Entrepreneurship is about more than just having a big idea — it requires relentless creativity, unwavering passion, the drive to make that idea a reality, and in our line of work, some really good food.
In our “5 Minutes with an Entrepreneur” series, we pass the mic to Michigan entrepreneurs we’ve supported to hear their stories, including the spark behind their business, challenges they’ve faced, and what motivates them to keep going.
Keep reading to hear from Alita Kelly, the co-founder of Grand Rapids’ South East Market and the winner of this year’s Michigan Good Food Pitch Competition at MSU Product Center’s Making it in Michigan event. Alita shares South East Market’s mission, how nature motivates her work, and some advice on the power of saying “no” to others so you can say “yes” to yourself.
Tell us about your business.
A grocery store with a mission to increase access to healthy, culturally appropriate, affordable food through a sustainable and equitable lens. We facilitate a children’s enrichment program called Freedom School through a community garden in a local park. We are advocates for diversity within leadership of the agricultural and food business sector.
Five years from now, where do you hope to be?
A larger store with the expanded reach to seamlessly mobilize potential food waste in a way that honors individuals choice and inspires people.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
Reflecting on your current relationships is essential. I’m super extroverted and love to spend time with friends and make new friends. In order to do this work that feeds my soul I’ve had to give certain relationships less of my attention. You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with. If you don’t have those people who are going to push you to the next level in your life there’s always books, TED Talks, YouTube, etc. until you find them. Networking is completely essential. If you’re not making time for that you could end up on an island without the adequate resources necessary to do this work.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs?
Curiosity and agility are your best friends. Surround yourself with people that encourage you to ask yourself hard questions and who don’t just flatter you but challenge you to morph into the next best version of yourself.
What’s the biggest challenge facing small good food businesses?
Economies of scale have it so the best prices are offered to those who can purchase the most product. As a small business we’re finding creative ways to address affordability.
What motivates you?
The beauty and complexity of nature. I feel personally responsible to utilize my talents on behalf of honoring this majestic world we live in. Knowing that Mother Earth will always sustain gives me peace but being a part of a species that is wiping out ourselves and other species motivates me to continue doing this work. I want to be on the right side of climate history.
In one sentence, could you describe how working with Michigan Good Food Fund has helped your business?
Essential funding for our growing operation and access to amazing minds to assist with the future progress of our business.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It’s ok to say “no” to some opportunities so you can say “yes” to yourself. Boundaries are a good sign that you respect yourself. No one will respect you if you don’t respect you.
Want to learn more about Alita and South East Market? Visit SouthEastMarketGR.com or stop by the store in Grand Rapids (1220 Kalamazoo SE).
Interested in working with the Michigan Good Food Fund? See if your business is a good fit here.