Great Fresh Foods new product ready to hit shelves

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Gourmet stuffed chicken patties, fire-roasted chicken breast, Jamaican-style chicken, stuffed meatballs, stuffed beef patties, stuffed chicken meatballs—is your stomach growling yet? This is the product line for the emerging company Great Fresh Foods. If you have not heard of them yet, you will.

Empty plateGreat Fresh Foods is the brand-new sister company of the well-established Garden Fresh Gourmet—the salsa sensation out of Ferndale that has taken the industry by storm. In a few short years, Garden Fresh Gourmet has grown from its humble beginnings to become the largest fresh salsa company in North America. It carries several gourmet lines including hummus, tortilla chips, guacamole, dips and salad dressings.

Co-founders Jack and Annette Aronson have expanded into new territory with their line of gourmet stuffed burgers and meatballs. Having already mastered a state-of-the-art, high-pressure process that enables them to provide fresh products that are preservative-free, they have applied the process to their new company’s products as well. The result is a delicious, never-frozen entrée that is ready to eat after one minute in the microwave.

Empty plate“We are about to launch a new company that offers a breakthrough in the fresh burger and meatball category: chicken and beef burgers that are truly stuffed, not mixed, with premium fillings that both in terms of visuals and flavor profile are unlike anything else on the market,” said Vice Chairman of Garden Fresh Gourmet Dave Zilko.

Zilko added, “To be featured under our new Jack’s Special Grilled brand, the initial line will feature four varieties of fully cooked, all natural, gluten-free stuffed chicken burgers: Spinach & 3 Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon & Cheddar, Roasted Red Pepper & Mozzarella, and PepperJack.”

In April of 2014, Great Fresh Foods acquired a 12,000-square-foot facility located at 44696 Morley Drive in Clinton Township. Choosing to locate Great Fresh Foods within Macomb County put the up-and-coming company on the Department of Planning and Economic Development’s (MCPED) radar. Senior Economic Development Specialists Camille Silda and Jack Johns reached out to the company to offer assistance.

GreatFreshCamille and Jack were able to refer valuable resources to the business and put them in touch with development partners at Michigan Works and Macomb Community College. MCPED also worked as a liaison between Great Fresh Foods and Consumers Energy to get the Clinton Township facility up and running. Preparing an Industrial Facilities Exemption tax abatement was another service MCPED provided.

So where can you find these delicious new products? Look for Jack’s Special Grilled brand in the meat department at Meijer.

A version of this article was also published in eMacomb Spring 2014.

The perfect twist

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I had the opportunity to speak with St. Clair Shores resident and small business owner Ann Bobek about her burgeoning decadent gourmet pretzel business, The Twisted Pretzel, which combines the perfect twist of salty pretzels with drizzled chocolate and gooey caramel.

The Twisted Pretzel officially launched in February 2013, but its inspiration started many years earlier. Ann has always loved to cook and bake, something passed down to her by her grandmothers and great aunts who often baked pies and cookies. But it wasn’t until her son started kindergarten that she discovered her passion for chocolate-covered pretzels.

peppermint in cello bagOnce introduced to the technique, she quickly began bringing tasty pretzel rod treats to school parties and holidays, where she started to hear, “You should start your own business” – a lot. But with young kids, the timing wasn’t right.

Flash forward to the present day, and Ann’s youngest child is a senior in high school and The Twisted Pretzel is open for business. But it didn’t happen overnight. Ann did what every new business owner should, she put in the work.

Ann attended classes at the Small Business Development Center, took classes at the Michigan State Product Center and scheduled meetings with Small Business Counselor Wendy Richardson, Innovation Counselor Micah Loucks and our Senior Economic Development Specialist Jack Johns.

“Jack’s proactive and pushes me forward, connecting me to other people,” said Ann. Connecting and networking with peers and mentors has been a source of knowledge and insight.

At the Michigan State Product Center, Ann soaked up all she could from the “food people” there. She first showed her product to Micah who saw it as a unique item not currently on the market in this area. He gave his initial stamp of approval and continues to counsel and work with Ann regularly. “Not only has he helped me out and guided me, but there is also a friendship that develops when you go through this process,” Ann said of Micah.

