Published in Economic Development

Grand Rapids entrepreneur sees the full spectrum of economic changes

BY Sunday, May 10, 2020 06:33pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Jonathan Jelks — a Grand Rapids entrepreneur behind a variety of startups in fashion, tech and hospitality — is seeing the full spectrum of economic changes brought on by the coronavirus.

Jelks is co-founder of several businesses, including Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge, a new downtown restaurant and bar still under construction; Motu Viget Spirits; GR USA Apparel Co.; and a new streaming app geared toward up-and-coming musicians.

Jonathan Jelks, entrepreneur. COURTESY PHOTO

Before COVID-19 struck, Ambiance was initially scheduled to open around Memorial Day in a long-vacant below-grade space at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. Construction is near completion, but the project also requires permit approvals from the city. The restaurant has received financing assistance through the Small Business Administration that will cover the next six months of obligations, Jelks said.

“Until we can operate at a certain capacity, it makes no sense for us to be open,” he said. “We’re in purgatory.”

However, the outlook isn’t as grim for his other ventures. Motu Viget, which produces a line of brut wine and vodka, is “doing very well for us,” he said. Its Avani Supreme vodka brand, produced in partnership with Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers LLC, is available in stores while its flagship brut — a partnership with Paw Paw-based St. Julian Winery — can be ordered online and shipped to customers.

“People are still drinking in the state of Michigan. We’re happy to be part of that experience,” he said.

Jelks also is involved in the forthcoming Radi8tor app, a smartphone streaming music platform that includes geolocation features and is set to launch in June. Meanwhile, the GR USA apparel line featuring the city of Grand Rapids has been “so far so good.”

For entrepreneurs, the business climate during COVID-19 has been “tumultuous,” he said. 

“You don’t know how drastically your revenue is going to change from month to month. While there has been assistance for certain entrepreneurs, some have not been eligible,” he said. “My heart goes out to everybody who is responsible for leading people and paying employees. There is no model for this. If this persists too much longer, the American economy as we once knew it is going to go through a complete metamorphosis.”

Jelks isn’t staying bogged down in the gloom, though, and remains hopeful for people looking to succeed during and after the pandemic.

“In crisis, there is a lot of opportunities,” he said. “There are gaps in our system now where new businesses can be created to help revive things. It’s important we remain supportive of one another.” 

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