GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A restaurant worker laid off at the start of the pandemic will celebrate the grand opening of his own Grand Rapids ghost kitchen Thursday afternoon.
Dexter Marzette’s Dank Street serves up exclusively vegan, gluten-free street-style foods for takeout and delivery only.
“When we talk about ‘dank food,’ it just means it’s really good. It’s delicious. It makes you stop and go, ‘Mmm, that’s some dank food.’ So we’re Dank Street. You can find some dank food when you come to Dank Street,” Marzette said.
The menu changes weekly. Starting Thursday, Dank Street will offer tacos, shredded beet sandwiches, truffle fries and coleslaw for online ordering only.
Marzette says the target price for each entrée is $12.99 to $13.99, with most of the cost coming from purchasing gluten-free bread. Dank Street plans to keep costs low by preparing most ingredients from scratch instead of paying more for ready-to-cook items.
Because it relies on seasonal produce from local farms, Dank Street plans to operate in Michigan seasonally, from May through October.
A lot has changed for Marzette, who says he was laid off by San Chez Bistro when the pandemic forced the restaurant to temporarily close.
“I have asthma, I’m high risk (for contracting COVID-19), so I did not want to go back into a serving situation. I did not want to be back indoors. A lot of restaurants were very coercive, I’ll just say, in getting people back. And that made me a little concerned that safety (protocol) wasn’t being really adhered to over making sure a business made their ends meet. And so I shifted to farming,” Marzette said.
The 29-year-old started working last summer as a farmhand at New City Neighbors, a nonprofit organization that teaches high school students how to farm sustainably.
“I fell in love with it. It just felt right. I felt like just getting in the dirt and being in tune with where the food’s coming from, it was a new level of food service, so to speak. For me, (it) kind of shifted my thinking more into a whole food diet and just being more mindful with what we eat and how much care and how much time really goes into the food we eat,” Marzette said.
Marzette also forged another relationship during the pandemic with Dank Street co-founder and chef Dorian Vonrossum, who launched her career in Houston.
“I like to think that the universe brought her here to meet me, but she came back (to Grand Rapids) because family is here. The pandemic was happening and it just kind of seemed like it would be better to be home and… at least be not 1,000 or so miles away,” Marzette said.
The couple met online and got together at Richmond Park for their first socially distanced, outdoor date.
“She thought I was weird and that’s why she wanted to see,” Marzette said with a laugh.
Instead of traditional flowers, Marzette surprised Vonrossum with a vegetable bouquet.
“Food has definitely been a focal part of our relationship since the beginning, so it’s a fun story. I didn’t think we’d be opening a restaurant together, but we are and it’s great,” he said with a laugh.
‘THE MIDWEST NEEDS MORE OPTIONS’
Their passion for food and experience in the restaurant industry isn’t the only thing Dank Street’s owners have in common. Marzette and Vonrossum are gluten intolerant and avoid dairy and animal products.
“So it (Dank Street) definitely was inspired from our own stomachs, to a certain degree,” Marzette said.
A trip to Texas set them down the path of opening a ghost kitchen. Marzette said Houston had a plethora of vegan and gluten-free meals. That all changed on their return trip home.
“We couldn’t eat anything in the O’Hare Airport. And that’s when I was like, ‘Alright, enough’s enough. The Midwest needs more options,” Marzette said.
Environmental sustainability is also a priority for Dank Street. Marzette said the business sources from farms like Green Wagon in Ada, Meza Farm in Hudsonville and Groundswell Farm in Zeeland, with regenerative growing practices “that help the earth and don’t just suck all the nutrients out.”
Dank Street also plans to use compostable takeout boxes from World Centric.
“It is more expensive to do the compostable (boxes), but it just feels better to go that route. And … I think if you’re making quality food, it’s got to go with quality packaging,” said Marzette.
Black, Mexican and Yaqui Indigenous-owned, Marzette says Dank Street brings more culture to Grand Rapids’ food scene and support for other minority-owned businesses.
“We just do our best to work with other businesses like that right now, and make sure that we’re all supporting each other… It just creates some fun opportunities to mingle with people like Bruce-Michael of Groundswell. He’s a Black farmer down in Zeeland. And it just created a lot of cool opportunities,” Marzette said.
Dank Street recently submitted its pitch for Start Garden’s 100 contest. If the startup wins, Marzette plans to use some of the $20,000 in funding to buy a food trailer to take the business on the road.
“We put a lot into it. I see a lot of Beyond Burgers as a solution to vegan food and there’s so much you can do with vegan food,” Marzette said.
When Michigan’s growing season ends this fall, Dank Street may travel to warmer places to feed festival goers. However, Marzette says West Michigan will remain home. Dank Street’s owners plan to keep volunteering at New City Neighbors and potentially partner with the organization in the future.
“I don’t want to just make money. I want to do something good, too. And I want to kind of stay rooted in the community in some fashion,” Marzette said.