Street Chef Shaw ghost kitchen prospers in pandemic after act of kindness

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids ghost kitchen is celebrating a year in business with another milestone: its first food truck.

“It’s been a long year, but finally got one. (It) still needs a little bit of love, a little bit of TLC, but it’ll be up and running shortly, hopefully,” said Kirel Shaw, owner and CEO of Street Chef Shaw.

(In a photo provided by Street Chef Shaw, Chef Kirel Shaw sits atop the future food truck for Street Chef Shaw.)

Shaw has been in the industry for 14 years, working in a range of restaurants including Outback Steakhouse and Logan’s Roadhouse. An act of kindness at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic jump-started his startup.

“A lot of my friends and family were part of the restaurant industry, so I wanted to do the only thing that I knew how to do to help, (which) was to give out free meals (to) anybody who wanted to come by and pick one up,” Shaw said.

(Chef Kirel Shaw prepares food inside Amethyst Bee Cakery’s kitchen ahead of a pop-up event.)

Shaw and his team handed out about 96 meals at the first event. That number grew to 130 meals at a second giveaway a couple weeks later.

“People really loved the food, so we decided to move forward with it,” Shaw said.

‘BEST FOOD IN THE CITY’ BUILT ON ROOTS, RESEARCH

On March 11, 2020, Street Chef Shaw’s Facebook page went live. Two months later, the business was cooking up its dishes in the incubator kitchen at Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market.

Street Chef Shaw is finding success during the pandemic with an unconventional business model. The team prepares elements for its dishes in the incubator kitchen. From there, they pack up everything and take it to pop-up events at other markets, breweries and restaurants, where each dish is prepared moments after it’s ordered.

“They’re the best food in the city, my favorite food. My favorite thing to eat,” Ben Guerriero said.

(Chef Kirel Shaw of Street Chef Shaw prepares an order on April 27, 2021 inside Amethyst Bee Cakery’s kitchen.)

“Our food is nothing like there is in West Michigan, and West Michigan is I think looking for more authentic, more widespread food rather than finding the best burger that’s on every other block,” Shaw said.

Street Chef Shaw serves up Swahili-Mexican fusion tacos, quesadillas, nachos using chili peppers and spices from local African and Hispanic supermarkets. The meats are grilled, smoked then stewed for about six hours in birria — a traditional soup dish from Mexico. After the meat is removed, the leftover birria serves as a consume for dipping the tacos.

(An April 2021 photo by Samantha Denman shows tacos created by Street Chef Shaw.)

Street Chef Shaw also offers a vegan taco filled with cactus and red pepper hash, green chili refried beans and coconut curry rice.

Shaw says he came up with the menu after researching his family’s eastern African roots.

“I wanted to use something from my heritage and then also from my fiancée’s heritage… she’s Hispanic. So it’s something that we can pass on to our children and it’s incorporates us as a whole,” said Shaw.

(An April 2021 photo by Samantha Denman shows nachos created by Street Chef Shaw.)

RESTAURANT INDUSTRY REIMAGINED

Street Chef Shaw is only available for takeout and must be ordered on site. Each pop-up event is broadcast on the business’ Facebook and Instagram accounts.

(In this April 6, 2021 photo by Samantha Denman, an employee of Street Chef Shaw fills a takeout box as customers watch outside the kitchen at Amethyst Bee Cakery in Grand Rapids.)

“A main part of our business model was to gather a following, because with the food truck being more mobile all the time, you want people to follow you around,” Shaw explained.

Street Chef Shaw’s plan appears to be working, with people driving out and lining up for a taste.

“I went out to Allendale just to go there just because I saw on Instagram that they were there, and I was like, ‘I need to have it.’ So I drove to Allendale, went to like some place I’ve never been to… and it was great,” said Guerriero, who was first in line at a taco Tuesday pop-up event at Amethyst Bee Cakery in Grand Rapids.

Shaw met the owner of Amethyst Bee Cakery through the Downtown Market. He believes collaborations like Amethyst Bee Cakery’s kitchen sharing are the restaurant industry’s future.

“With the pandemic, I feel like food businesses are coming together more often and they’re working together…. to help each other out instead of competing with each other,” he said.

(Chef Kirel Shaw and another employee of Street Chef Shaw prepare ingredients for birria tacos inside Amethyst Bee Cakery’s kitchen on April 27, 2021.)

WHAT’S NEXT

In this April 6, 2021 photo by Samantha Denman, an employee of Street Chef Shaw prepares food for a pop-up event.

Street Chef Shaw is aiming to have its renovated food truck on the road by mid-June, with a long-term goal of running a food truck fleet. Shaw also plans to expand the menu to include more cultural cuisine.

“We will not stop here with only tacos. We are definitely more than just tacos here at Street Chef Shaw,” he said.

“I think people want to try new things and you can only make so many different types of burgers or you can make only make so many different types of barbecue, etc. But I really think that the culture behind it is really what pushes the food forward and pushes it towards more people’s mouths,” he added.

Street Chef Shaw also caters private events. For more information, visit https://streetchefshaw.com/.

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