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.
Kalene McElveen is a healthy eating advocate and owner of Tastefull Vegan. Tastefull Vegan offers naturally sweetened, allergen-free desserts available for purchase at local retailers. In 2022, she also opened a dairy- and gluten-free ice cream shop.
Michigan Good Food Fund partners have had the opportunity to support Kalene’s business with business assistance and financing. The MSU Product Center helped Kalene develop her product packaging and provided consulting on production of her products. Lender Northern Initiatives, in partnership with Fair Food Network, provided financing towards Kalene’s purchase of her shop. Fair Food Network also provided a post-loan grant to Kalene to participate in a boot camp focused on financial management. And most recently, Kalene was awarded $2,000 towards her business in the 2023 Michigan Good Food Pitch Competition at MSU Product Center’s Making it in Michigan event! Read on to hear more about Kalene.
Tell us about your business.
Tastefull Vegan is focused on providing variety to a population that has often received limited options. The dairy-free and gluten-free community is often presented with few options when it comes to desserts, but the goal of our retail products and our ice cream shop is to offer a plethora of options that are dairy-, gluten-, and soy-free along with a variety of options that are naturally sweetened.
What was the spark behind your business?
I grew up with limited options as a vegetarian in Detroit. It was unusual for a Black girl not to eat meat, which was an ingredient in most soul food dishes from collard greens to oxtail soup. I remember I couldn’t even eat my grandmother’s pound cake because it had eggs in it. As I grew older and recognized that others experienced the same frustration of not having variety or simply not knowing how to cook without certain ingredients, I took the skills I learned as a kid and put it to good use. I started with a cookbook, then food tours, meal prep and then a food blog. In the summer of 2020, I launched Tastefull Vegan, introducing desserts that taste good and are free of common allergens.
What’s the biggest ah-ha you’ve had?
You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know is costing you. I think the worst mindset for a business owner to have is to think that they “know it all.” We all have reached some level of success based on the information we’ve obtained. Continuing education is critical to long-term success and when we don’t know certain information it cost us time, money, and peace of mind.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
“Take No for Vitamins” was a nugget of wisdom John Hope Bryant shared with me. It was so simple, but I took it to heart and recognized that “No” is not an option. There’s always a way to accomplish a task and sometimes you can get frustrated if you think that you can’t succeed, but I take the “No” as my fuel to press toward reaching each goal.
What key qualities should an entrepreneur possess?
I believe that an entrepreneur should possess five qualities and although these are qualities that develop over time, they are definitely necessary. The first is patience, you must be patient with yourself and patient to trust the process. The second is become a student of your craft, read books, watch videos, take classes (especially the free ones). The third and probably the most daunting is diligence with your finances. While there are many uses for funding as you begin to grow, learn which is the best use of your funds for the season you’re in. The fourth quality is consistency, don’t give up, stick to the process everyday especially when the tasks seem insurmountable. The last quality is fun, if you’re not having fun, then go back and see what processes are not in place that’s making this stressful, you have to enjoy what you do because it comes through to your audience.
What advice would you give yourself as you were starting out?
Take your time. Entrepreneurship is not a marathon and just like a runner that starts a marathon without pacing themselves, when you need the momentum to finish your course, all your energy is gone. Just take your time and focus on the task at hand, without looking at anyone else’s course, since each one is unique.
In one sentence, could you describe how working with Michigan Good Food Fund has helped your business?
I believe working with the Michigan Good Food Fund has helped empower me to run my business using locally-sourced ingredients. Often we are encouraged to look for the cheapest options, but as an entrepreneur that is focused on organic, non-GMO and fresh ingredients, cheapest isn’t always the best for your health. Michigan Good Food Fund helped connect me with others who have the same mission and purpose which is health through food in our communities.
To learn more about Tastefull Vegan, visit: TastefullVegan.com.
Interested in working with the Michigan Good Food Fund? See if your business is a good fit here.