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Local organization working to make SE neighborhood ’beautiful with Black-owned businesses’

Burton Village BBQ opens in the Burton St., Eastern Ave. area. Black Wall Street GR hopes it'll lure other businesses to the area in an effort to recreate the vibrancy of the original Black Wall Street of Tulsa from 100 years ago.
Posted at 5:56 PM, Jun 07, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Burton Village BBQ Company has been open for a few months, serving what they consider to be some of the best barbecue around.

“You can get rib tips, chicken. We got turkey knuckles, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw,” said co-owner Kevin Malone, who runs the business with his mother and three sisters. “We got Kool-aid. We have slushies. It’s very hot out here. We ain’t got no shade for y’all. But, we got love you know. We got a lot of support for people.”

On June 1 last week, the community showed love to them. They had a grand re-opening on that Tuesday, a day that also marked 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred, in which a white mob destroyed the city’s predominantly African American area called Greenwood or Black Wall Street.

“We actually had the mayor [Rosalynn Bliss] and the city commissioner up here and Black Wall Street [Grand Rapids],” Malone said. “We did a re-open, a big celebration for everybody to come out to see where we were.”

They’re located on the corner of Burton Street SE and Eastern Avenue SE. It's an area that Black Wall Street Grand Rapids founder Preston Sain said they aim to build up to reflect the vibrancy of the original Black Wall Street in Tulsa. In the early 1900s, it had African-American owned businesses, restaurants, theaters, schools, law offices and a hospital.

“We’re looking to make this area beautiful with Black-owned businesses, owned and operated, providing great service for all races, all community members throughout the greater Grand Rapids,” Sain said. “We’re looking to expand to seven more districts in total, starting here with development on Burton and Eastern as our flagship district.”

And, their flagship business is Burton Village BBQ.

Sain said there’s more plans in the works. Several of the buildings at the intersection have a giant sign that read "Burton Village Event Center Coming Soon" and "Burton Village Coffee Coming Soon."

“Coffee shop, corner store, bookstore. We got restaurants, salons. We already got Cindy’s Chicken Coop. We got J&J Bondsman. Those are Black-owned businesses,” Sain said. “You got Gillespie funeral home, a historical place, right down the road. We already kind of got the ball rolling with Black excellence. So, we’re just looking to expand so we can increase diversity and culture within Grand Rapids and add that missing piece to our city’s puzzle.”

Back in 2015, Forbes listed Grand Rapids as one of the worst places for Black entrepreneurship. However, in January this year, Black Wall Street Grand Rapids announced their $100M capital campaign, with the goal of changing that status.

“It would be great to have everybody out here where we can come and support each other. It’s a lot of businesses out here for rent, for owning, everything,” Malone said. “So, we’re just trying to build and try to help and give people the courage to come out and build their own destiny.”