Senior Economic Development Specialist Jack Johns recently went on a retention visit with Utica-based Motown Soup and shared their incredible story with me.
Motown Soup is a nonprofit company that assembles dried soup ingredients and packages them as convenient, ready-to-make mixes. Some of their most popular soup mixes are chicken noodle, white chicken chili and chicken pot pie. Most soup mixes make two quarts, cost $8 and are ready to serve in around 20 minutes. They have expanded their product line to also include mixes for dips, cookies and corn bread as well as sampler packages that come in beautiful, Michigan-themed boxes.
This businesses operates out of the state-licensed kitchen in the basement of Trinity Lutheran Church on Van Dyke in Utica. Food companies headquartered in church kitchens is not a new concept, but it is perhaps not well known. Yumbitz, a growing Macomb County cookie company, bakes in the commercial kitchen at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Clinton Township, and Ethel’s Edibles also started making gluten-free baked goods in a church kitchen until they purchased a commercial retail and bakehouse space in St. Clair Shores.
While some businesses can make food out of their home under the Cottage Food Law, they can only conduct direct sales to customers. In order for a food company to sell their products in retail stores, restaurants or over the Internet, the food must be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen that adheres to strict codes, undergoes regular inspections and often contains expensive equipment.
“It can be difficult for a startup business to find an affordable commercial kitchen to work in,” said Johns. “Churches give entrepreneurs the opportunity to start their business and get their products out there, even before they have the money to buy their own commercial kitchen. Many companies in Macomb County have started this way.”
As a result of their meeting, Johns was able to provide Motown Soup with a list of distribution companies that may potentially lead to savings on supplies. Additionally, he put them in touch with another Macomb County small business about the possibility of including locally-made noodles. Motown Soup is also interested in starting to sell at farmers markets, so Johns connected them with the Mount Clemens Farmers Market director to submit an application.
While delicious sounding, this narrative isn’t quite the incredible story I promised in the introduction. That part comes now. Motown Soup is completely staffed by volunteers – and there are more than 100 of them. Why are so many people willing to give up hours each week to make soup? Because Motown Soup donates nearly all of their profit to other area nonprofit organizations.
In 2014, Motown Soup donated a whopping $100,000 to soup kitchens, free clinics, homeless shelters and food pantries. Locally, that includes Roseville-based Lighthouse Outreach Center and MCREST, Fraser-based Hope Center and Samaritan House in Washington Township. Since 2005, they have donated nearly half a million dollars and are certain to beat that by the end of this year.
Motown Soup’s products can be found at Art-Is-In Market at The Mall at Partridge Creek and can also be ordered online through their website. These mixes are great to have on hand at home for an easy meal and also make a thoughtful gift. And when you support this local business, you’re also helping many other great organizations that are fighting hunger and poverty in metro Detroit.
Caitlin Gerds-Habermas is an associate planner in Business Outreach and Communications for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.