A local award-winning soul food restaurateur plans to open a new eatery and banquet hall this summer.
Jessica Ann Tyson, one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2022 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and owner of The Candied Yam Delightful Southern Cuisine, said construction has begun on a 7,000-square-foot vacant building at 932 S. Division Ave., which she plans to turn into a second Candied Yam restaurant and banquet hall.
Demolition started last week with the property’s facade. Tyson’s goal is to open the restaurant and event center this summer.
According to Grand Rapids Planning Commission documents, the restaurant will have an occupancy of approximately 96 patrons, and the banquet facility will accommodate about 218 people.
Elliot Muller, of Ben Muller Realty in Grand Rapids, is the developer for the building, which was acquired by Mull Trie LLC — owned by Ben Muller Realty president Mark Muller — for $500,000 in 2019.
The project is an equity partnership between Elliot Muller, the Trierweiler Family Trust and Tyson. The Candied Yam will be the building’s sole tenant.
Grand Rapids-based Jeffrey Parker Architects is the architect, and Grand Rapids Township-based Kozak Construction is the general contractor.
Tyson said she had been looking for opportunities to grow her business and build generational wealth, and Elliot Muller pitched her the idea of opening a location at the vacant property last summer. She said they both agreed it was important to have equity participation from minority-owned businesses, and Kozak Construction was instructed to engage minority contractors for the project.
“This neighborhood deserves more than just a tenant,” Tyson said. “It already had a company thinking like a ‘big brother’ in Mull Trie; it just needs a ‘little sister’ who complements the vision of the neighborhood (and) Muller and wants to make the investment.”
Elliot Muller and Tyson said lack of access to capital and lack of opportunities to own real estate still are a very real problem among entrepreneurs of color, and they wanted to change that narrative.
“Wages don’t generate generational wealth; equity does,” Elliot Muller said. “This is our opportunity to set an example. We need to help create and repeat. The property at 932 S. Division had a resounding need for a business that could fit in the neighborhood well. We know The Candied Yam, the owner and her reputation. We want to operate in the best interest for the community, and that includes supporting and partnering with a solid business who has really amazing food and can offer employment opportunities for the immediate neighborhood.”
Tyson said she plans to hire minority-owned businesses as vendors and neighbors as staff members for the new venue.
“This approach ensures minorities are considered in all aspects of the project, from the construction stage and many years thereafter,” she said.
The building’s interior will be “modern chic,” incorporating “comfy touches” to complement her soul food, Tyson said. Larger windows are being added to the building’s exterior, and a “fun Southern plaid” is being considered for the outside of the building, she said.
The Candied Yam — which in 2019 was selected as one of Yelp’s Top 50 Places to Eat in Grand Rapids — will retain its original location at 2305 44th St. SE in the Breton Meadows Plaza.
Tyson said the new restaurant will offer the same menu as the original, including five meats, two fish options, eight scratch-made sides and homemade gravy. The banquet hall will have a larger menu with items sourced from local vendors.
The partners said they hope this project will be a catalyst for opportunity for other minority-owned businesses, ensuring a more inclusive entrepreneurial landscape in greater Grand Rapids.
More information about The Candied Yam is online.