To date, eight locals have begun culinary businesses through Flint Food Works. Rachel Limban, owner of Semi-Sweets LLC, is an example a dream realized through this program. After attending culinary school in the area, Rachel worked at local restaurants, bakeries and hotels, but says she was dissatisfied. “I always felt like I could be doing more for myself,” she remembers, “and I wanted to create something for my future family and myself, a business that I could put my name on and be proud of.” When Rachel saw the commercial kitchens at the new Market, she asked Sean about them right away and shortly afterward entered the program. “There was always something standing in my way,” she said of her dream, “start-up costs, etc. but they walked me through everything and helped me get set up.” Whereas before, Rachel was limited to baking cakes in her tiny home oven for friends and family, she now has the capacity to meet the demand that has come from marketing her wares. “I started out selling at the Flint Farmers’ Market only on Saturday with one small table of cookies and Bundt cakes,” she recounted, “and now I am a full-time vendor at the Market with a cold case containing more than 25 choices, and 10+ bakery table items. I can also take custom pre-orders. Being able to use the kitchen has made my business possible.” Rachel’s dreams for the future are now bigger than ever. “I hope to sell my baked goods through local restaurants, food trucks and coffee shops,” she said. “I would also love to be able to reach out to culinary students who need co-op experience, giving back to the community the way that the Farmers’ Market has reached out and helped me.”
Raphael Harlan is another local who’s using Flint Food Works to grow his business. Inspired by his adoptive mother, who lived with Type 2 diabetes, and his own love of unexpected culinary combinations, Raphael’s Donuts are now produced at the Farmers’ Market kitchen in 17 flavors, including agave cinnamon spiced, vanilla passion, pumpkin island, banana grapefruit, dark cranberry, and apple berry cider. “I did a lot of research into the health benefits of my gluten-free, diabetic-friendly donuts,” said Raphael proudly, “and most of the fruits and vegetables I use come from the vendors right here at the market.” While Raphael currently sells his donuts at local farmers’ markets, including Flint and Davison, he is working to sell his product wholesale as he builds up to a brick-and-mortar shop – or shops! “Currently, my donuts are available at Sweet Peaces Vegan Café and I’m looking to expand,” he reported. Raphael is optimistic about the future of Raphael’s Donuts: “It’s bound to be a household name for those who want to live healthy lives eating the kind of donuts that don’t cause grief or guilt!” he said.
Sean Gartland says he hopes the Flint Food Works program will help launch the next wave of food entrepreneurs into the local economy. “Our goal is to help people go from a concept to a successful business, ready to move out of our space in 12-18 months,” he said. “We are a business incubator, so our commercial kitchens are not meant to be a permanent home for anybody.” With a vision of a city once again filled with entrepreneurial spirit, Sean says, “I would like to see our kitchen users become the innovators of a new way of thinking throughout Flint. Instead of standing in line waiting for a job to open up on an assembly line or taking a degree earned at a local college and heading out of state, I’d like to see our program participants show the community how rewarding and profitable it can be to work for yourself. If we can accomplish that, we will be half way there.” But there’s more. “It would be icing on the cake,” Sean said, “if someone graduated from our program and became the next ‘big thing’ and went in the same direction as some of the other great companies in our area like Koegel’s, Landaal Packaging or Diplomat Pharmacy.” ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo