When it comes to launching a business, owners must make numerous decisions, including where to open their doors. For the owners of The Only Cannoli
, Seaway Tours
, and Kuntry Cookin’
, the answer to that question was clear: Muskegon.
“We knew we wanted to stay here in Muskegon. It’s where we both live, and there is so much uprising [here],” says The Only Cannoli co-owner Brittany Meloche.
Having bonded over their Italian heritage and upbringing, Meloche and now co-owner Bethany Bauer decided to venture into business together. “We both grew up and had fond memories of being with our family, enjoying food, laughing, dancing. It’s such a warm environment and we wanted to capture that and offer the same experience to the Muskegon area.” This is, in part, what spurred the launch of their business, says Bauer. “Especially with the Watch Muskegon
campaign, it’s just the place to be – especially for food. We’re proud of Muskegon and our food, and we want to be a part of it all.”
Leveraging community developments
Launched in 2018, The Only Cannoli began by operating out of Kitchen 242
. As of April of this year, the business has secured its own space on Lakeshore Drive.
“The timing just lined up really well. We both love the area we’re in. It’s a fun strip of businesses [here],” says Meloche.
One of many areas undergoing development within the Muskegon area, Lakeshore Drive
, is expected to see numerous changes, including new residential and commercial space with the construction of Windward Pointe
, increased walkability, and overall corridor beautification. According to a recent MLive article
, the nearly $6 million project, which is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation, will allow the city to add parking, lighting, seating, and more to the area.
“Once the construction is complete, we think that it’s going to be very pedestrian friendly. They’re redoing the sidewalks and beautifying the area,” Meloche says. “We think it’ll bring great foot traffic into the store,” Bauer adds.
They are not the only local business owners looking forward to the completion of construction and expansion. “Muskegon is growing and it’s taking some turns that I wasn’t expecting, especially now. It seems that we’re really trying to get a cornerstone in some tourism now,” says LaRue Layton, co-owner and operator of Seaway Tours.
Seaway Tours is a micro-mobility company that provides people with access to the lakeshore and historical sites through guided and non-guided tours by renting e-scooters, segways, and more. Along with co-owner and operator Corey Blackman, Layton was able to capitalize on the visitors entering the area by ship, as well as via general foot traffic through the Western Market area last year.
Now housed in the Muskegon Innovation Hub, Seaway Tours is taking advantage of the recently completed commercial developments
, such as the upgrades to the L.C. Walker Arena and the addition of new restaurants, residential units, and mixed-use spaces. They are also primed and ready to leverage the developments currently underway as well as the potential increases in tourism the developments may yield. In the meantime, Layton and Blackman have formed strategic partnerships with other local businesses to further their involvement in the downtown area.
“We’re going to be working with some of the vendors [in the Western Market area], passing out samples on segways [and] cross-promoting [our businesses],” says Layton. With all of the developments happening, Layton is confident in their decision to launch in the city he’s called home for over four decades. “Muskegon just seems like the area is really starting to grow. It’s a good place to start.”
Changing the perception of downtown
In addition to the value added by the construction taking place, co-owner and chef of Kuntry Cookin’ Destinee Sargent is eager to see continued inclusivity downtown and is using her business to help promote change. “All my life, you really knew downtown was for white people. When you go through the businesses, you really see nobody of color. You see very few of us.”
“A good deal of people are really trying to do their part to make everyone feel included here, especially with the new arena and the new businesses coming down here,” says Sargent. Along with her husband and co-owner, Kemmie Sargent, Destinee is actively working to create the change she’d like to see downtown.
“I think it’s only fair that we have the same opportunities down here that our white counterparts have had since the beginning of Muskegon. One of my driving forces was to make [downtown] equitable for everybody and make everybody feel [included here]. It’s not Muskegon or Muskegon Heights, it’s Muskegon as a whole and everybody should feel comfortable wherever they go. I wanted to be able to have a place for us to be, too.”
That place has become Racquet’s Downtown Grill
. Previously operating as a bar and restaurant, Racquet’s had handled all aspects of the food service, including the menu and staffing. After hosting several successful events at the restaurant, Kuntry Cookin’ was asked to take over the kitchen in its entirety and, since May of this year, they have been doing just that.
“I really feel this is going to be a place where you just feel included, almost like Cheers. I feel like this is the place where everybody will know your name, where you can just come for a wind-down and have a good time. It doesn’t matter what color you are, you’re going to fit [in], and you’re going to leave with your belly feeling good and your taste buds just overwhelmed.”
Planning for the future
Looking ahead, The Only Cannoli team is planning to expand their current menu of traditional, made-from-scratch cannolis to include other Italian pastries and they’re inviting people to take advantage of their optimal location. “Come grab a pastry, maybe a cup of coffee. Sit down, relax, and just take time to enjoy,” says Bauer.
Seaway Tours is working to expand its footprint and improve benefits for its customers. One of their goals is to launch mobile units along the lakeshore and beyond to “grant people access to Michigan trails through segway or electric scooters,” Layton shares.
Sargent plans to leverage her nonprofit background to scale her business and continue positively impacting the community. “I have a long-term plan. My heart is [for] non-profit. I love non-profit work and I love seeing people grow and being part of that growth. My ultimate goal is to be able to have many food trucks throughout the city that feed our youth, free of charge. A dollar of your meal goes towards feeding a hot meal to our kids. I’d like to employ individuals who have messed up in the past, who have come out of prison. I would like for them to be able to use their craft and serve these kids and give back to the community they took away from. So that’s my long-term goal to also be able to have a non-profit with food – serving dually.”
Though it will take time to move forward with their goals, for now, these business owners are eager to not only see how the city continues to change, but to also encourage other businesses to come to join them.
“This city is absolutely amazing and there are some people here that will support you through hell and high water. With the developments that are going on, I would encourage anyone to stay right here. To invest their dollars right here,” says Sargent.
Building Bridges is a series focused on the diverse entrepreneurial community within the West Michigan region. Throughout the year, the series will highlight the unique problem solvers and change makers who seek to positively impact the growth of the economy and the local ecosystem. Building Bridges is supported by Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).
About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Gold Leaf Designs LLC, has over 14 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, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.
Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!
Photos by Chantal Pasag of Pasagraphy.