Cinnamon crunchThe Twisted Pretzel specializes in gourmet pretzels that come in an assortment of shapes and sizes. Their most popular product is Funky Chunky Bark. Not wanting to let broken pretzels go to waste, Ann came up with the idea to incorporate pretzel pieces, dark chocolate, peanut butter chocolate and handmade marshmallow made from scratch. Other products include Caramel Twisters, Twisted Turtles and Pretzel Twists that can be embellished with Cinnamon Crunch, Cookies and Cream, Java, M&Ms, Razz Berry, Toffee or Peppermint Twist.

Ann refers to her product as “edible art” because it looks as beautiful as it is delicious, and I can vouch for that. These gourmet desserts are perfect for holidays, graduations, showers and even corporate events. Each product is handmade with care, and Ann supports other Michigan businesses whenever possible, including in her printing and packaging, which she does through the Detroit-based Michigan Box Company.

A lot of changes occur during the first stages of a new business. There is a lot to learn and an evolution that occurs as you iron out your product, identity and key market. But Ann is up for the challenge, saying, “Whatever fabulous journey awaits, it’s sure to be exciting.”

Macomb County locations carrying The Twisted Pretzel products are Viviano Flower Shop branches in Chesterfield Township, Shelby Township and St. Clair Shores and Urban Attic also in St. Clair Shores. You can also catch Ann (and some free samples!) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23 at the St. Clair Shores Viviano Open House. For more information on The Twisted Pretzel, visit their website at www.twstdprtzl.com/.
Twisted turtle with rck card

This article was also posted at MakeMacombYourHome.com on Nov. 20, 2014.

Have you had your Coffee Break?

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Did you know you can buy coffee from Congo in Eastpointe? Tucked away in a strip mall, Coffee Break is a cozy and chic coffee house that offers big-chain quality with small business appeal. Dim pendant lights, custom-laid floor tiles and charming bistro tables create a comfortable environment for any coffee lover. The rear alcove also features a sleek leather couch facing a flat screen TV mounted above a functioning fireplace. Additionally, in warm weather, the wide walkway out front accommodates outdoor seating. Free Wi-Fi is another amenity available year-round. Coffee Break is the ideal location to collect your thoughts, catch up with friends or network with colleagues over a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

Specializing in beans from around the world, Coffee Break boasts an impressive array of in-house-roasted coffee grounds. They sell one-pound packages of whole beans (which they will grind for you upon purchase) from countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, Columbia, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Congo, Indonesia, Sumatra, Ethiopia and Kenya – and the list continues to grow. Drinks are moderately priced and cover all of the coffee aficionado’s favorites and then some—my favorite is the marshmallow latte. Cappuccino, espresso, latte and coffee flavors, sizes and prices are fetchingly scrawled on an oversized chalkboard behind the counter. Coffee Break also serves tea and a limited menu consisting of sandwiches, baklava, handmade shortbread, pastries, ice cream and more.

Conveniently located on Ten Mile between Kelly Road and I-94 (just a mile from where I-696 meets I-94), Coffee Break is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. This established business has been operating in Eastpointe for almost four years. Just a stone’s throw away from Sugarbush Tavern, a prominent sidewalk promotes walkability among other neighboring businesses including Mario’s Meats, Little Italy Pizzeria and Fairway Drugs.

Vastly versatile, Coffee Break can accommodate just about any coffee enthusiast’s whim, whether looking for a meeting spot, to refill your coffee supply at home, to explore a new taste from across the world, to work on your laptop, to catch the game, to perfect your tan or to simply obtain your caffeine fix.

Coffee Break photo

19156 E. Ten Mile Road, Eastpointe, MI 48021 (586) 362-8683

Hours
Monday – Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You Wanna Pizza Me?

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One of the newest businesses in Eastpointe is Pizza Me. Though only three months old, this pizza place is starting to grow its clientele and already has quite a few regulars. Whether you are looking for a quick slice on the go, a classic cheese and pepperoni or a unique specialty pizza, this place has you covered.

