This Business Wants to Bring Fresh Food to Detroit Neighborhoods

March 29, 2014
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Noam Kimelman was making a delivery at one of the Detroit stores serviced by his business, Fresh Corner Café, when he spotted a man in the chips aisle. “I said, ‘Hey, do you want a sandwich?’”

The man replied, “No, I don’t eat gas station food, that’s not my thing.”

Kimelman told him that this sandwich was different. The man said that he was a chef, with very high-quality taste. Kimelman told him to try it anyway. An hour later, the chef called and gave the sandwich a 10.

These are the kinds of perceptions that Kimelman and his co-manager, Valaurian Waller, hope to change when it comes to what people expect from gas station and corner store food offerings through Fresh Corner Café, a delivery, marketing and logistics company connecting healthy food—wraps, salads, fresh fruit and more—to retail locations. Kimelman says his story shows the challenge their “mission-driven, for-profit” food business faces.

“We provide a better option, an option that people deserve. I feel like too many times, especially in Detroit, people are just given less and expected to take it, and take it without question, because they don’t know better,” Waller explains. “Food wise, we are trying to provide that better option.”

Aside from catering and workplace wellness programs, Fresh Corner Café is also reaching out to neighborhoods beginning with Brightmoor on the northwest side of Detroit. Thanks to $25,000 from the Fisher Foundation, they’re addressing fresh food access from a neighborhood perspective. Currently their products are in five stores in the neighborhood. If this pilot is successful, they hope to expand to other neighborhoods where fresh food access is also a challenge.

Fresh Corner Café works with as many community-based and local organizations as possible. For example, they work with Peaches and Greens, a neighborhood grocery store that creates Fresh Corner Café’s hummus dips, yogurt parfaits, peanut butter cups and three-bean chilies and supplies all of their fruit.

Fresh Corner Café evolved from Get Fresh Detroit, which Kimelman launched in May 2010 with some of his fellow classmates. He conceptualized the idea during a class he took at the University of Michigan, where he was pursuing his master’s degree in health policy.

Nonprofits were doing really great work, he says, but they struggled with revenue. Kimelman’s plan was to offer produce packs that included ingredients to make a stew or stir-fry in the $1.99–$2.99 price range. The goal was to make the gas station—often the closest retail location for food in urban neighborhoods—a one-stop shop. By the summer of 2010, Get Fresh Detroit’s “stew packs” were in 15 corner stores on the northwest side of the city. But the model wasn’t the right fit for Detroit, Kimelman says, admitting they misunderstood the food landscape.

They’ve learned from those initial missteps and have big plans for the future. They aim to be in 70 stores in Metro Detroit by the end of the year. While the Fresh Corner Café has many goals and plans for the future, Kimelman says their overall mission is the same: creating that one-stop shop for quick and healthy on-the-go food.               

Learn more at Fresh Corner Café 

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