A group of entrepreneurs is launching a Grand Rapids cultural tasting experience designed to raise awareness of African American-owned beer, wine and spirits companies.
Jonathan Jelks and Willie “Willie The Kid” Jackson — who co-own the local merchandise and branding firm GR USA, along with Motu Viget Spirits — said Tuesday, Oct. 19, they will host a new event, Taste of Black Spirits: Grand Rapids, from 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at City Flats Hotel, 83 Monroe Center St. NW in downtown Grand Rapids.
GR USA and Detroit-based Black Spirits Legacy, founded by Lazar Favors, are co-hosts for the event. Favors is a market development liaison for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey and creator of the Taste of Black Spirits Detroit.
Jelks and Jackson founded Grand Rapids-based Motu Viget Spirits in 2019 with partner Jamiel Robinson, and it currently has three products — Motu Viget Brut, Eye Candy and Avani Supreme Vodka — available in 200 stores in Michigan, including 70 Meijer locations.
The organizers said the purpose of the event is to increase support for and awareness of Black-owned spirits brands, particularly when it comes to expanding distribution opportunities.
“In 2021, it is vital for community stakeholders to not just discuss diversity in a vacuum, but to also lead by constructively creating opportunities and pipelines that will help entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities grow,” Jelks said. “To be a catalyst for transformation requires strategically bridging the gap between Black and brown founders with the corporate America opportunities that have historically eluded us. We are excited to partner with Lazar, a veteran in the spirits industry who pioneered this concept … to bring this experience to West Michigan.”
Jackson said he wants to help others rather than resting in his own success.
“We have a … responsibility to empower the ecosystem of Black spirits companies as a whole, helping others to gain access to larger retailers like Meijer and SpartanNash, while helping the community to familiarize themselves with diverse founders and ownership,” he said.
Taste of Black Spirits: Grand Rapids attendees will be able to visit stations and enjoy a wide range of adult beverages, from IslandJon Vodka, developed in the Caribbean, to Anteel Tequila, a Detroit-based company founded by Nayanna Ferguson.
Live entertainment and a showcase of African American artists curated by the local interactive gallery Muse GR also will be at the event.
Grand Rapids City Commissioner Joe Jones is scheduled to speak on the importance of an inclusive economy.
Although Taste of Black Spirits: Grand Rapids is designed to showcase African American-owned companies, people from all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcome to attend, the organizers said.
Tickets, $35-$65, are available online. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Endless Opportunities, a mentoring program that empowers youth in Grand Rapids.
Taste of Black Spirits: Grand Rapids participating companies
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Duke & Dame Salted Carmel Whiskey
LS Cream Liqueur
Ten to One Rum
Red Hazel Whiskey
Den of Thieves Whiskey
Birdie Brown Plain Hooch
Cajun Fire Brewing Company
Brick House Bakery, Detroit