Jessica Nagel didn’t realize the depths of plumbing knowledge she was going to need to start a business.
“There was virtually no plumbing I could use” in the space she leases from the Charlevoix Downtown Development Authority, and “plumbers treated me like I was an idiot.”
The plumbing travails pushed the opening of Nagel’s specialty food shop, J.bird Provisions, months past the target date, adding to a stress level that was already threatening to bubble over.
But Nagel kept her eye on the prize – even from a distance. She was working to open her business in Charlevoix while still working at her food-innovation job in Chicago, 350 miles away. The pandemic had convinced Nagel to return to her northern Michigan roots, and a lack of running water wasn’t going to stop her.
Nagel grew up in nearby Ellsworth, in a food-talented family. Her father was a server at Tapawingo for more than 20 years and her brother, Drake, is co-owner of Happy’s Taco Shop in Traverse City, Boyne and Petoskey. Her mother, Tracie Nagel, works at J.bird, along with Gail Rubingh, also a Tapawingo alum.
And, while the family connections were strong, one of the most important connections Jessica made was with Lindsey Dotson, director of the Charlevoix DDA, technically Nagel’s landlord.
The downtown building was originally owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, Dotson explained, and was used for storage. When the Coast Guard didn’t need it anymore, the DDA took it over, acknowledging the location’s importance not just to downtown, but to transportation. Nagel’s shop looks over the Beaver Island boat dock, Round Lake, a lively marina, and an expansive public park complete with a trout stream.
Dotson introduced Nagel to Annie Olds, Business Development Manager for Venture North, a CDFI based in Traverse City, who helped her finesse her business plan and assisted with financing the first $50,000 of Jess’ new venture.
“Every morning before work and all weekend long,” Nagel remembered of the time spent working on it, when it grew from eight to 30 pages.
“Jess wanted to come home, bringing with her what she’s learned in her previous life, and apply it here,” Olds said. “It’s a northern Michigan boomerang story done well. It was a big huge move but she was always willing to learn and she really put in the work.”
Northern Initiatives came in on the loan, using SBA Microloan funds Nagel earmarked for working capital, equipment, and yes, plumbing.
“I never even thought about going to a commercial bank,” Nagel said. “CDFIs are more invested in making sure you succeed.”
J.bird Provisions opened in July 2022 and Charlevoix – and its thousands of summer visitors – embraced it.
But the DDA’s Dotson didn’t stop, just because Nagel had opened her business and enjoyed a robust season. She helped Nagel get an Optimize Main Street grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), which included a technology audit provided by Northern Initiatives, and resulted in $2,500 Nagel used to purchase Square as her point-of-sale system.
That was just a warmup though. In December 2022, the Charlevoix DDA and J.bird Provisions were awarded a $25,000 Match on Main grant from the MEDC.
When Nagel thinks back to where she was a year ago – navigating permits and plumbers – to where she is today – a successful small business owner with a penchant for treating people well – she takes a minute to feel proud, then starts launching more plans.
She’s increasing her catering, especially her custom charcuterie that includes house-smoked meats, vegetables, and cheeses. She’s had some private chef gigs. Her dips are for sale at TC Whiskey and the Hotel Earl. She delivers lunch to schools on Fridays, and anywhere else that asks any other day of the week.
More staff is hired in the summer, and Nagel was intentional in finding and keeping them. “Others had trouble hiring, but I didn’t. We had great summer help. I want to create a fun place to work, so customers are happy to be there too.” Staff get discounts on food, help develop the schedule and “we laugh, we eat, we try lots of new food,” Nagel said.
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