Feature: Marddy’s Kitchen and Local Green Atlanta’s Plan to Bring Healthy Cuisine to the Westside
As spring rolls into summer, be on the lookout for local food entrepreneurs working to ensure healthier and authentic food options on the Westside.
Keitra Bates may describe herself as shy, but when it comes to drumming up support and advocating for the home cooks who operate in the Westside neighborhoods and preserving their legacy, all of that apprehension melts away.
“That responsibility transcends my shyness,” Bates says of having to pitch the concept of Marddy’s to friends and strangers alike. “My obligation in representing those who aren’t here… I’m not going to back down on that.”
Bates has an extensive background in food service, from waiting tables throughout college to running a successful family-owned pizza restaurant in Atlanta’s Westview community. However, when the economics of the neighborhood changed, her business landlord began to see a different vision for the retail space, and, ultimately, Bates was forced to close the restaurant. At a crossroads, she decided it was time to rethink her own entrepreneurial journey in the food industry.
Realizing that owning a building was the key to stability, Bates set her sights on a property in Ashview Heights for launching her next venture, Marddy’s, a food incubator committed to preserving local culinary culture. Marddy’s provides home cooks and food entrepreneurs with access to a commercial kitchen, professional training and both an online and physical marketplace. After initially completing a program with the Center for Civic Innovation, Bates learned about the Westside Future Fund as she continued to build out the vision for the business. “The Westside Future Fund has been very instrumental in our development,” she states, noting that the organization has connected her with resources and mentorship opportunities that helped solidify plans and bring her vision to life.
For Bates, operating Marrdy’s is a significant shift from the traditional restaurant business, but it’s one that she welcomes in an effort to provide capacity for others while being a role model in the community.
“It’s very important for kids in the neighborhood to see someone like me owning a business,” says Bates. “Marddy’s takes me out of the kitchen, but it allows me to share what I’ve learned as a food entrepreneur and teacher.”
Because of its vision of helping transform communities through food, with an emphasis on traditionally made products, Marddy’s has also begun to identify other food entrepreneurs with a similar focus. One such business is Local Green Atlanta.
Zachary “Big Zak” Wallace started Local Green Atlanta in the fall of 2017 as an initiative for amplifying efforts that make healthy eating become a lifestyle in urban communities. For Wallace, this journey represents an unlikely shift. For much of the mid 2000s, he honed his career as an artist and producer in Atlanta’s music scene, having a hand in hit records from major artists like Ciara, Keri Hilson and others.
Wallace developed an entrepreneurial spirit early in life, well before music became his passion, by taking cues from his father, who owned several barbershops in the Atlanta area. As a kid, he developed a knack for problem-solving and seizing opportunity – a skill that eventually continued to serve him well in his future endeavors.
“Being in that position put me on a platform of knowing people, knowing customer service, understanding how to relate to people,” Wallace says. “I’ve always known that I could find my
lane, because I had to find my lane within the walls of his barbershops…I would get tips from just going across the street to get people food.”
Yet after years of bad eating habits and watching his weight surpass 300 lbs, he realized he needed to make lifestyle changes and be a leader in communities where healthy eating options were not always easily in reach. In 2016, he experienced a personal revelation about his eating habits during an extended stay in California, and he came back to Atlanta with a mission to inspire several friends to transform their lives by embracing a healthier lifestyle.
Wallace grew up on the south and west sides of Atlanta and began with a grassroots food and fitness initiative called “Heal the SWATS,” but he soon realized that access to healthy food in those neighborhoods was sorely lacking. After a conversation with the owner of a local healthy food restaurant, who dismissed ideas about franchising in these areas, Wallace initially became angry. Then his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.
“I remember being furious, but it immediately turned from fury to personal,” he recalls. “I took the responsibility right then…I started having friends come to my house and began beta-testing recipes.”
He reached out to a friend who was a chef to collaborate and hone the vision further, and soon Local Green Atlanta was born. Boasting the tagline “Keeping Atlanta Healthy” and a hip-hop inspired vegetarian menu with items like the “Slim Shady” sandwich and the “Notorious” tacos, Local Green Atlanta has begun to build a strong local following over the past several months.
Local Green Atlanta currently operates out of Good Samaritan Health Center on Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy on weekday mornings, but the success of the business has begun to require additional capacity throughout the day. Through mutual connections, Wallace learned about Marddy’s and developed a fast friendship with Bates. The pair realized they shared a mutual goal of providing great food to the Westside communities and soon after struck up a partnership. Local Green will be one of the featured culinary businesses operating out of Marddy’s throughout the week, using the shared kitchen and marketplace to reach afternoon and evening food crowds, in addition to a planned food truck later in the year.
For Bates and Wallace, it’s a perfect fit of vision and timing.
“I feel like Local Green is the missing link,” she exclaims. “We’re raising the standard of what’s available and what you can expect to find in our communities.”
Want to learn more? Click here for more on Marddy’s. Click here to follow Local Green Atlanta.