FOX 17 UnfilteredYou Got Served


The Candied Yam's owner Jessica Ann Tyson living 'the American dream'

From dealing with food scarcity to now feeding the community, Tyson found a way to beat the odds
The Candied Yam Jessica Ann Tyson
Posted at 10:18 AM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 12:33:07-04

The Candied Yam prides itself on serving fresh ingredients to customers. However, fresh ingredients were some of the last things owner Jessica Ann Tyson could get her hands on as a kid.

"The freshest ingredients, they were not coming to me," Tyson told FOX 17.

Tyson's biological mother battled addiction, making it impossible to take care of her children. That forced Tyson, and her twin sister, to find food the best way they could. Many times, that meant pulling from a trash can.

The Candied Yam's owner Jessica Ann Tyson living 'the American dream'

"You don’t know that it’s abnormal because it’s what you do," said Tyson. "So, for a long time, until I was about four, my twin sister and I, we did the best we could.”

Tyson added, “We were in the foster care system. I’m a proponent for the foster care system, but unfortunately it wasn’t a good experience for my sister and I.”

After three years, their luck started to turn around. A preacher and a teacher, as Tyson put it, wanted to adopt twins. They found Tyson and her twin, Monica, through an agency. After several weekly visits, they decided to make it official, giving Jessica and Monica a new home.

“Thus the love affair began," said Tyson.

Her new parents made fresh food a priority, growing onions, collard greens and more in their garden.

“We understood the opportunity that this food was fresh and it was so good for your body, because we were growing it right in our yard," she said. “We loved it. It was good for your soul and your spirit. Coming from the circumstances that we had, this was just like a gift to be able to have a family, a dream family this way.”

It's a dream Jessica has yet to wake up from. When she wasn't cooking meals at home, she used to order food from a restaurant in southeast Grand Rapids.

One day, in 2016, that restaurant closed. She decided to make it her own.

“I have a group of five things I want to accomplish before I check up out of here," said Tyson. "This was one of them. I was like, 'There’s an opportunity.' Within 24 hours, I had the business.”

Fast forward to today, The Candied Yam has been named one of the Top 50 Places to eat in Grand Rapids, and won the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce Retail Business of the Year in 2019.

Those are honors that mean so much more than just labels to a woman who used to wonder when and where her next meal would come.

“I was that little girl who had food scarcity," said Tyson. "I was that little girl who was looking for an opportunity to work as I got older. I was that little girl who wanted to have just a dream, the American dream, if you will, of having a place at the table. Literally. And that’s my story.”

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