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Little Green Branches grows eco-conscious product lines for new families

As a mother of four children under 9, Missie Baldwin appreciates the ease and convenience of disposable diapers. At the same time, she hates the idea of trading green space for landfills every time she changes a diaper.
 
Baldwin switched to cloth diapers when her third child was born. Her friend, Stephanie White, owned Z-Bear—a store that specialized in eco-conscious baby products, including 21st century cloth diapers.
 
"Cloth diapers are a lot simpler than they seem," says Baldwin. "They're just as easy to use as disposables, and the only thing that it will add to your routine is one extra load of laundry a day."
 
Baldwin became such an expert that she bought Z-Bear from her friend and launched her career in retail. In June, she re-opened the 900-square foot boutique at 4976 Northwind Drive under the name Little Green Branches. She expanded the scope of the store to carry eco-conscious products for infants through pre-schoolers, and added a special section for moms.
 
"I'm looking to take the store to the next level," says Baldwin who recently hired three part-time people. "We'll even be providing a registry for new and expectant moms."
 
Little Green Braches sells cloth diapers and offers a cloth diaper rental program for newborns. Packages include fitted diapers and covers, a pail liner, and a special deep cleaning detergent. Customers rent and use diapers for a limited time and return them. Diapers are then washed and hygienically cleaned for use by the next family.
 
"Cloth diapers are extremely economical," says Baldwin. "It may seem like an upfront investment, but if you add up the cost of disposables, it will run you almost $3,000. You can get enough cloth diapers for about $200."
 
Aside from diapering systems, Baldwin carries baby wearing and breast feeding products, non-toxic toys, up cycled furniture, and a line of natural teas, herbs and soaps—some even made by Baldwin from products grown on her small organic farm. 
 
"I plan on having a dad department, too," says Baldwin. "I'm working on the products to put in there. It's coming soon."
 
Source: Missie Baldwin, Owner, Little Green Branches
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Outdoor events flourish at East Lansing downtown plaza

Reconstruction of public area that replaced parking with outdoor seating, an enclosed fire pit, and a protected stage has encouraged both patronage and performance in downtown East Lansing.
 
Since 2010, the new Ann Street Plaza has provided outdoor space for residents and visitors to enjoy a meal, browse merchants, and to enjoy weekend concerts, festivals and most recently, the inaugural season of the city's Open Mic at the Plaza.
 
"Open Mic has been in the back of our minds for a while," says Ami Van Antwerp, communications coordinator for the City of East Lansing. "We've held off until we have just the right space. Now that we have that, it's a great opportunity for people to participate and for people to watch, too."
 
Van Antwerp says East Lansing's Open Mic night is the only outdoor event of its type in Greater Lansing. Local singer-songwriter Jen Sygit hosts the once-a-week event that kicked off July 16 and runs Wednesday evenings through August 27.
 
The event, Van Antwerp explains, offers the opportunity for anyone interested in making music to perform two to three songs before a live audience. Signup begins at 6:30 p.m. with basic sound equipment provided.
 
The Ann Street Plaza was previously a combination plaza and parking lot. When construction began in 2010 on The Residences and St. Anne Lofts projects, city leaders worked with developers and contractors to make a more useful public plaza.
 
"This is the heart of our downtown where our clock tower is," says Lori Mullins, East Lansing community and economic development administrator. "It's a place where people can meet up and be together. It helps create a sense of place and defines character."
 
The plaza can accommodate about 250 people for an outdoor event—complete with bring-your-own chair, blanket or plaza wall seating. The 16,000-square foot plaza serves as a gateway for visitors to drop in to adjacent merchants before or after enjoying a meal, outdoor ambiance or a performance.
 
"We like to think that people have a new thing to do during the week and on weekends now," says Van Antwerp. "It's just another reason to come downtown in the summer."
 
Source: Ami Van Antwerp, Communications Coordinator, City of East Lansing
Lori Mullins, Community and Economic Development Administrator City of East Lansing

Sleepwalker one step closer to opening taproom in Allen Market Place

Approvals: Check. Painting: Check. Equipment: Check.
 
And by late summer or early fall, thirsty customers can check out a variety of brews at the Allen Market Place through a temporary "to-go" taproom of Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale.
 
