it good to be a young entrepreneur right now?
KL: It’s exciting right now. The difference between being an entrepreneur in a city like Grand Rapids versus somewhere like San Francisco is that we are much less saturated here. Entrepreneurs are uniquely supported; our community is heavily focused on collaboration and support. Being a young entrepreneur is along the same lines—it’s a testament to our age that we can successfully start something in Grand Rapids and be just as supported by the surrounding community as anyone else. Age has become somewhat irrelevant, as it’s more about just taking that risk.
KC: What can we look forward to seeing from Uptown Kitchen in the future?
KL: Uptown Kitchen is constantly changing. We’re working on expanding the physical space, adding more classes and events, and more. Keep in touch with our progress on Facebook and through our newsletter; our list of clients/tenants continues to grow and exciting products are being produced from each and every one of them.
How does your community support the growing local food culture in Michigan?
Photo credit: Jill DeVries Photography