Grand Rapids Community College alum Chris Wessely’s dream of opening a restaurant that also fights food insecurity will get a boost after being among 10 projects earning $20,000 prizes at the Start Garden Demo Day.
Wessely, a 2011 graduate of GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, plans an upscale ramen noodle and boba tea shop and pledges to donate a portion of every meal to charities providing meals to children.
Noodle Pig, at 601 Bond Ave. in Grand Rapids, is planned to open this fall. Start Garden is a Grand Rapids organization aiming to accelerate experimentation, risk-taking and investment in early startups.
Wessely in July was chosen to be a finalist in the Start Garden 100, a competition for entrepreneurs. At Wednesday’s Demo Day at GLC Live at 20 Monroe, Noodle Pig and nine other projects were selected and winners received $20,000 to help their businesses.
He prepared for the event in the Secchia kitchens, creating samples to share at the competition and speaking with current students.
“I was humbled and honored to have been selected as one of the top 10 to be awarded this year,” Wessely said. “I was also very proud to be able to also represent my culinary school last night. Thank you again for all the love and support!”
Wessely didn’t start out to be a chef. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College in 2004, majoring in Political Science and Japanese, participating in a year-long exchange program with Seikei University in Japan. In 2008 he founded the Sport and Social Club, which operates sports leagues for adults, with an eye toward helping young professionals stay fit.
But he loves to cook, and enrolled in the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education while running the Sport and Social Club, graduating with a 4.0 grade point average and earning Faculty Choice honors.
Now he’s changed his responsibilities with the Sports and Social Club to focus on opening Noodle Pig.
“It’s going to be a different concept, a fast-casual ramen restaurant like you’d find in Japan and big cities here,” he said last year. “I think of it as healthy foods meeting quickness.”
He plans to make all of the food from scratch, including the noodles. He purchased a Japanese noodle machine and patrons will be able to watch it work.
Every bowl of ramen sold will help cover the cost of a meal for three children. He plans to partner with three charities focused on feeding children. He is looking to partner with a local and national effort, and with a friend who runs a children’s home in India.
“As you slurp away to ramen-bliss, know that you’ve also made a significant impact in three children’s lives today,” Wessely posted on the restaurant’s website. “Together, we will end child hunger, one bowl at a time.”