"Our intent is to emulate 'pop-up' bars and restaurants that have appeared in large cities across the U.S.," says CEO Matt Jason of the work-in-progress. "These typically open for several months at a time, often to bring attention to a larger, already established business or to promote a future bar or restaurant."
 
In Sleepwalker's case, the 200-square foot taproom at 1629 E. Kalamazoo St. will preview plans for a full-sized brewery and distillery that Jason and his business partner Jeremy Sprague hope to open in the coming year.
 
Jason believes Sleepwalker's taproom will be the first of its kind in Michigan. He says while not technically part of the Allen Street Farmer's market, the market place location will attract customers for take-out craft beers in growlers, howlers and kegs. Customers will also be able to pair their beer and market finds with savory selections from Red's Smokehouse—a local barbecue establishment that shares kitchen space with Sleepwalker's.
 
"It will be good synergy with beer and barbecue to go," says Jason. "And like things at the market, our brews will include local ingredients and reflect seasonal changes."
 
While the exact timeline is pending federal approval, Jason says once open, the taproom will brew and distribute limited quantities of European and American-inspired craft beers. Plans for open hours include farmer's market Wednesdays, Friday afternoons, and to-be-determined weekend times.
 
"We've gone through all the hoops and are just waiting to hear back," says Jason who has received local and state approvals for the establishment. "The situation at the market is really unique. We're excited."
 
Since December 2013, Jason and Sprague have focused on fundraising and development for the community-owned business. The two have sought out and attracted 30 individual investors, and are more than halfway toward their $150,000 Kickstarter goal. Eventually, Jason and Sprague would like to build out a 3,000-square foot brick-and-mortar space on the East side or within Lansing's urban core.
 
"This is a great opportunity and fit for us," says Jason of the Allen Market Place location. "We'll be needing more time to finish our capitalization, so in the meantime, this spot gives us some more exposure and chance to grow."
 
Source: Matt Jason, CEO, Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Red Fox Comics brings comic books and merchandise to Delta Township

Daniel Rust wants to foster the personal connection people often feel toward comic book characters. And he wants to do so through a retail environment that's bright, casual and fun.
 
In early to mid-August, the lifelong fan of comics will open a 1,600-square foot store in Delta Township that caters to the casual fan as well as the aficionado. And the location at 723 Brookside Mall, Rust says, makes Red Fox Comics an easy stop for people en route to popular restaurants, retailers or home.
 
"A lot of people feel intimidated when they go into comic books stores for fear they might say something wrong or be corrected," says Rust. "My store will be a casual place for people of all ages."
 
Red Fox Comics will carry all new comics from trusted names like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and IDW, as well as graphic novels and trade paper backs from the same or similar publishers. Customers will also find casual apparel like T-shirts, hoodies and caps, and merchandise and memorabilia like key chains, magnets, pins, mugs and other pop novelty items.
 
Rust devised his business plan with the Michigan Small Business Development Center, then worked with his father-in-law to deck-out the store with customized shelves and fixtures. Walls and trim will be decorated with a color scheme of green, black and white, or as Rust calls it "Green Lantern Green." 
 
Rust says he's loved comics since middle school. Like many people, the Haslett native says he was drawn to comics for their storylines, and often sympathized with the strengths or weaknesses of particular characters.
 
"My favorite character is Aquaman," Rust says. "As a kid, I always related to him. I have red hair and was always singled out, and I felt Aquaman was too. I thought, 'Hey, he's a cool guy. So why not?' I was always swimming in the summertime, so that was that."
 
Source: Daniel Rust, Owner, Red Fox Comics
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Mert's Meats expands to Eastside with second location

Grocers and markets are making their way back to Michigan Avenue, including a specialty meat store that began serving Eastsiders and the downtown community right before the summer solstice.
 
Mert's Specialty Meats on the Avenue opened in mid-June, offering a full line of fresh cut meat, seafood, dairy and cheeses, and a variety of Michigan-made products. The family-owned market run by Shirley Decker Prescott, her husband Mert Prescott and son Brandon Decker, is within a 10-minute drive of the original Okemos location that also opened in June three years ago.
 
"We know the neighborhood and the community," says Prescott who lives three blocks from the new store at 1629 E. Michigan Ave. "We think there's a need here for the fresh products and service we can give."
 
