GRAND RAPIDS — When the COVID-19 pandemic first took hold of the country last year, Kevin Chaperon took the at-home bread baking trend to the next level and opened a ghost kitchen concept called Blacklist Bagels LLC.
Chaperon has worked in Grand Rapids’ restaurant industry for years, and previously worked at a bagel shop in East Lansing. He’s also the former head chef at The Commons in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill neighborhood, where the owner allowed Chaperon to make and eventually sell bagels during the pandemic. The Commons became Blacklist’s home base.
“I had worked at a bagel shop previously and had a weird obsession with bagels that I didn’t realize before the pandemic,” Chaperon said. “It was a little hard at the start for people to understand what Blacklist was, and we would get orders of people calling and thinking it was an actual bakery.”
Chaperon recognizes familiar names on orders, but he rarely sees any of his customers’ faces, he said.
“People just come to the front door and their order is just sitting there,” Chaperon said. “I just know their names. It would be nice to have a storefront and actually meet these people.”
With indoor dining allowed again and business picking up for The Commons, Chaperon only spends limited time baking in the kitchen on weekend mornings before the restaurant opens.
He is now looking for space to open his own storefront in Grand Rapids, but his biggest barriers are finding the right location and capital to open a physical space. Chaperon launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $15,000 that will go toward a small business loan to purchase equipment, a kitchen buildout and initial leasing and rental costs.
“I’ve been kind of limited by my space and I don’t have any employees, it’s just me and my girlfriend,” Chaperon said. “Once I have employees and time to get back in the kitchen and do some recipe development, there are so many things I want to try that you can put on a bagel.”
Blacklist is part of the growing trend of so-called ghost kitchens, or temporary restaurant facilities that only offer pick-up or delivery. Once seen as a natural response to the pandemic, ghost kitchens have become part of the global food industry fabric that are likely to outlast COVID-19 restrictions.
Still, Chaperon is pursuing a more traditional brick and mortar future where he can take a lead role.
Chaperon left his head chef duties at The Commons just before the pandemic because he wanted to step back from a management role. He temporarily worked as a baker for the nearby Royals restaurant, a position he’d likely still be doing if not for COVID-19, he said.
“I absolutely wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for the pandemic,” Chaperon said. “In a lot of ways the pandemic obviously sucked and tested a lot of our mental capacity to stay home and do nothing, but I’m glad a little that it happened. I’ve been in this industry for so long, and how long can I just be a line chef?”
Chaperon is excited about having an ownership stake in a restaurant where he can pay employees a decent wage and create a positive, inclusive work environment — both of which can be hard to find in the service industry.
“I’ve just worked in this industry for so long and been overworked and underappreciated, and I just don’t want to do that with any of my employees,” Chaperon said.
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