Webster’s Market aims to build bonds, sell food in downtown Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man who was homeless five years ago is now opening his second business — a small grocery store in downtown Grand Rapids.

“My odds are better to win the Michigan Lottery than to accomplish what I have in the past five years,” said Brent Webster, co-owner of Webster’s Market, Inc.

FROM BANKRUPTCY TO BUSINESS OWNER

In 2016, Webster was sleeping on the floor of a relative’s home with his pregnant wife and children after declaring bankruptcy.

Months earlier, he had been laid off from his job as community relations director of Exodus Place due to budget cuts.

But with the guidance of Exodus Place President and Executive Director Robb Munger, Webster found his way back into the workforce as a contracted delivery driver.

Webster and his wife pooled their money and resources to lease a delivery truck. As demand grew, so did their fleet, until the company he was contracted with started scaling back orders.

(This photo provided by CJ and Webster’s Market, Inc. shows, from left to right, Customer Success Manager Tamara Boileau, co-owner and CEO Brent Webster, co-owner and CFO Maricarmen Webster-Cabrero, and the owners’ son, Jorge Webster-Cabrero, dubbed kids success team manager.)

Back down to one truck, the couple pivoted, signing deals directly with big box stores to deliver their goods. Studio 21 Delivery, Inc. was born.

Webster said their company now owns its own fleet of vehicles, with 6-12 trucks running at any given time.

“It’s been amazing ride these last 18 months,” Webster said.

THE MAKING OF A MARKET

(A photo provided by CJ and Webster’s Market, Inc. shows the sign to the new store, located at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW inside Grand Rapids’ Waters Center.)

On Sept. 3, the couple will launch their next endeavor in downtown Grand Rapids’ Waters Center: Webster’s Market. The retailer replaces Jam ‘n Bean, which closed last year.

“To be in the Waters building where my dad worked for 20 years – if he were alive, he would be in just tears,” Webster said.

Webster said the fifth floor where his late father worked also used to have a small store, which closed a while ago.

“The (building) owner said jokingly it would be great to have a store there and I said, ‘Why not?’” Webster recounted.

Webster’s Market will cater to travelers and people who live and work downtown with grab-and-go items like shampoo, pop, coffee and doughnuts. Webster also plans to stock the space with some fresh deli items, like wraps, sandwiches and salads. He’s also working on adding locally made products to store shelves.

At the request of his 5-year-old son, Webster plans to sell novelty ice cream treats out the side window of the store, located on Ottawa Avenue NW between Pearl and Lyon streets.

A photo courtesy of CJ and Webster’s Market, Inc. shows some of the beverages sold by the new store, located in the Waters Center at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW in Grand Rapids.

Next summer, he intends to open a produce stand in front of the store to sell fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers.

“We are just trying to make it very, very community friendly and make it very easy and convenient for hotel guests,” he said.

‘WE NEED MORE LOVE… LESS ARGUING’

Webster said the market is also a place to build relationships.

“I’ve lived here 51 years, I know this town. I’m grateful for this community and what they’ve provided in that time. I really just want to reach out to this community… I just want to be there for the people of this community and I really think we need more love and looking for out your neighbor and less arguing,” he said.

Webster said store shelves won’t be fully stocked on opening day because of supply chain issues tied to pandemic staffing shortages, but he expects to be fully operational by Sept. 21. That includes rolling out online ordering for in-store pickup.

A photo courtesy of CJ and Webster’s Market, Inc. shows a partially stocked cooler inside the new store, located in the Waters Center at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW in Grand Rapids.

Webster credits all of the businesses, contractors and community leaders who helped him get to this point, from a landlord who gave him and his wife “very favorable” terms with their three-year lease, to the support from Munger and retired Grand Rapids Police Lt. Ralph Mason.

“I truly believe there are more things that unite us than divide us. I believe that in my soul, and these guys are a shining example of that,” Webster said.

Webster’s Market will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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