GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Many people spent the chilly afternoon Sunday warming up at Last Mile. It’s a Black- and woman-owned cafe that just opened in Grand Rapids.
“Southtown has needed a little space like this for a while,” said Richard App, the retail, retention and attraction specialist for the city of Grand Rapids.
Arick Davis and Sarah Laman are the co-owners of the cafe.
They started the business last May without a store front. They focused on building their brand in farmer’s markets, local grocery stores and online.
They take pride in offering an inclusive business that is environment and community minded.
“We really were excited to create something where we could put our full selves into it. As many coffee shops as there are here in Grand Rapids, we just kept finding ourselves not truly feeling welcome and it’s just great that we were able to create a space where we feel comfortable,” Davis said.
As their customer base grew, so did the need to expand.
Exactly one year ago, the business partners went to look at the building they are now fully operating out of, located at 1006 Hall St SE.
They were met with challenges along the way, though they didn’t go through it alone.
“I really think Grand Rapids has some amazing entrepreneurial resources. Some of them are challenging to figure out and navigate for sure,” Davis said. “The chamber is definitely one of the ones we have leaned on very heavily.”
City leaders say more effort has been put into attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones.
Richard App was hired as a retail, retention and attraction specialist in 2020 through a partnership with the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
“What I try to do with new businesses especially coming to the city is to really understand
what the business is and set them up for success,” he said. “It’s about inviting people to the party and making them feel welcome. The idea with what we are trying to do here as a city is make sure that we are representing everyone and doing that correctly. It’s about setting up for success.”
The city is also working to amplify the voices of people from a variety of backgrounds. In September, the chamber announced it was launching Center for Economic Inclusion.
The center will help entrepreneurs navigate financing and develop business plans and provide support after they open.
Last month, the chamber also announced it would launch a Diversity and Inclusion Council with the mission of creating a prosperous West Michigan for all.
“The Inclusion Council is important because we don’t want to get ahead of what our business needs are. We want to be far out enough — as our CEO Rick Baker says — that we can bring some leadership to what our businesses need in terms of the diversity, equity and inclusion. But we don’t want to be so far out that we lose the connection,” Andre Daley, the director of inclusion for the chamber, said in a statement.
To learn more about Last Mile, go to lastmile.cafe.