Baldwin Center Partners With Pontiac Start-up

Chef Amber Johnson remembers years ago feeling “giddy” just watching the Food Network. It’s the same feeling she gets now in the kitchen at Pontiac’s Baldwin Center, preparing spreads for her new meal prep and catering business, Gourmet Fresh Prep.

Johnson started her business out of her home, but soon learned she needed to work from a commercial kitchen to gain a license from the Oakland County Health Department. Finding a space proved difficult at first.

“My mom works with a guy who volunteers a lot at Baldwin,” recalls Johnson. “He and another chef I know both recommended Baldwin.”

What seems an unlikely partnership is one the nonprofit eagerly accommodates, says Baldwin Executive Director Elizabeth Longley.

“Baldwin is a community resource,” Longley explains. “This is just one more way we can benefit people in our community and it’s another small step in aligning ourselves with area businesses.”

Winner of the 2018 Great Lakes Women’s Business Council’s Pitch ‘N Pontiac contest, Johnson used the $10,000 prize money to launch her venture, which now delivers prepared meals and snacks for customers with busy lifestyles.

“Many of us don’t have time to cook a nutritious meal every day,” Johnson says. “Gourmet Fresh Prep takes the hassle out of getting wholesome meals on the table.”

Feeding people well is something Gourmet Fresh Prep and Baldwin Center have in common. Baldwin provides healthful meals daily for its clients; Gourmet Fresh Prep specializes in only organic, non-GMO fruits, vegetables, meats and fish products. In fact, much of the produce Johnson uses is grown from a specially designed aeroponic tower garden so she’s guaranteed fresh fruits and veggies year-round.

For some reason, she says, we don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as we should, and that’s where she and her new business come in. After culinary school, Johnson also earned certification as a health and wellness coach to help educate her clients about the specific health benefits of the food she prepares. Turns out, she’s educating her family too, including her 9-year-old daughter who’s inherited the same love of food preparation her mother has.

“It’s challenging, but we have to start teaching them to eat better,” she advises, “and about making better choices when it comes to their health.”

To start, Gourmet Fresh Prep offers build-your-own mason jar salads and “fresh and fit” bowls delivered same day if ordered early enough. The company eventually plans to scale up its business to include selling its homemade salad dressings and mason jar and bowl meals to grocery stores countywide.

For now, though, Johnson is thankful the Baldwin Center trusts her with its kitchen. Longley says Johnson’s organization and professionalism gave her good reason to believe she would use Baldwin’s facilities wisely.

“We both understand the value of having a trusted relationship to make this work,” notes Longley.

Johnson agrees, adding, “They’ve given me everything I need to be successful.”

Find menu and order information for Gourmet Fresh Prep at www.gourmetfreshprep.com. Learn more about the Baldwin Center and its upcoming 6th Annual Celebrating the Heart of Baldwin Gala at www.baldwincenter.org.

About The Baldwin Center

The Baldwin Center is a 501 (c)3 organization in Pontiac, Mich., whose mission is to feed, clothe, educate and empower the disenfranchised men, women and children in our community. Since its founding in 1918, Baldwin Center has been, and remains, a community staple for low-income and homeless people. We offer more than 25 programs that meet basic needs, offer assistance in crisis, provide education and enrichment opportunities and serve as a safety net for those unable to fully support themselves. Baldwin Center envisions a community that works with other Oakland County support agencies to rethink and address the tactics currently used to confront poverty. Our goal is to coordinate collective strategies to impart lifelong life skills that help clients significantly improve their lives.