Grand Rapids Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen graduate and 2019 Start Garden 5x5 Night winner, Kalene McElveen is finding sweet success in the heart of historic Wyoming Park. Her new literally brick-and-mortar business, Tastefull Vegan Frozen Dessert Shop, has commanded a steady flow of customers from “The Park” since opening at 2265 Porter St. SW on Memorial Day.“I wanted to bring ice cream to the Start Garden pitch competition,” McElveen says. “I made a sample of vegan ice cream that was naturally sweetened and didn't have any of the top eight allergens in it, including cashews and soy, which are huge allergens. I wanted to present an option for people. And I'm an advocate of avoiding processed sugars as much as possible. And I wanted something healthy for my kids. That's how the prototype of the ice cream came about.”
The intersection of Porter Street, Wyoming Avenue and Lee Street was a bustling shopping destination before malls and supermarkets came on the scene. In the 50s and 60s, neighbors shopped Wierda’s for groceries, VanKalkers for clothing and dry goods, Community Bakery for breads and baked goods and Chet Brown’s for a new TV or radio. The barber shop clipped busily along and Wyoming Park Pharmacy featured everything from aspirin and 45 records to a photo shop and post office. In fact, the east wall of the pharmacy was a soda bar that served ice cream cones, sodas, and malts.
A Wyoming resident born and raised in Detroit, McElveen is building on that legacy with frozen desserts that are free of dairy, nuts, soy, gluten, eggs and refined sugar. The soft serve ice cream, freeze pops and frozen dessert bars get rave reviews from those with and without dietary restrictions. Michigan maple syrup sweetens the desserts, which have a coconut or fruit base.
“The first day that I opened, a mom reached out and told me, ‘Do you know that my son had never been to an ice cream shop until today?’ He's eight years old. It was a big deal to him,” McElveen says. “I was grateful that I was able to provide something like that, where it's safe for him to come.”For McElveen, growing up in a vegetarian family did not mean boring food. Her mother’s delicious holiday feasts and birthday cakes served as the inspiration for her own culinary career.
“At that time, there weren't egg substitutes. There weren't the variety of veggie burgers and things that they have today. It was beans and potatoes,” McElveen says. “Me, as a Black female, to be someone that didn't eat greens with ham hocks, it was rare. My mom started cooking with robust seasonings so that we didn't miss the meat.”
McElveen also credits her two grandmothers, whom she calls “The Black Betty Crocker” and “The Black Martha Stewart.”
“I grew up in the summer with my grandma, my mom’s mom. She was the pancakes, ham hocks, oxtail soup-making grandma from the south. I watched how she prepared everything and I learned from her how to put things together,” she says. “My other grandmother was very much about hospitality.”
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Dessert debuted at the Fulton Street Farmers Market in spring 2021. Since then, Harvest Health, Forest Hills Foods, Bridge Street Market and Spun Sugar Detroit have begun featuring McElveen’s wares in their freezer cases. The brick-and-mortar location not only provides an additional retail opportunity but gives McElveen her own certified kitchen space for creating products.
“I thought, ‘Why not start with desserts?’ Nobody is going to turn down ice cream,” McElveen concludes. “Something that is everyone's guilty pleasure can still be somewhat healthy for you and that can be a gateway into trying vegan foods or other items that are made without processed sugars.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Tastefull Vegan Desserts