FEAST Detroit, a new co-packing production company in Inkster designed to help local food entrepreneurs grow their businesses and boost production, opened in October.  FEAST (Food Entrepreneur Accelerator And Start Up Terminal) was developed by Eastern Market, the 14,500-square-foot facility was donated by Garden Fresh Gourmet Founder Jack Aronson, and it is co-owned by three local businesses, including Marcia Nodel and Michal Nodel of Marcia’s Munchies.

Marcia and Michal, both of Birmingham, did not originally intend to become business co-owners. Michal, 35, is Marcia’s daughter-in-law (married to Jordan Nodel) and moved here five years ago. She was born in Israel, lived there until she was 10, moved to Atlanta, Ga., and later lived in New York.  She worked in technology and startups most of her career, and spent some time as a producer of video games.

In 2013, Marcia, then 63, was pondering what to do now that her kids were grown, graduated, married and having children of their own. She knew she would never be the type to just sit around and play cards all day. She was involved with the ADL. However, her favorite hobby was cooking; her family and friends loved her gourmet treats, especially her Sweet and Sassy Pickles, and Marcia loved to make them. “I had no plan to go into this; it was just a hobby,” she said. “It grew into a business.”

Jordan and Michal Nodel
and Marcia Nodel.

Marcia’s Munchies quickly grew into a successful award-winning business with five products. Less than a year after starting the business, Marcia’s Munchies won the prestigious Good Food Award in 2014. She won the Good Food Award again in 2016, and demand for her products increased.

As Marcia’s Munchies grew, Marcia and Michal realized they were outgrowing the facility where they were making their pickles. “We had called pretty much every production facility we could find, locally and around the country, and it was very difficult to find a co-packer,” Michal said. “Many co-packers have minimums that were out of reach for a company like ours. Co-packing is primarily set up for larger producers.”

Co-packing is commonly used in the food industry; a facility will make the product from the business owner’s recipe and package it for them. That gives the business owner time to focus on other elements of the business.

The new co-packing plant will help lots of local food entrepreneurs.

Around the end of 2015, Marcia and Michal started having conversations about co-packing with Eastern Market, an excellent resource for food entrepreneurs. “They brought us together with a few other food producers who were having the same issue, and said, ‘Let’s find a way to get you guys into a facility. Maybe we could start our own co-packing facility,’” Michal said.

Meanwhile, Garden Fresh Gourmet founder Jack Aronson, 64, of Bloomfield Hills had a facility in Inkster that had previously been used for manufacturing. He offered to donate it to Eastern Market for the food entrepreneurs of Michigan.

“I think Eastern Market is the finest farmers’ market in the United States,” he said. “What they’re trying to do with the local food communities … I don’t think there’s anything more important being done by anybody than what they’re doing.”

Aronson only asked that the building be used for food industry entrepreneurs, and if they ever sell the building in Inkster, to purchase one closer to Eastern Market. Another must: They must use all the money they make on the sale of the property to opening another facility for food entrepreneurs.

“I couldn’t be happier with what they’ve done,” he said. Aronson is also a big supporter of JVS, and through the foundation he created, the Artichoke Garlic Foundation, he provides support for kids, literacy programs and other projects to help the community.

Jack Aronson cuts the ribbon at the grand opening.

For local food entrepreneurs, FEAST provides services in co-packing, recipe development, production of shelf-stable products and more. Two commercial kitchens are available, and they will employ six people.

According to Michal, “FEAST is really focused on solving the problem that the three of our companies and many other companies have, which is, how do you scale your business appropriately?”

Marcia said, “It’s an opportunity all around.”

Michal added, “As Southeast Michigan has recovered from its economic woes, the manufactured food sector has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the region.”

Aronson agreed. “We’re becoming a mecca. I thought we always had terrific food in Detroit. I don’t know if the rest of the nation knew it, but I think they’re finding out now.

“The people here in Detroit, all these great new startups,” he continued, “we’re going to be able to help them get their products all over the country. We’re fourth or fifth in America in growing agriculture, and we’re 25th in processing it. Even though we’re growing the most food, we’re really behind in processing, and that’s the gap we’re going to close.”

Cheryl Weiss Special to the Jewish News