YEAR OF GRADUATION: 2011
MAJOR: business marketing
CAREER: owner of Uptown Kitchen
CURRENT FAV SONG: Ben Rector's "Let the Good Times Roll"
When Kelly LeCoy was a freshman in high school, she envisioned herself working on the 54th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago or "something glamorous like that."
Attending a college in Grand Rapids, she couldn't help but explore the city's trendy neighborhoods - where she couldn't get enough of the delicious dishes offered up by places like The Electric Cheetah and where artfully-crafted espresso drinks from The Sparrows cafe were just down the road.
By the fall of her senior year, Kelly started her final honors project: a marketing plan for a potential business in Grand Rapids' growing Wealthy Street district. In her research, Kelly learned that the state of Michigan doesn’t allow food producers to sell their products in local shops unless they are created in a regulated commercial kitchen.
Kelly’s idea: “Why couldn’t I make a kitchen? People can rent it from me and then they can sell their food wherever they want!”
Uptown Kitchen was born.
In March of her senior year, Kelly presented her business plan at bizPlan, a Calvin-sponsored competition. Her plan was so well-researched that it took first place and earned her seed money for Uptown Kitchen. In April she competed in another regional business plan competition and won that competition, too. More seed money.
As Kelly neared the end her senior year at Calvin, she got an interview for a dream job in Chicago. But she also had $4,000 in start-up money and a few potential investors for her Grand Rapids-based Uptown Kitchen business.
Kelly turned down the dream job interview.
"I realized, my heart's in Grand Rapids--that's really where I want to be," she said.
After graduation, Kelly accepted a job at Steelcase, a large office furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids. In addition to her full-time job at Steelcase, Kelly continued to move forward with Uptown Kitchen.
In June, she presented her business plan—again—to prominent Grand Rapids business people in a contest called 5x5, and won. More seed money, more connections.
By the end of the summer, Kelly had found a location in the Eastown neighborhood, secured investors and began construction plans.
Today, Uptown Kitchen is open for business.