GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Minutes after Jessica Ann Tyson wrapped her interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday morning, she immediately put on a hard hat and picked up a sledgehammer.
“This thing is heavy,” she said as she lifted it and walked toward a wall.
She clutched it tightly in her hands. Then she leaned back like a baseball player at home plate and jammed it into the wall, making a hole the size of baseball.
“When I see this place, I see the vibrancy that it once was,” Tyson said during the interview with FOX 17. “When I first moved to Grand Rapids, it was a restaurant. It was a nightclub. It was truly a happening spot.”
Her goal, she said, is to bring some of that luster back. Wednesday she broke ground at the vacant, boarded-up building at 932 Division Street, making it the second location of The Candied Yam: Delightful Southern Cuisine.
“Our vision is to make and recreate what we’ve done on 44th Street at Breton Meadows Plaza,” Tyson said. “Make it a delicious, delightful place where people can come and have memories.”
Tyson said the new location will have a 200-person banquet hall and a dine-in restaurant.
She was inspired to do this back in August 2021 when her landlord at the original location asked her about an expansion.
“We were approached by Elliott [Muller] to do a Candied Yam: Delightful Southern Cuisine at 932. We thought about it and said, 'You know, that would be a great opportunity but only if there was equity involved,” Tyson said. “It’s almost like Muller and Mull Trie LLC had done so much work waiting years to put a tenant in this space.”
Muller was on board, Tyson said.
He knew the Candied Yam would be the right fit for the location, he said.
“When we acquired the building about two years ago, listening to the stakeholders in the neighborhood, they said, 'You know one thing that there isn’t right now is a diversification of ownership in the area,'” Muller said. “So, we thought it was a great opportunity to invite her in and participate in equity.”
In November 2021, Tyson signed on the dotted line to be partners. She did it because she was ready to build generational wealthy and equity, she said.
“When you have equity in a property, it means essentially that you can change a landscape and you can create space where you can have employment for longer term because you’re not just on a lease,” Tyson said. “You’re not just there for two years or three years. You’re there invested in the property, invested in what happens around it, and invested in the community.”
Tyson said she hopes the community gets involved. They’re selling bricks to people that, when purchased, will have their names engraved on them. Then it'll be a part of the construction of the building.
Both Tyson and Muller said including people of color throughout the business and construction process was another goal.
“We’ve engaged a general contractor who’s bidding out to minority-owned subcontractors,” Muller said. “The tenant has agreed to hire staff minorities as well as vendors to support her business.”
Tyson said she’s hoping for a grand opening in the summer. Construction begins soon. However, she hopes that local residents absorb the message behind her venture: Wages don’t create wealth. Equity does.
It’s something Muller told her a while ago. It’s stuck with her. She hopes it’ll inspire other landlords and Black and Brown businesses to pair up to build wealth.
“We’re hoping that this is definitely a catalyst for Grand Rapids but it could be nationwide,” Tyson said. “It just takes individuals who are thoughtful and people who are intentional about developing communities and wealth.”