Mert's Meats on the Avenue will source beef and pork from the Midwest, including top choice products from the Iowa distributor Chairman's Reserve. Selections include grass-fed ground beef and steaks, free-range chicken and duck. The Eastside store will also carry salmon, crab and shrimp. Specialty and Michigan-made products include salsas and tortilla chips; barbecue sauces; spices, rubs and marinades; side dishes like pasta and rice; and some fresh produce.
 
"We also have unique selections like venison and elk and alligator and snake," says Prescott. "And we make our own sausages, including chicken, that are preservative and MSG free."
 
Both stores also offer recipe cards and can advise customers on how to best prepare what they are buying. Prescott says she can carry more frozen and specialty items in her new 1,800-square foot market since the space in the mixed-used development is slightly bigger than her Okemos location.
 
"We listen to our customers," says Prescott. "If they tell us they want something, we do what we can to bring it in."
 
Mert's employs 15 people between the two stores, including manager Jordan Eustace of the Lansing store, and a new-hire from Goodrich's Shop-Rite, Jessica Wilson.
 
"We know that Goodrich closing is a great loss to the community," says Prescott. "I shop there, and we are encouraging customers to bring us ideas from Goodrich's. They carried a lot of unique items that we would like to add to our inventory."
 
Source: Shirley Decker Prescott, Owner, Mert's Meats on the Avenue
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Web-based consignment shop curates upscale kids clothing

Two life events pushed Amy Mills to start her own business. The first was fostering and adopting an infant. The second was breast cancer.
 
"We had just started fostering Jeremy when we found out," says Mills, who has been cancer-free for six months. "The two things really pushed me to do something I had always wanted to do, and everyone was confident I could."
 
In March, Mills launched Molly & Oliver's Children's Upscale Resale with the guidance of the Capital Region Small Business Development Center. With local partners in Lansing and Portland, the web-based consignment shop curates children's clothing for newborns through tweens.
 
"When you're home taking care of kids you don't have time to go shopping," says Mills, who came up with the tag line 'live well, dress well' after reflecting on the challenges of building a wardrobe for her son. "Plus, it's hard to find nice clothes without having to spend a fortune."
 
Mills leveraged her professional photography skills to create the boutique website that showcases name brand and designer clothing like Baby Gap, Abercrombie Kids, Carter's, Jumping Beans, Ralph Lauren and Polo. Consignees can drop-off items at Mother & Earth Baby Boutique at 4601 W. Saginaw St. in Lansing, or at Distinctive Occasions at 160 Kent St. in Portland. Consignees receive 40 percent of the sales, and anything that doesn't sell is donated to A New Beginning Pregnancy Center in Charlotte.
 
Mills says if her business continues to grow, she may consider setting up a brick-and-mortar shop or moving into a space in one of her partner stores. For now, her base of operations is her home in Mulliken.
 
"Currently, my husband's man-cave has been turned into Molly & Oliver's," she says. "And as much as he'd like his man-cave back, he's been very supportive."
 
Source: Amy Mills, Owner, Molly & Oliver's Children's Upscale Resale
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Dewitt newly-weds open JJ Frozen Yogurt, create jobs

Tham Doan and John Nichols devised plans for launching their own business shortly after getting married two years ago.
 
"We thought about it, started planning, and got the location in January," says Doan. "It seemed like a good idea and we decided to do it."
 
In late June, Doan and Nichols opened JJ Frozen Yogurt in DeWitt. The shop brings a fresh and delicious twist to the strip mall at 13070 Old U.S. 27, and offers a rotation of 100 flavors and varieties of the satisfying and healthy snack.
 
As a nurse at Sparrow Hospital, Doan is attuned to making healthy dietary choices that take food allergies into account. Nichols, too, understands the challenges of food sensitivities, having grown up with family members with severe allergies to dairy.
 
JJ Frozen Yogurt, Doan says, will carry traditional frozen yogurts as well non-dairy, sugar-free, fat-free and low-fat varieties. Customers can review posted nutrition and ingredient information for each yogurt and dozens of topping in the self-serve shop. Doan says, too, she is exploring ways to dispense peanuts and chocolates separately for the benefit of allergy-sensitive customers.
 
