Kevon Butler is an entrepreneur who believes everyone deserves the opportunity to make healthy food choices. Raised by a single mom on Detroit's west side, he’s watched his neighborhood go through economic changes--from abandoned buildings to revitalization. Through it all, he’s seen how residents have lacked access to two essentials: nutritious food and the resources needed to navigate restrictive diets.
Kevon witnessed how his predominantly African-American community struggled to eat well when fresh produce was scarce and people lined up down the block for affordable fast food. “How do you eat to survive in a food desert? People are dealing with diabetes and high blood pressure, but they don’t have the resources to help them follow diets restricted by their conditions and limitations. They need to figure out which foods are conducive to better health,” he explains.
Inspired to do something for his neighbors, Kevon dreamed up Pantry Pal LLC, an app-based business that helps customers find food options for all types of nutrition-based diets and health conditions. “I wanted to take the guesswork out of healthy eating and make it fun,” he says.
Currently in the development stage, Kevon is building Pantry Pal to help as many people as possible--from users on medically restrictive diets to diners seeking out gluten free, vegan or low-sodium options. The app will provide the support, education, and assistance needed to order off local restaurant menus, source recipe ingredients, and shop for healthy food with confidence.
Kevon’s interest in food began with his first entrepreneurial endeavor when, at age 18, he started a food delivery service for local restaurants and grocery stores. A few years later, he committed a non-violent felony and was incarcerated in prison. There Kevon encountered an even worse food desert where the cafeteria served grade D beef and no vegetables.
Determined to make use of his time served and propelled by a life-long love for learning, Kevon joined the prison’s culinary arts program. The access to fresh ingredients and produce was life-changing. “We were allowed to eat what we cooked. I learned about flavors, ingredients, inventory and organization from the head chef,” he explains. “I started to wonder if there could be a digital way to inventory recipes and make choosing healthy food easier?”
After prison, ready to do meaningful work as a returning citizen, Kevon enrolled in Grand Circus, a tech developer bootcamp in Detroit. Pantry Pal originally began as a final project with two classmates, but Kevon was the only one to take the vision further and develop the idea beyond school.
He quickly won a scholarship to attend the Google for Startups Accelerator program that helps growth-stage startups get technical, product, and leadership training. Kevon embraced this opportunity to jumpstart his business. “I know what it’s like to struggle,“ he says. “I want to do more in life. Building Pantry Pal is one way for me to work hard and make life easier for the people that come after me.”
Kevon envisions a future where Pantry Pal employs returning citizens, giving opportunity to a population that often has few employment options. “I’ve got my whole life to make money, but I want to build and positively impact my community.”
He’s designing the app to have a broad functionality with ratings and map features, so users will be able to source quality organics at places like farmer’s markets. With plans to rely on nutrition experts as Pantry Pal grows, he’s connected to a certified dietician and hopes to add more doctors and health advisors.
Starting up a business idea during the pandemic has made Kevon’s early days with Pantry Pal a challenge. “It’s been harder to build a team. Networking face-to-face is not happening.” But Kevon has forged forward and believes in the power of collaboration. He’s looking forward to meeting more entrepreneurs in his community as the world reopens.
Kevon has advice for emerging entrepreneurs deep in the development stage: “Don’t quit. Don’t take no for an answer. Learn as much as possible about your business. The last thing you want is for someone to come in and tell you something about your business that you don’t know. Understand as much as possible and be prepared.”
Pantry Pal will begin where Kevon first found a problem to be solved: his local neighborhood. From there, he hopes to branch out to include more communities and cities. His app is one small step for healthier neighbors, and one giant leap towards finally ending food inequality everywhere.
We’ll be checking back in with Kevon Butler to see how Pantry Pal is developing later this year.
Inspired by Kevon Butler’s story? Read more amazing Detroit Entrepreneur Life stories here.