LINC Up Soul Food Café Serves More than Good Eats

Step into the LINC Up Soul Food Café in Grand Rapids and you’ll feel an immediate sense of warmth.

Home-cooked aromas fill the air while a cozy and welcoming vibe encourage you to make yourself at home.

While the food, described as a “healthier ethnic fusion of traditional country staples with urban appeal” is the star of the show, the eatery also serves to forge community relationships, provide local employment, and foster civic pride.

LINC3Opened in Feb. 2014, the neighborhood eatery was the first sit-down restaurant in the Madison Square Business District, on the city’s southeast side. It’s a visible, tangible result of the work being done in the neighborhood by LINC, a community revitalization agency that shares space with the café at 1167 Madison Ave. SE. All of the restaurant’s proceeds go back into LINC’s programming, part of a sustainable revenue model for the organization.

Restaurant Manager Lewis Williams calls it an “incubator for community.” He’s observed the friendships formed over traditional staples such as chicken and waffles, greens, and ribs, and the way that food can unite people who may not have otherwise met.

“It’s bringing people together,” Williams said.

LINC Co-Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo said the café is one way LINC is approaching issues facing the neighborhood. The decision to move forward with the idea centered on the concept of building strong social support networks. He explained that in lower-income neighborhoods, people tend to have smaller networks, which can limit their ability to find employment and other opportunities.

“We believe that neighborhoods matter,” DeRoo said. “One of the things that neighborhoods do is provide networks for people.”

LINC1Another way the restaurant provides opportunity is through employment. DeRoo said in southeast Grand Rapids, unemployment among African Americans is at 50 percent. Employees are paid living wages and Williams said it’s very important to him to hire people from the neighborhood.

“Having that ability to be the employer is part of our core strategy to impact a huge social issue,” DeRoo said.

Building community and working to revitalize the neighborhood is all done with significant input from residents, DeRoo said. He said they know better what their neighborhood needs than someone looking at a problem from the outside in. DeRoo said when residents get involved, they tend to be more engaged in civic matters overall, which helps them reclaim their neighborhoods and sense of self.

“We’ve seen more people get more involved in the political process, which makes more people take notice of the neighborhood,” DeRoo said.

LINC Up Soul Food Cafe is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Check them out for a satisfying meal good for your wallet, waistline, and soul.

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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