"We can tell you how the yogurt is made and what the ingredients are," says Doan. "We focus on customer service and have a very nice setting with free Wi-Fi."
 
Doan and Nichols completely rehabbed the small space that seats up to 35 customers. Contractors redid plumbing, electrical, air conditioning and heating, and installed equipment for storing and dispensing foods. The husband-wife team also rolled up their sleeves and contributed to the top-to-bottom overhaul that included fresh paint, new floors and a new ceiling. The couple also received help with business planning from the Michigan Small Business Development Center, housed at Lansing Community College.
 
Doan says she plans to offer coffee in the next few months and to expand the hours to accommodate early-risers. More immediately, she will add smoothies and tea to the summer line-up.
 
Doan works occasionally in between her nursing shifts, while Nichols runs the shop. JJ Frozen Yogurt employs three staff with plans to add a couple more once coffee services are up and running in the fall.
 
Source: Tham Doan, Owner, JJ Frozen Yogurt
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

New salon brings metropolitan blowouts to MAC location

A salon concept popular in New York, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas has blown in to East Lansing thanks to a local stylist and his entrepreneurial client.
 
Heat Blowout and Beauty Boutique is the area's first-of-its-kind finishing salon offering blowouts, haircuts, hair styling, makeup application, spray tans and hand treatments. The 600-square foot boutique will be nestled in an intimate space on the first floor the Michigan Athletic Club, and accessible through a separate entrance.
 
"A lot of people in the area aren't super familiar with the concept," says Chief Stylist Dan Buccilli who co-owns the salon with Molly Chan. "Once you come in and try it, you're going to fall in love with it."
 
Buccilli says Heat is the perfect stop for members of the MAC before they exit the club, as well as an accessible beauty indulgence for non-MAC and other community members. The boutique will also offer tailored packages and specials including bridal boot camps, private girls night out parties, and combined service deals.
 
"We picked the MAC because it's the perfect combination," says Buccilli. "You've worked out and maybe have your hair in a ponytail. But we make it possible for you to leave the gym looking perfect for work or whatever else you have to do."
 
Buccilli says the high-end luxury service comes at affordable price and includes a hair shampoo, neck massage, and a hair blowout and style. Blowouts can be classic with volume and tight curls, soft waves or loose curls, chic and sleek, or customized by request. Each blowout typically lasts three days, with tips provided for maintaining the look and style between visits.
 
"We can make anyone's hair look good no matter the texture or the length," says Buccilli. "We can style your hair to suit your personality and lifestyle."
 
The boutique will feature four styling and two nail stations, and carry hair products from Bumble and bumble. Buccilli will employ five staff for starters, with more added as demand grows.
 
Source: Dan Buccilli, Owner, Heat Blowout and Beauty Boutique
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Beer garden brands Midtown Brewing as Euro-destination

Although he grew up and lives in the city, Marc Wolbert has always integrated nature into everyday life.
 
Today, the Lansing business owner is bringing more green space to downtown by building a European style beer garden outside the Midtown Brewing Company.
 
"Nature is important to us as people," says Wolbert who manages the nano-brewery along with brewer Brandon Cook. "And while beer gardens are prevalent in Europe, it's not something you usually get in an urban area.
 
The Flint native drew on his collegiate education in landscape architecture to create a 400-square foot space ringed by planters and shaded by umbrellas. Since the early June ribbon cutting, Wolbert has worked with Old Town's Plant Professionals to nurture a colorful blend of pansies, sweet potato vines, herbs, ornamental cabbages and hops for leafy and fragrant patio where up to 40 patrons to enjoy a craft beer or meal.
 
"It's a full-service beer garden," says Wolbert. "You'll have your complimentary peanuts, and in line with my love of nature, we feature a casual and natural-style menu."
 
Wolbert says he sources ingredients from farmer's markets and the restaurant's off-site vegetable garden whenever possible. He says he just added a new kitchen staff member to help carry forward the farm-to-table style food, bringing the total new staff hired for the summer to six.
 
Midtown Brewing employs 25 people and spun off two years ago from the shuttered Michigan Brewing Company. The 4,000-square foot restaurant has been in the space at 402 S. Washington for five years. The new beer garden, Wolbert says, helps brand downtown as a beer destination, and creates a unique urban beer drinking vibe characteristic of European cities.  
 
