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Forty Acres Soul Kitchen: Celebrating community and culture with unapologetically good food

Lewis Williams, left, and  Darel Ross II in front of the future site of Forty Acres.

Forty Acres Soul Kitchen seeks to launch in late fall 2017/early winter 2018. With great food, quality service and an up-scale dining experience, this soul-food venture seeks to create a community gathering place and impact wealth creation and minority-owned entrepreneurial endeavors.
Experience Grand Rapids, the local Destination Marketing Organization, lists over 750 options for dining in the city. These include a variety of breweries, pizzerias, and bistros. Cuisine options ranges from Italian to Mexican, Asian to Mediterranean, and more. One thing you will not find much of, however, are options for fine-dining, soul-food restaurants. Enter Forty Acres Lifestyles LLC.

Serving as a holding company, Forty Acres Lifestyles LLC is made up of Owner and Managing Partner Lewis Williams and Majority Owner Darel Ross II. Forty Acres Lifestyles LLC has plans for several ventures, with its first being Forty Acres Soul Kitchen. The restaurant will be located at 1059 Wealthy Street SE with an anticipated open date in late fall 2017/early winter 2018.

Dating back to 1865, the term ‘forty acres’ is commonly used to refer to the reparations initially offered to freed slaves. As the name implies, Forty Acres Soul Kitchen will serve to celebrate African-American history, culture, and soul food cuisine. It will also serve as a community gathering place.

“Our vision is to be a very authentic soul food restaurant [with] an upscale feeling vibe—a welcoming spot full of culture, great food and community,” says Ross.

Darel Ross IIService, food, and ambience are three key components Ross highlights that will help set their restaurant apart from the competition.

Ross’ partner, Williams, has been a part of the food service industry for decades. His background ranges from mom-and-pop-type restaurants to nightclubs to fine dining establishments. He has been a resident of Grand Rapids since 1999, having relocated from New York City.

Working in the restaurant industry since he was 15-years-old, Williams, now 47, found Forty Acres Soul Kitchen to be a natural fit. “To me, it has always been conceptual to make soul food mainstream. Typically it’s the other side of the tracks. Typically it’s not what people [picture seeing] in a downtown or thriving area of the city. In my mind, I’ve always wanted to be mainstream,” Williams shares.

Lewis WilliamsGrand Rapids provided a great opportunity for highlighting this long-standing cuisine. “The food has been here forever. We can take [it] back to the 1600’ but we’ve never really been mainstream. In larger cities you see it but in secondary cities, like Grand Rapids, you generally don’t see soul food being put out there like that,” Williams elaborates.

“There really hasn’t historically been a higher-end, sit down soul food restaurant in Grand Rapids,” says Ross.

“Looking back at 1999, I probably wouldn’t have tried [this concept] then. I think the timing is now to do it. I think people are a lot more receptive and I think the culture in Grand Rapids is building,” says Williams.

Ross shares, “I would describe myself as a chronic entrepreneur. I have a background in business and entrepreneurship. I own another business that is currently on Wealthy Street and I co-led LINC along with Jeremy DeRoo. This was really a perfect time to bring all of those skill sets together.”

This project was one that other individuals and organizations were willing to get behind as well.

Chef Trimell Hawkins will serve as the restaurant’s executive chef. He was born in Chicago and completed his culinary training at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. He brings his training in classical French cuisine, personal style and passion to this role.

What excites Hawkins the most about this position is “the opportunity to cook from the heart and share some of the stories and heritage that encompass the cuisine.”

“Our goal is to have both a social and [economic] impact on the community. I feel we as chefs are socially responsible for advancing people’s thoughts, knowledge, and overall awareness of foods and culture. This platform allows me the opportunity to shed light on something I hold so dear,” shares Hawkins.

Jerry Marogil is a Member of Green Cane Property, the development company spearheading this project. “Successful tenants serve the community they are in. Along with LINC’s support and what this project could offer to the community, we felt it made a lot of sense,” says Marogil.

Upon visiting the restaurant, guests will be able to enjoy food, beverages, and ingredients sourced from black-owned businesses. “We have ambitions to not only use minority suppliers, such as black breweries around the country, [but] we also want to make sure that we’re highlighting local goods,” Ross shares.

Looking forward, both Forty Acres Soul Kitchen and Forty Acres Lifestyles LLC have goals for expansion. Forty Acres Soul Kitchen is actively working to secure their Benefit Corporation designation. The B-Corp designation highlights businesses focused on social, environmental, and economic impact.

“Sustainability is always important to us. It’s about people, planet, and place. We’ll be green. We want to make sure we’re leading the conversation of sustainability around people. For us, sustainability is about people and community as much as it is about waste,” Ross says.

“We want to be very, very respectful to the planet but we know it begins first by being respectful to the community we’re in,” he expounds.

Additionally, Ross and Williams hope to expand and have more than one restaurant location. Forty Acres Lifestyles LLC plans to focus on black wealth creation and growth. Over the next three years, their goals include: physical development, opening of additional businesses, and assisting other minority business owners/investors with entrepreneurial endeavors, shares Ross.
Ross elaborates, “I think Grand Rapids is in a unique position where culture and lifestyle [are] something we’re learning to respect the differences of. It’s not just about soul food or just about Southern cooking. It’s about really celebrating the black community, celebrating black success [and] the celebration of culture—with unapologetically good food.”

If you are interested in keeping up-to-date with the restaurant’s progress, more information can be found on their website and Facebook page.

Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Gold Leaf Designs LLC, has over 12 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. Through these organizations, she assists businesses with creating strategies for growth and sustainability through: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management solutions and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees. Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at leandra@stingrayadvisorygroup.com!

Photos by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.
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