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Keene Business Lab Helps Aspiring Food Entrepreneurs

Published Friday Jun 7, 2024

Author James Rinker, Keene Sentinel

Vitaly Brukhman, one of the owners of Keenebucha Natural Tonics & Goods Co., takes in the applause from the crowd following his business pitch at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship pitch event in Keene last Thursday evening. Brukhman was one of the participants of Hannah Grimes' eight-week food business lab cohort, which aims to strengthen and transform businesses through the creation of a business plan. (James Rinker / Sentinel Staff)

Did you know there's a kombucha business in Keene?

Vitaly Brukhman from Keenebucha Natural Tonics & Goods Co. is one of four budding entrepreneurs in the food business industry who pitched their ideas before roughly two dozen people Thursday evening at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.

The cohort — consisting of Brukhman; Cynthia Kelley from Shadow & Soul Emporium Kitchen and Tea Lounge in Keene; Marcel “Meaty” Maxwell from 802 Soul Kitchen in Brattleboro; and Maria Oliveras Gonzalez from Flor Farm Goodies in Holyoke, Mass. — were participants in Hannah Grimes' eight-week business planning course.

The program aims to strengthen and transform businesses through the creation of a business plan and culminates in a public pitch event. This is the third time Hannah Grimes has held a course for food-business owners, according to Hannah Grimes’ grant consultant Alison Chisholm.

“This is a very special business lab, because Hannah Grimes has been offering business labs for more than 15 years in one configuration or another,” Chisholm said. “And as we continue to scale, we continue to be a very small, nimble organization in terms of staff.”

The program is supported by several grants and individual donors, which allow entrepreneurs just starting their businesses to participate for little to no cost, noted Chisholm.

“The money that we [would] take could be used to start the business,” she said.

Brukhman was a farmer before helping launch Keenebucha, a Ukranian-owned and women-led craft beverage company.

“We specialize in kombucha, a tea-based fermented beverage that provides a variety of vitamins, antioxidants and probiotics,” he said.

The business, which is just getting off the ground, was an ideal fit for the Hannah Grimes program. Brukhman said they are still looking to find a local commercial kitchen to start their brewing, with the only other ones in the state being at least an hour and a half away.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but I’m determined," he said. "This is a problem we’ll solve."

Cynthia Kelley is the kitchen manager, otherwise known as “The Kitchen Witch,” of Shadow & Soul Emporium's Kitchen and Tea Lounge. Previously working as the manager of a high-end coffee shop in Denver, Colo., she helped found Shadow & Soul Emporium with current owner Brandie Wells. The business, which moved to 20 Main Street in Keene in 2022 and expanded to include the kitchen, sells teas and custom charcuterie boards, along with a variety of goods from local artists.

Cynthia Kelley bursts into laughter following a cheer referring to her as "the Kitchen Witch" by Brandie Wells at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship food business lab pitch event in Keene last Thursday evening. Kelley helps run Shadow & Soul Emporium's kitchen and tea lounge. The Keene-based metaphysical gift shop and café sells a variety of products, such as herbs, teas and crystals. (James Rinker/Sentinel Staff)

“I have the utmost gratitude to the Hannah Grimes team for the support and resources,” Kelley said. “They’ve taught me some new tricks of the trade while helping fine tune some old ones.”

Marcel “Meaty” Maxwell is one of the owners of 802 Soul Kitchen, a home catering business. Maxwell, who grew up in Boston, moved to Vermont several years ago seeking a better life for his family. He developed a passion for cooking after watching his grandmother Lucille and his mother Wanda.

His grandmother died six years ago, and his mother a couple of years later. Their legacies inspired Maxwell to start 802 Soul Kitchen.

“I wanted to make them proud,” Maxwell said. “I wanted to give back to our community, and to pay homage to the skills I learned watching them in the kitchen.”

From left, George Molner, Kendrick Waterman, Edith Molner, Marcel "Meaty" Maxwell, Kerryanne Capen, Tony Ingram, and in front, Marcel "Little Meat" Maxwell II, from 802 Soul Kitchen pose for a photo in front of a sampling of their menu at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship food business lab pitch event in Keene last Thursday evening. The Brattleboro-based home catering business started shortly after the passing of Maxwell's mother and grandmother, whose recipes inspired his own. (James Rinker/Sentinel Staff)

Maria Oliveras Gonzalez of Flor Farm Goodies focused her pitch on the business’s signature hot sauces. She said her plan seeks to strengthen the greater Holyoke economic community by employing Latina and minority women.

“We help to empower one another, with integrity, understanding and trust,” Gonzalez said. She noted that she feels more confident about the sustainability of her business because of the support and resources available at the Hannah Grimes center.

Flor Farm Goodies' signature hot sauce is displayed on a table prior to the start of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship's food business lab pitch event in Keene last Thursday evening. Attendees were able to speak with the four cohort members —including Maria Oliveras Gonzalez of Flor Farm, based in Holyoke, Mass. — about their businesses and the products they offer. (James Rinker / Sentinel Staff)

“I have learned so much from them, and I’m well on my way to further my goals as an entrepreneur.”

James Rinker is The Sentinel's education and business reporter. He can be reached at or 603-355-8569. Follow them on Twitter (X) @JamesRinkerKS.

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