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'Meal prep with a purpose': Local kitchen thriving with help of meal delivery service

A meal prep service which employs young adults with special needs and autism is experiencing major growth by partnering with Market Wagon, an online farmers market.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — There are all kinds of national chains that provide meal-prep services that deliver straight to your door, but what about local companies that are doing the same thing?

What if their whole mission was to help people with intellectual disabilities? Well, right here on West Michigan's lakeshore there's a small kitchen that's doing just that. 

And it's not your average kitchen.

"We are 'meal prep with a purpose,'" said Mandy Anderson, Co-Owner of Lake Effect Kitchen in Grand Haven. "So not only are you getting great chef-prepared meals, excellent food, but you're also supporting employment for people with intellectual disabilities."

Anderson, along with Aaron Johnson, both from Grand Haven founded Lake Effect Kitchen for two purposes: to give people access to great food and to support and mentor students and young adults with different abilities in competitive employment skills. 

Johnson and Anderson both have children with autism. That's why they're so passionate about providing opportunities to young adults no matter their ability.

Lake Effect Kitchen has been around for years, but recently found a way to reach even more customers, by teaming up with Market Wagon

Market Wagon is a delivery service that helps local companies and farmers deliver food, produce, and other products to large regions - and it really got started during the pandemic. 

"We were partnering with a lot of local chefs, and a lot of catering companies that had to shut down during that time, but they knew that people still wanted their products," said Trisha Smith, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Market Wagon.

"The great thing about our service is that it allows small businesses to really reach a larger audience," Smith added, "and they know exactly what they're going to sell and how much." 

And that's exactly why it was such a great fit for Lake Effect Kitchen. 

"We thought we would give it a try to expand our delivery area," Anderson said, "and it's really helped us grow and be able to serve customers all across West Michigan just with that one hub in Grand Rapids. It's been a really nice increase in business for us."

According to Lake Effect Kitchen, sales have increased 50% since the Grand Haven-based ghost kitchen started selling online with Market Wagon, making it clear that people cannot get enough of this kitchen with a mission!

It comes at a perfect time for consumers too. According to Market Wagon, the pandemic has fueled a wave of demand for food delivery—revenue grew from $107 billion in 2019 to an estimated $152 billion in 2021.

Market Wagon delivers to every home in a 7-county region of West Michigan including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Muskegon. For a look at the complete delivery map click here.

That means, more than 60 farmers and food producers are reaching over 1.6 million people each week without having to pay for expensive/prohibitive costs for shipping or delivery themselves. 

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Everything is hand-delivered to the doors of customers by Market Wagon drivers. Customers get to choose from 975+ local products from around the area. Farmers and artisans set their own prices to make sure it's profitable for them. 

"Our meals are fully cooked and we're local," Anderson, "so this makes it really easy. We just deliver every Tuesday morning to the central Market Wagon hub in Grand Rapids and place the orders, and then their drivers take those bags that have a variety of things from all the different vendors and deliver them out to the houses."

Another great thing for businesses like Lake Effect Kitchen, is that Market Wagon operates all year long, not just during the traditional "farmers market" seasons. 

"So all of the help from Market Wagon has been great for us, plus our mission of employing people with disabilities sets us apart," Anderson added, "because there's a purposed behind everything we do."

The income from Market Wagon has helped fund the recent purchase of a vintage trolley from the city of Grand Haven which is being repurposed into a unique food truck that will allow Lake Effect Kitchen to take their food on the road to various events.

To learn more about Lake Effect Kitchen or to place an order of your own, visit their website or Facebook page.

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