One of our DEI co-chairs had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Jelks, one of the owners of Ambiance GR, a new restaurant and live entertainment venue opening at 106 Pearl Street NW in downtown Grand Rapids. Ambiance is looking forward to opening in late March/early April, serving American food infused with Cajun and creole options.
Tell us about yourself!
I'm a serial entrepreneur, born and raised in SE Grand Rapids. There is so much upside to opening a restaurant here in GR; the city is clean, well run, and efficient. There are always going to be DEI struggles, and the city has specifically struggled when it comes to promoting minority business owners. I want to be a catalyst for change, to create more opportunities and challenge the system.
How has your organization developed?
The idea for Ambiance came about in 2017 with one of my partners Lacy Jones, who has a strong background with hospitality in GR. We identified that GR was missing a live entertainment venue that is welcoming and friendly to all people to embody the new energy in the city. The rest of our partners came on board after that.
What is the mission behind your work?
We want to create a cool space to be part of the "new DNA" in Grand Rapids. We're looking to host several events, including jazz, hip hop, salsa, merengue, in addition to private events. We will provide a lunch and dinner menu, curated for the community, consisting of American food with some cajun dishes. Although our target is to be a go-to spot for younger generations and professionals, we celebrate all generations coming to enjoy our space.
What type of long-term impact do you want your organization to have?
We want to be a conduit for hospitality/tourism for minority workers, and be able to provide internships and leadership training for people of color. We are currently developing internships with Experience GR; they want to have an ongoing pipeline of talent with SE and SW businesses in Grand Rapids.
How does diversity, equity, and inclusion influence the work of your organization?
Ambiance GR is coming into Grand Rapids with the mindset that we need to create opportunities for everyone, which is a huge part of retention and hiring. We see that newer organizations in Grand Rapids want to launch programs and businesses where there is diversity, and our team believes GR needs to become the prime spot for that. We will be the first minority-owned venue with a full liquor license and bar providing live entertainment.
What do you feel your role is in advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the community?
As a lifelong Grand Rapidian, there is an obligation to support those living in the community. We have a huge responsibility to challenge the system at times and be critical of it. It is my hope that our wins translate into opportunities for other minority leaders.