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Constellation Collective Opens

Young entrepreneurs create a campus outlet for local food.

by Sabine Bickford

From the February, 2019 issue

"What local products do you want to see on our shelves?" asks a sign at Constellation Collective in Nickels Arcade. Some of the sources suggested on Post-it notes, like Chela's and the People's Food Co-Op, have already shown interest in the new market.

Constellation, which opened in early January, has an unusual business model. Opened by four young Ann Arbor food entrepreneurs, it offers "memberships" to local food purveyors looking for a place to sell their products near campus. They can rent anything from an entire cooler to half a shelf, and partner Alex Perlman says Constellation will also provide marketing help and storage space to its members.

"If you're a small food operator," says Perlman, "you're limited in your outlets" in town. "A lot of our businesses are solo owner-operators--they're making the food, they're packaging it. It's their life, so we need to make it as easy for them as possible." Perlman acknowledges the market is still in its early stages, and there's a lot the team is still nailing down.

During his junior year at U-M, Perlman created and ran two food carts at Mark's Carts--the Beet Box and Cheese Dream. He also used to do leasing for Nickels Arcade and ate at Babo market's small Arcade location every day.

He met Collective partner Nick Lemmer through Lemmer's sister Mary; the siblings own Iorio's Gelateria on E. William, and Mary was a mentor when Perlman opened his first food truck. The other partners, Max Steir and Jared Hoffman, own Salads Up; they met when Perlman was working for their landlord on Liberty.

The shop, which took over the former Babo space, is tiny--just 400 square feet. But with three large coolers, Perlman figures they have room for up to twenty vendors. As of mid-January, six were in place, including Juicy Kitchen, Tasty Bakery, and Harvest Farms, and the coolers were beginning to fill with soups, salads, pastries, and to-go bowls.

Perlman says five more purveyors are in the process of joining. "The goal is 'local,' in that someone is making it and driving it over here," he says--though "by no means would we exclude someone driving from Toledo."

Ideally, he says, demand will run ahead of supply--so that "if you don't get here at a certain time of day, and you love a certain product, it's gonna run out."

Constellation Collective, 12 Nickels Arcade. 210-0037. Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2019.]


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