Marlo Bendon, founder and owner of Proud Mitten Shared Kitchen, in Plymouth, loves connecting people. And when those connections involve local food, she loves fostering them even more. Proud Mitten exists to grow the food culture in southeast Michigan by offering certified safe kitchen space to local makers who want to get their product on the market, but can’t afford to or don’t want to rent or buy a full-time private space of their own. Using the Proud Mitten Shared Kitchen helps mitigate the risk for entrepreneurs on the food scene. But Bendon works hard to not just offer the Proud Mitten space for rent, but to help these entrepreneurs succeed. One way she does that is through fostering relationships between those in the southeast Michigan local food community.
D’ette Walton and her husband, Roosevelt, started Poppa’s Gourmet Hot Sauce after being inspired by the homemade hot sauce that Roosevelt’s father brought with him on a visit from Georgia. After a visit where the hot sauce disappeared in minutes, the Walton’s family encouraged D’ette and Roosevelt to start making the hot sauce, too. They started small, visiting a few markets on the weekends to sell jars of hot sauce. But, “over the years, we just got more and more serious about it,” says Walton, and the popularity of Poppa’s Gourmet Hot Sauce has continued to grow, along with their product offerings. Today, Walton says, “it’s surprising sometimes, because if we’re at an event people will come and say, ‘I only came to get your stuff. I knew you’d be at an event today near my home and I came to stock up!”
A few years ago, the restaurant kitchen that the Waltons used to make their hot sauce closed down. That’s when Walton discovered Proud Mitten, and when they began renting space there to continue making Poppa’s. That’s also when Bendon helped connect the Waltons with Chris Majer from Majer Family Farms.
Majer, a veteran with two sons, planted an experimental row of jalapeno peppers a few years ago in his vegetable garden that he loves to work on with his kids. Never having grown many peppers before, he wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out that the jalapenos flourished. “You can only can so many jalapenos,” Majer laughs. With more jalapenos than he knew what to do with, Majer started dehydrating them and bringing them along with him in jars to sell at farmers markets. People loved them. “The first year, I sold 200 jars,” Majer says. “The year after that, I sold 500.” Since then, he’s grown more and more peppers–of many varieties–each year. He’s also expanded his pepper products to include not only his famous dehydrated jalapenos, but also his popular habanero honey and a wide variety of pepper-based spices and infused sea salts.
When Majer told Bendon about his pepper endeavor, she thought that he and the Waltons might be great to introduce to one another. The Waltons sometimes struggled to find the amount and type of peppers that they needed to make their hot sauce, and Bendon knew that sourcing locally was important to them. Majer was delighted to make the connection and see his peppers get used in the Walton’s products, and now he plants a few special rows of peppers for them each year. The extra income coming from this has helped him put in a commercial kitchen in his own basement to dehydrate his popular peppers for sale on a larger scale. Both Majer and the Waltons are grateful for the connection that Bendon fostered between them. “If there’s somebody in the kitchen that has something that somebody else in the kitchen can benefit from or provide a resource for, she’s really good about helping us get what we need,” says Walton of Bendon.
My motto is, “Cook, Create, Collaborate,” says Bendon. “The food clients and food makers that work with me all become family and we really collab together.” It really is this collaborative and supportive model at Proud Mitten that allows for relationships like the one between Majer Farms and Poppa’s Gourmet Hot Sauce to come into existence. And, it’s the spirit of support and collaboration in general that strengthens the local food community, in southeast Michigan and beyond.
Elizabeth Pearce is TLD’s Operations Assistant. She is based in southeast Michigan.