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Stories of Impact

Economic Vitality

Launching Dreams into Action at the Allen Neighborhood Center Accelerator Kitchen

“When you’re starting a business in the Accelerator Kitchen, you get the benefit of learning from others. We share food knowledge and smart business practices. We create our own kind of energy, which makes it really fun.”

José Aste, Owner, Tantay Peruvian Cuisine

Lansing, MI (November, 2021) -You can feel the excitement when you walk into the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen in Lansing. Four small food businesses — Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes, Tantay Peruvian Cuisine, Smoothie Queen, and Gogi 2 — recently opened in this sparklingly new, shared-used kitchen, taking the next step in their entrepreneurial food journeys, supported by a Walters Family Foundation grant.

All four businesses exude a passion for creating unique food experiences and sharing them with others. “When you think about food, it’s usually connected to some type of memory,” says Marcus Leslie, owner of Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes. “Remember the first lemon merengue pie or pound cake your grandmother made for you? You can put a timestamp on that. That’s the experience I want to create for people.”

Marcus’ luscious, dream-like creations are most certainly unforgettable, and watching him make them is an act of pure joy. “My dream was always to service people, right? So, this is one of the ways I get to do this. I love cheesecake. I have the opportunity to give everybody a piece of what I love,” he says.

Food entrepreneurs produce their small batch creations from smoothies to Peruvian cuisine in the Accelerator Kitchen.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

For “Smoothie Queen” Tammara McCollum the experience is similar. She offers fresh fruit smoothies, yogurt parfaits, and smoothie bowls that are also dairy-free. So committed to her passion, Tammara spent a good part of 2020 driving around Lansing selling smoothies out of her car. Through these sales, she was able to obtain an official business license and rent industrial space by the hour in the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Maker Kitchen. She then graduated to the Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen, moving another step toward full-time entrepreneurship.

Being a part of the Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen provides entrepreneurs like Leslie and McCollum 24/7 access to affordable production space, shared equipment, a storefront, and a small public seating area. The goal is to reduce obstacles for entrepreneurs looking to increase capacity and operate in their own brick and mortar establishment.

José Aste, owner of Tantay Peruvian Cuisine, quit his job as an aircraft technician to bring his native Peruvian cuisine to Lansing. “Tantay means ‘bring together’ in Peruvian,” he says. “I want to create an inclusive space that unites people through delicious, locally sourced food.” Aste says the Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen enabled him to build his own business without overwhelming risk.

At the same time, all of the Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen tenants had to contend with opening a food business during the pandemic. Gogi 2 was the most recent business to have a grand opening — and to great success. “We were overwhelmed with the response,” says owners Joshua and Yaya Bays. Gogi 2 brings a new twist to homespun Korean recipes with delicious dishes like bulgogi and egg rolls.

“Working out of the Accelerator Kitchen has given us a taste of what it’s actually like to run a restaurant,” says Bays. “It’s an exciting new beginning.”

Mr. Leslie's cheesecakes get the finishing touch in the Accelerator Kitchen.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.