Fare Games was a project of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, organized to create community engagement in the revitalization of 1301 Portage Street – a historic but blighted building in Washington Square. The concept was to bring together a group of local food entrepreneurs to compete for the opportunity to launch their business in the newly renovated space, with the support of a prize package of goods and services that would help them start up their new restaurant. Over the course of 2016, six competitors refined their business plans and participated in a community tasting of “small bites.” The Fare Games committee guided this process, mentored the competitors on their business plans, and ultimately voted to award the prize to Pho on the Block. This long-vacant building was brought back to life through the combined efforts and passion of the community, the vision of Pho on the Block business partners Reggie Kaur and Nancy Tien, the Fare Games committee, and generous sponsors and funders.
The Fare Games project addressed several community needs: jobs, blight removal, healthy food options, and community engagement in neighborhood revitalization. Pho on the Block will employ up to 12 people in Kalamazoo; it has completely renovated a blighted historic building that has lain vacant for years as unproductive space; it provides locally-sourced, fresh foods and a sit-down restaurant option in a neighborhood which is lacking traditional restaurants, and it gives Kalamazoo a new cuisine to enjoy; and gives two food entrepreneurs a way to launch their business without the overwhelming capital burden that keeps many from starting a new venture.