"One of my next projects is a rooftop garden," says Wolbert. "We have lots of beautiful flat roofs here in Lansing. Covering them in green helps our environment. And it helps make things prettier."
 
Source: Marc Wolbert, General Manager, Midtown Brewing Company
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Vendors plentiful as Allen Street Farmer's Market strides into summer

There are a growing number of restaurateurs joining the roster at the Allen Street Farmer's Market and Allen Market Place, including two that will leave a lasting impression on the palate.
 
Red's Smokehouse began serving up pulled pork nachos, smoked portabella sandwiches, tasty sides and more out of the Allen Market Place incubator kitchen in June. Owners Carol Smith and Jacke Randall say the idea is to provide easy take-out for the home or for a picnic on a warm sunny day.
 
"This gives us a launch pad to grow from," says Randall. "We can do some catering, and it's providing us a chance to bottle our sauces, too."
 
Randall says she and Smith plan to smoke year-round as a pioneering anchor tenant of the indoor market at 1619 E. Kalamazoo St. More immediately, they hope to expand their hours beyond the typical market days as more food and beverage operators come on board.
 
"Everything is happening all at once," says Randall, remarking that she and Smith had been challenged to find a suitable spot for their unique smoker. "Now that it's coming together, it's exciting."
 
Tannin, a year-old Italian eatery from Okemos, also joined the farmer's market in June, bringing fresh lemonade, handmade pastas, Italian pastries, coffee and tea, and more to their booth.
 
Executive Chef James Sumpter says he studies what the other 20-or-so vendors bring to market and then offers unique selections from the brick-and-mortar restaurant at 5100 Marsh Road.
 
"We bring out about six or seven varieties of our dried pasta, as well as fresh mozzarella that we roll at the restaurant," says Sumpter. "Our cornerstone is an Italian croissant rolled up with chocolate and vanilla. People get addicted to it."
 
Sumpter says the cornetti exemplifies how Tannin goes the extra mile for customers. Cornetti, he says, can take about eight or nine hours to prepare and involves multiple, labor-intensive steps.
 
"It makes me feel good to make something so tasty that makes people so happy," says Sumpter. "I really appreciate the organization and sense of community of the market, too."
  
Sources: Jacke Randall, Co-owner, Red's Smokehouse
James Sumpter, Executive Chef, Tannin
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Restoration Works gives blighted home new life

Three years ago, two homes in Lansing's Eastside were on the verge of collapse. Both sat empty except for the squirrels and raccoons that had taken up residence. Rumors circulated that one had been a meth lab. It was time, community organizers knew, to reclaim the nearly century-old family homes.
 
In partnership with the Allen Neighborhood Center and the Ingham County Land Bank, Lansing Community College began transforming the tax-foreclosed houses. Faculty set up shop in the 1500 block of East Kalamazoo Street. Students made one of the two homes their classroom. And hammers began to swing as the Restoration Works project got underway to conquer blight in a city neighborhood.
 
"We've done everything from reconstruction, roofing and siding to redoing the kitchen, bathrooms, floors and drywall," says Jim Lynch, director of LCC's Design and Construction Technologies Program and project coordinator for Restoration Works. "We also did some electrical and energy efficiency work."
 
Lynch says students from all seven areas of the College's Design and Construction Technologies Program have helped restore the first home at 1512 E. Kalamazoo St. By taking the lab component of courses to a real-world setting, Lynch says, students have been able to put their learning to the test and contribute to the community.
 
"Our students can now drive down the street and say 'I worked on that house,'" says Lynch. "There's pride involved. People can point to something and say they made a difference."
 
Lynch says that LCC also helps facilitate workshops on home improvement at the project site. Workshops focus on window glazing, dry walling or flooring, and show homeowners what they can do to update and fix-up their houses.
 
"Older homes are great," says Lynch. "They're built well, they have character. And that's the benefit. They're typically solid structures that you're simply giving a facelift."
 
Today, the first of the two homes owned by the Land Bank is nearly ready for sale. Volunteers from the Allen Neighborhood Center are finishing up the interior painting and exterior landscaping. Plans are to have a community-wide open house and put the house on the market by mid- to late July. Proceeds from the home sale, Lynch says, will go to fund the rehabilitation of the second Restoration Works home at 1501 E. Kalamazoo St.
 
