Ever since Trimell Hawkins started spending time with his grandmother in her kitchen, cooking has been an important part of his life. As he grew up, Hawkins noticed he always ended up being the chef for his friends because he loved to entertain.
However, it was not until he returned from the U.S. Marine Corps that he realized he wanted to turn his passion into a career. He enrolled into Grand Rapids Community College’s culinary program, Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts, where he later worked as the sous chef under master chef Kevin Dunn.
Upon graduation, Hawkins started off as a line cook at the Black Heron. It was during his first week on the job that Hawkins received a raise for his hard work, and after two weeks, he was promoted to sous chef. A month and a half later, the owners pulled him aside and offered him the role of executive chef.
This was unheard of to Hawkins, who thought it would take him at least two years to become a sous chef. He also knew that most executive chef positions are offered to chefs with around 10 years of experience. Hawkins accepted the challenge and the position. Before Black Heron’s closing, Hawkins worked there for two and a half years and loved every second of it because it prepared him for his next move, which happened to be Forty Acres.
One night, while talking with Lewis Williams, co-owner of Forty Acres, Williams asked Hawkins, if he could do anything, what would he want to do. Hawkins replied that he wanted to “elevate soul food.” Along with co-owner Darel Ross, Williams came up with the idea of Forty Acres and asked Hawkins to be a part of the process.
It was during this process where the name Forty Acres originated. The history behind the restaurant’s name refers to the abolishment of slavery when slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule. Though that promise was never fulfilled, Williams, Ross and Hawkins saw this restaurant as a chance to be their 40 acres since it provides them with the opportunity to be business owners and better their selves.
As the executive chef for Forty Acres, Hawkins creates meals from scratch that combine traditional items with a twist. It is his goal to encourage others to try new things and learn from the experience. Because each dish tells a story, Hawkins hopes guests will inquire about the stories behind each item. “This is more than a restaurant. This is a sharing of culture,” said Hawkins.
Since Forty Acres prides itself on being a cultural learning experience for the community, Hawkins said, its mission is “to be an instrument in the education of culture” and create an inviting atmosphere so people will feel as though it is their second home, where they can relax and enjoy themselves.
While Hawkins had the most fun creating the twisted gizzards, one of his favorite dishes on the menu is the soul food tamales because of how each individual flavor is composed and the “melting pot of cultures” that inspired the tamales, said Hawkins. After slavery was abolished, Hawkins mentioned that Hispanic migrants and African Americans worked together on farms and since the Hispanic migrant workers brought tamales for lunch, it was there where the cultures of cuisine intermingled.
Whether it be the soul rolls or the chicken and waffles, Hawkins and the rest of the Forty Acres team are pouring their soul into creating an elevated soul food experience that will educate and comfort the community through its modern and hospitable vibe.
Forty Acres is located at 1059 Wealthy Street SE. The restaurant celebrates its grand opening on Friday, May 11 and will begin offering dine in service at 5 p.m. that day. The restaurant has been open for takeout and catering since April.