Pizza Me is owned and operated by veteran and first-time business owner Will Francis. He served in the army for seven years and spent a year and a half in Iraq as an airborne infantryman—yes, that means jumping out of airplanes. He always dreamed of owning his own business, and when he was able to save enough money while deployed overseas, he came home and made his dream a reality.

While searching for a space, Francis realized Eastpointe offered a competitive affordability that made financial sense for his new business venture. He eventually settled on a storefront located on the south side of Nine Mile Road, between Gratiot and Kelly.

When asked what he enjoys most about running his own business, Francis says it is the flexibility. From following orders to calling all the shots, this veteran is certainly having fun along the way. He designed the logo for Pizza Me by turning an image of a friend’s face into a cartoon pizza. Francis has also customized his own menu and hours and makes pizza the way he thinks it ought to be made.

The dough is made from scratch daily, and all of the cheese is hand grated from blocks. Only the freshest ingredients are used. In this tiny shop, the kitchen is open, and if so inclined, you can watch your pizza being handcrafted.

The specialty pizzas are anything but ordinary. The Taco Pizza (ground beef, onion, cheddar, taco sauce, lettuce and tomato with a drizzle of sour cream) and the Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza (cheddar, bacon, ground beef, fries, pickles, onions, pizza sauce, and drizzled with ranch) are two of Pizza Me’s most popular pies. Not quite ready for French fries and pickles on your pizza? They also offer regular pizzas with flavored crusts, cheese bread, subs, salads, pasta, and wings.

With high quality ingredients, innovative combinations, hard work and a great attitude, Pizza Me is off to a great start. So the next time you are debating between tacos or pizza, why not pick both and see what Pizza Me has to offer?

Pizza Me front-1

16936 E. Nine Mile Road, Eastpointe, MI 48021 586-541-8675

Pizza Me Menu

Hours
Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday noon to 10 p.m.

A Look into Plaza Mexico

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Plaza Mexico opened on Nine Mile Road in 2001. It is a small restaurant that has cultivated a faithful following and has attracted customers from all over Southeast Michigan. It offers excellent Mexican cuisine with generous portions at a great price.

If dining in, you can seat yourself in a booth or at a table by the window. Depending on when you come, there may be only one waitress for the whole restaurant, but she is efficient and friendly. A large mural of a hacienda adorns one wall and the sounds of Spanish and pots and pans drift out from the kitchen.

It is a family restaurant owned by Ana and Felipe Hernandez. Ana is the main chef and has created all of the recipes. She does not speak English, so I had the opportunity to speak with her youngest daughter Melisa, a waitress, about the family business.

Ana and Felipe are from a small town called San Ignacio in Jalisco, Mexico. The family still vacations there a few months out of the year. They moved to a neighborhood in Southwest Detroit, and Ana worked for many years as a cook at Loco’s Bar and Grill. Cooking is her passion, and she was inspired to start her own Mexican restaurant.

Plaza Mexico started with four owners, but over time, Ana and Felipe bought out the other partners. With their daughters on staff, this is truly a work of love. Recently, the success of the restaurant has enabled them to move to a home in nearby St. Clair Shores, a short drive from Plaza.

When they bought the building, it was previously a Chinese restaurant, and had been many other businesses before that. With quality food and hard work, the Hernandez’s have achieved staying power. Fajitas are one of their most popular dishes, as well as the #1 Combo (beef enchilada, chicken burrito and hard beef taco) and the California Burrito (flour tortilla topped with ranchero and cheese, filled with beans, lettuce, pico, spicy salsa verde and grilled chicken or steak). Their large menu has it all, including quesadillas, tamales, enchiladas, chimichangas, nachos, fried ice cream and more.

When asked about the future of Plaza Mexico, Melisa says the family hopes to open a second location, a larger restaurant with a bar. The small size of the current restaurant makes a bar impractical. Melisa studies business at Wayne State and hopes to one day manage her own Plaza. And what would become of this Eastpointe location? Melisa responds, “We would keep it. This place is like our baby, what got us started. We try to make people feel like they’re at home here.”

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18322 E. 9 Mile Road, Eastpointe, MI 48021 586-777-8144

 Plaza Mexico Menu

Hours
Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This article was also posted at MakeMacombYourHome.com on Oct. 8, 2014.