G-Sync: From the Center of the Universe to beyond, food entrepreneur Fouad Catrib shares what’s next

As a former long-term resident of East Hills, I witnessed many changes while I was living there.

What I adored about living in East Hills was the role creative place makers and artist folk played in shaping this community’s path forward. (Local trivia: Gillian Anderson was often in the neighborhood during the ‘80s and took part in numerous artist happenings at Gaia Cafe after hours.)

One artist who made his mark on the area was Reb Roberts, whose “East Hills: Center of the Universe” sign hung on a fence surrounding a former gas station lot on the NE corner of Lake and Diamond.

From this barren soil would spring a new build structure that would become the iconic restaurant Marie Catrib's of Grand Rapids. The restaurant would serve this neighborhood until it closed in October 2018. 

I had the distinct pleasure to sit down and interview Fouad Catrib of Marie Catrib’s as we discussed insights on his newly launched startup Marie Catrib's Provisions on The WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin. Currently, at press time Marie Catrib's Provisions are only available at the westside's Bridge Street Market.

To listen to our 88.5 FM interview, please follow this link to hear about the process as well as what new items will be available locally. Below are bonus answers from the follow-up interview I conducted with Catrib after our radio appearance. 

Interview Note: Since our on-air conversation, the release of Marie’s Chocolate Pudding at Art of the Table has been pushed to a September 28 release date. In addition, the pudding will also be carried on this same date at the Bridge Street Market. 

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Tommy Allen: Your mother clearly made an impression on you as we heard in our radio interview. Could you share other examples of how your mother’s life and relationship with food helped prepare you to be a local food startup?

Fouad Catrib: My mother always told me that if you can set your mind to it you can do anything. Which makes so much sense to me now. Another thing she taught me is that life is full of many challenges and that if you keep your spirit high and are kind then that will get you through any 12-hour workday. She always had so much drive and desire to share and love. The past year has brought that into my life.

TA: The startup community has many resources here in our region, so if someone is hoping to connect with those groups who serve the food industry and their distinct needs, where would you send them and why?

FC: I would absolutely suggest meeting with Kendra Wills. She is a Community Food Systems Educator and Product Center Innovation Counselor at the Michigan State University Product Center. You pay a minimal fee and you have every resource they have in their hands to start your own business. If you want to get started, they are a wealth of knowledge. 

The Product Center has connected me to the Bridge Street Market, which is where I sell most of my products. She also gave me suggestions on where I could find a commercial kitchen, what information needs to be on my food labels, getting connected to the Michigan Department of Agriculture for my license, and so much more.  

TA: A real plus to being a small food business (vs. a large corporate entity) is your ability to make changes or introduce new things in the marketplace rather quickly. As you continue to share with our community your mother’s recipes via the products being offered at the Bridge Street Market, are there areas of Marie Catrib's Provisions that will explore hidden items from your past or take us in new directions?

FC: Yes. Food writing has been a journey for me. I think that if people enjoy the book that I am writing there is the potential to write another. When my mother lived in Vermont I spent a good month with her cooking and developing our own recipes. It was really something that we did, [but] no one really knew about it. It was only for ourselves for enjoyment. Most of them do transfer well into a commercial setting to be sold. 

TA: While we are still enjoying this wonderful season of fresh produce that is celebrated locally from farmers markets to local CSAs, could you share an easy to prepare recipe for folks looking to switch up their game in the kitchen?

FC: Cucumber yogurt dip. Fresh, bright and very tasty.

2 cups yogurt
2 cups sour cream 
3 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
2 tablespoons garlic salt
2 cups shredded cucumbers. Strain with colander or cheesecloth.

Mix together. If it needs, add more garlic salt or fresh garlic to your satisfaction. Great on fresh tomatoes, with any vegetables or grilled chicken.

TA: That sounds delicious, easy, and fresh! Since you and your mother created so many opportunities for community to flourish around the table while in East Hills as restaurant owners, what advice do you have for folks looking to start a food-based business?

FC: There are many things that I can think of, but some really important ones are to surround yourself with the best and brightest people. Set the tone for how you want things to be. Think about what your vision is for your business. Remember you can create a vision for anything. It’s one thing that guides you. Create a statement of mission to guide you. Always have a positive plan for how you deal with challenges and difficulties and follow it. 

Two things my mother taught me: developing the knowledge that you have labor and food cost to manage. Being hyper-aware of these two will help you along. Having a good lawyer and accountant are a given but very helpful when you need guidance. 
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To get more information on the release of Marie Catrib's Provisions, please follow them here.  Photo courtesy of Fouad Catrib. 
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