Panelists to discuss minority culture in food industry

Downtown Market CC

Owners and managers of several local restaurants will gather to discuss the role of diversity in West Michigan’s food industry this month.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market will host the first 2020 installment of its ongoing “Culinary Conversations” roundtable from 5-7:30 p.m., Feb. 19, on the second floor of the market, at 435 Ionia Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Panelists at the event will include Vincent Mcintosh, co-owner of Irie Kitchen; Dodlie Benoit, operations manager at Chez Olga; Darel Ross, co-owner of Forty Acres Soul Kitchen; and Rob Yoon, owner of Emonae Korean BBQ. 

Kyama Kitavi, economic development manager at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), will moderate the discussion, which will focus on how embracing diversity can strengthen the food landscape in the region.

“In any industry, it’s important for leaders to be intentional about hearing different perspectives and learning from different experiences,” Kitavi said. “That cultural intelligence will help improve employee engagement, customer service, community relations and overall business results, as well as help remove barriers and improve our community.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry has more minority managers than any other industry. Four in 10 restaurant managers and supervisors are people of color, as are six in 10 chefs. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of Hispanic-owned restaurants increased 51 percent, African American-owned restaurant businesses increased 49 percent, and the number of Asian-owned restaurant businesses increased 18 percent. 

“Food is the universal tool that brings people together, not only to share nourishment, but to learn about culture and heritage,” said Mimi Fritz, president and CEO of the Downtown Market. “As the food industry and food culture in West Michigan become more diverse, it’s important that we encourage and embrace that diversity.”

People can register for the event online.

Culinary Conversations

Launched in January 2019, Culinary Conversations is a peer-to-peer collaboration and networking group for West Michigan’s food industry professionals, including growers, producers, chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs and others, intended to strengthen Grand Rapids’ regional food system.

Led by the Downtown Market, the series is a partnership between Start Garden, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) and Michigan State University Extension.

Each session includes networking and educational opportunities.

Sponsors include Experience Grand Rapids, SpartanNash and Pioneer Construction.

Image courtesy Grand Rapids Downtown Market

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