In the J.C. Penney corridor of Meridian Mall, two vendors stand next to one another. A young woman with short curly hair pulled back in a hat cuts blocks of cheese on a table. Next to her table is a man selling mushrooms in wooden boxes.
Both are very friendly with their customers, giving out recommendations and ideas of how to utilize their products.
The two vendors come from Grand Rapids. Each company has a niche market: The Cheese People, makes gourmet cheese and the Mycophile’s Garden, grows fresh mushrooms.
The two companies have more in common than being from Grand Rapids. They happen to have shared the same warehouse for three years.
Mychophile’s Garden grows their mushrooms in a laboratory, inside the warehouse, which allows them to grow the mushrooms year-round.
“There are a lot factors that influence the growth of mushrooms like humidity and airflow. There are a lot of certain criteria that has to be met, so that mold doesn’t grow,” said Chris Swinson, owner of Mycophile’s Garden.
The companies began business at the same time, and both needed a location to produce their products. Luckily, Swinson and David Grothouse, owner of the Cheese People knew each other before they shared a warehouse.
“I am not exactly sure how it worked out but my brother and Chris had gone to school together at some point,” said Cole Grothouse, sister of the owner of the Cheese People.
Swinson grew up in Chicago, and David Grothouse went to Chicago for college. Both owners ended up in Grand Rapids, as Swinson moved to Michigan for school, and the Grothouses are from Grand Rapids.
“My brother got involved with cheese making first, and he tried some other things, but he always came back to cheese making,” said Cole Grothouse. “So, he moved back to Michigan and started a business.”
Swinson always had an interest in nature and was inspired to grow mushrooms by going to a farmers’ market in Detroit.
“My girlfriend and I bought fresh mushrooms and brought them home. From there on, I did a lot of research and have been fascinated by them since,” said Swinson.
Swinson’s fascination had helped him decide on the name Mycophile’s Garden – according to Webster’s, mycophile is defined as a devotee to mushrooms.
Both companies’ main source of income are local farmers markets. This allows them to build a reputation amongst the communities they visit.
“Yeah, a lot of the customers are reoccurring, which it is cool because I am able to build a relationship with them, and it helps us build a good reputation,” said Grothouse.
The Cheese People and Mycophile’s Garden said they are happy that they have been able to grow together at farmer’s markets.
The winter Meridian Farmers’ Market is available every other Saturday through March from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.