This month we bring you Noam Kimelman, ’09, MPH’12, an entrepreneur tackling the lack of access to high-quality, healthy foods in Detroit communities. With few supermarkets, and an erratic public transit system, many residents have little choice but to shop at convenience stores. Thanks to Kimelman, the founder and owner of Fresh Corner Café, these small retailers are increasingly stocking affordable, nutritious, ready-to-eat meals.
Fresh Corner Café delivers healthy food around the city to a variety of small stores. Kimelman, the winner of the 2014 Young Entrepreneur Award from SCORE–a national organization that helps small businesses– also started the Detroit Food Academy. DFA uses food, community, and social enterprise, as vehicles to inspire young Detroiters to become healthy, connected, and powerful leaders.
1) What was most challenging about starting a food business to help low-income residents?
The biggest challenge was that I parachuted in from Ann Arbor without a single correct perception of the realities on the ground. Nor had I ever run a business or employed an individual. We were learning and unlearning as we were building and we did it without capital
2) With the medium household income in Detroit just under $30,000, how do you make the case that it’s worth someone’s while to eat healthy?
I think the first answer is to lower the cost. We recently launched a subsidized pop-up model where we offer a variety of freshly prepared meals for under four dollars. We partner with community centers that have naturally occurring traffic, such as schools when parents are picking up their children, or recreation centers after the weekly Zumba class. We’ve gone from selling 30 fresh meals per week at a gas station to 30 fresh meals per hour at a pop-up. By 2017, we plan to operate 40 stands selling 1,200 healthy meals per week and 60,000 healthy meals per year. With an average of two fruit/vegetable servings per meal, we will increase fruit/vegetable consumption by 120,000 servings per year.
3) What inspired you to start not just one, but two food entities in Detroit?
Fresh Corner Cafe (an L3C for profit) was started in 2010 to address the surface issue of fresh food access. What better way to address access than to create supply? But we didn’t stop to ask ourselves the bigger questions of why these conditions exist, such as federal policy decisions which prioritize for food quantity over food quality and the dominance and predatory behavior of fast food corporations in lower-income communities. DFA started in 2012 as an experiential leadership development program for youth to address the underlying issues of disenfranchisement, disconnection, under appreciation, and poor education.
4) Tell us about Small Batch Detroit?
We feature artisinal local foods designed and crafted by Detroit Food Academy (DFA) high school students and their mentors. The Mitten Bite (a nutritious, flavor-filled snack of chewy chunks) will employ tens of DFA graduates with meaningful, high-wage leadership opportunities, and fund 50% of the organization’s educational programming budget.