"We're really looking forward to getting started on the next house," says Lynch. "We learned a lot and hope to be more creative with the second."
 
Source: Jim Lynch, LCC Project Coordinator, Restoration Works
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Family-owned auto parts company converts to NAPA brand

They say it's all in a name, but for Dick Seehase, it's also all in the family.
 
For 51 years, Seehase has been among the family members owning and operating The Parts Place. And while the Holt-based car parts company has spanned three generations and grown to nine mid-Michigan locations, the company prides itself on providing the highest level of customer service.
 
That quality of service, Seehase says, will be further ensured as the distributor of automotive parts and equipment switches affiliation from CARQUEST to NAPA, and adds an 18,000-square foot warehouse as the hub.
 
"It made perfect sense to go with a more traditional auto parts company," says Seehase of the changeover. "With our 50-year-old history and NAPA's 90, we'll be well-recognized and even more prepared to service our customers."
 
All eight stores will carry NAPA inventory and retain the nearly 60 professional staff who work in locations in East Lansing, West Lansing, Holt, Charlotte, Mason, Eaton Rapids, Williamston and Stockbridge.
 
The newly purchased warehouse on the corner of Waverly and St. Joseph will result in about three new staff joining the company. The space will also allow The Parts Place to carry about $2 million more in additional inventory to service all locations.
 
Seehase says the commercial market makes up about 70 percent of The Parts Place customers, with the remaining 30 percent coming from do-it-yourselfers.
 
"Years ago, lots of people could work on their own vehicles, but as the complexity has increased, we began servicing more commercial clients," says Seehase. "Our employees come from all different facets of the market, too, and know the business."
 
Seehase says The Parts Place changed affiliation in late April. He says he's anticipating the NAPA partnership will spur annual sales growth from about $9 to $15 million in the upcoming year.
 
"The NAPA brand name is one of the most recognized brands in the United States," says Seehase. "We're hoping to add more stores once we get our feet on the ground."
 
 Source: Dick Seehase, Company President, The Parts Place NAPA
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Wild Strawberry and More puts fruit, flowers and chocolate under one roof

Jacob Leyrer recognized the individual appeal of flowers, fruit and chocolate and united the three through Wild Strawberry and More.
 
"We're the only flower shop in the area that can do fresh flowers and fruit arrangements under one roof," says Leyrer who owns several specialty gift shops in Greater Lansing. "The next closest one you'll find is in Detroit."
 
Leyrer will hold a grand opening in late June for the newest branch of Wild Strawberry and More at 2024 E. Michigan Ave. At 1,300-square feet, the East Side shop joins Holt and Dimondale locations in offering fragrant, sweet and arguably nutritious arrangements of fruit and flowers for gifts, special occasions, weddings, signs of appreciation or sympathy, or just everyday personal indulgences.
 
Leyrer opened his corner store on Michigan Avenue in February following the successes of his relatively new Holt and Dimondale shops. The store, he says, is just one block from his childhood home on South Fairview Street, and reflects his passion for flowers that he cultivated growing up in a family floral business.
 
"I worked deliveries for my mom's floral shop when I was going to college," says Leyrer who attended Lansing Community College and played for their golf team. "I loved seeing the smile on people's faces when I brought something to their door."
 
Leyrer played professional golf for a number of years before deciding to open Wild Strawberries and More. And while he grew up around flowers, he says he prefers to apply his marketing and business background to running the shops rather than making the arrangements.
 
Wild Strawberry and More offers a range of cut flowers, fruit arrangements, chocolate dipped fruit, cards, balloons and small gifts like candles, vases and assorted knick-knacks. Leyrer's staff rotates from store to store and includes four designers, two delivery personnel, and two customer service reps.
 
"I just love putting out a great product and seeing people come back," says Leyrer. "It's inspiring to create something that people talk about, and to bring in new customers, too."

Source: Jacob Leyrer, Owner, Wild Strawberry and More
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Mark's Gourmet Dogs embarks on new business life after win on reality TV

Mark McGee always knew every dog has its day. He just never guessed his day would air on national television.
 
As the winner of the 2014 Food Network's Food Court Wars, McGee and his wife Krysta were awarded a year of rent-free space to expand their mobile hot dog cart operation to a fully-equipped restaurant in the Lansing Mall.
 
While many people learned of the success of Mark's Gourmet Dogs through the reality TV show, McGee says his path was charted years before when he took his first business class at Lansing Community College.
 
"I started at LCC with the idea of starting a hot dog cart," says McGee who had struggled through layoffs and diminished job prospects during the Great Recession. "LCC gave me the knowledge I needed to start a business. It was awesome. And it worked."
 
In 2009, McGee applied his classroom learning to setting up a food cart and bringing culinary flair to hot dogs and brats in Eaton Rapids. And when his son was born and his business took off, he and his wife started thinking about taking things to the next level.
 
"They'd already been talking about Food Court Wars when they came in," says Laurie Lonsdorf, Senior Business Consultant, Michigan Small Business Development Center at LCC. "But it was really iffy at that point, and they wanted to grow regardless of whether they made it or not. Ultimately, they knew they wanted an indoor location."
 
Lonsdorf began working with the McGees to identify locations and explore financing. She laid out checklists, provided suggestions on his business plan, and offered no-cost, confidential consulting about how the McGees could grow their startup venture.
 
"There's no way I could've done it without them," says McGee. "We needed their help no matter what happened, and when we found out we were on the show, things started rolling really fast. It's been quite a ride, but LCC and SBDC have been a great team."
 
When Mark's Gourmet Dogs took top prize and opened in the mall food court on May 30, Lonsdorf was there. She says LCC's SBDC will be to support and consult with the McGees on small business strategy as they hire four or more staff and enter the next phase of their business.
 
"Here's the funny thing though," says Lonsdorf. "While I couldn't wait to try Mark's food, I'm a vegetarian. I had the mac-and-cheese, coleslaw and Krysta's salted caramel ball. It was all great."
 
Source: Laurie Lonsdorf, Senior Business Consultant, Michigan Small Business Development Center at Lansing Community College
Mark McGee, Owner, Mark's Gourmet Dogs
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Sinclair Grill takes ice cream on the road with two wheels and a sidecar

Cruisin' time is here. Greg Krantz knows that.
 
So come June, he takes to the road to cater weddings, open houses and outdoor parties with a favorite summertime dessert: ice cream.
 
As the owner of Sinclair Grill in Webberville, Krantz complements the fixings of his roadside diner with ice cream delivery and cart services. And his vehicles of choice? A Harley Davison equipped with refrigerated sidecars, a mid-century ice cream truck, and bicycle freezer carts—all pack with frozen favorites from the Michigan State University Dairy Store.
 
"This is the time of year when we heavily cater ice cream," says Krantz who recently became the area's only authorized vendor of MSU ice cream, cups and sandwiches. "We also have two malt machines and we do sundae bars for parties. We'll do most anything ice cream for a party or catered event."
 
Krantz says caters about 50 to 75 ice cream events over the summer, with business on the rise. He also caters breakfast, lunch and occasional dinner at nine companies in Greater Lansing, reaching as far down the road as Delta Township.
 
Krantz carries 16 flavors of MSU ice cream in his 800-square foot restaurant that's a reclaimed gas station diner that dates back to the 1930s. Krantz has 102 items on the menu that spans breakfast, lunch and dinner with standard American fare like hamburgers, hot dogs, French and chili fries, steaks, pulled pork, eggs and omelets, and some pasta.
 
Located at 345 W. Grand River in Webberville, the Sinclair Grill was among the hundreds of tiny roadside grills that dotted America's two-lane highways before freeways divided the landscape. Krantz bought the diner about three years ago and undertook a seven-month renovation to return the road-stop glory to the little restaurant.
 
The Sinclair Grill seats 49 inside and 49 outside on the summertime patio, and employs nine people. The interior is decked out with gas station and car memorabilia, with checkered tablecloths, chrome, and red and sea foam green accents for a 50s feel.
 
"We have a lot of motorcyclists and hot rodders who come to our diner," says Krantz, a confessed car and motorcycle enthusiast. "A lot of car clubs cruise here, like the model A or corvette club. They'll show up and fill the lot. It's like going back in time to the 40s or 50s."
 
Source: Greg Krantz, Owner, Sinclair Grill
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor
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