Citywide SOUP winner – October 2010

Noam Kimmelman has learned a lot in the four years since he founded Fresh Corner Café, a mission-driven fresh food delivery and catering service. Then called Get Fresh Detroit, Noam was new at business ownership and running out of funds quickly. “We were only three months in and failing at everything,” Kimmelman says with a chuckle.

Then he entered one of the earliest Detroit SOUP events back in October 2010 and received a $670 micro-grant, the largest sum awarded to that point in SOUP’s brief history. For a company with a $5,000 operating budget, that was a significant amount.

But Kimmelman remembers the boost in confidence as equally important. “Here’s over 100 people who like what we’re doing,” says Kimmelman. “At that time, we didn’t have lot of validation. It was nice sign of acceptance.”

Fresh Corner Café has changed a lot since those fledgling days. At the time of the SOUP event, they operated exclusively out of corner stores in Detroit selling sealed packs with produce and instructions on how to make stews and stir-fries. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell well. “There was too much of a barrier with what people expected to find in a corner store,” says Kimmelman. “We were battling that perception.”

So Kimmelman took a step back to reexamine his business and his reasons for starting one. He realized that his passion was still to provide healthier food options for low-income individuals. The problem was finding a model that would keep the business solvent. Beyond the difficulty of selling his unconventional product in corner stores, the owners take a percentage of each sale, lowering margins even further.

“We recognized that corner stores weren’t going to pay people’s salaries,” says Kimmelman. “So we created more revenue channels.”

Fresh Corner Café operates by “cross-subsidization,” where the profitable wings of the business support the less profitable, socially valuable ones. Fresh Corner Café now makes prepared instead of packaged food, caters events and meetings, maintains self-serve vending kiosks at offices, and is nearing deals to provide schools with meals and snacks.

While Fresh Corner Café has entered different markets, some outside the city of Detroit, the core of the business hasn’t changed. In fact, revenue in corner stores has also increased thanks to visibility and brand recognition. If only slightly, Fresh Corner Café has managed to change perception after all. There’s still a way to go, but perhaps in the future it will be possible to find all kinds of food in corner stores beyond chips and snacks with high-fructose corn syrup.

And now there’s a model that’s replicable and scalable. “Long term we’re hoping to grow to the point that every workplace or school is matched with a corner store,” says Kimmelman. “As we grow, more people will eat nutritious meals than if we didn’t exist and we can create jobs in Detroit for Detroiters doing meaningful work.”

For more information about Fresh Corner Café visit their website: www.freshcornercafe.com

– Aaron Mondry