When Corine Rose, the owner of Corine’s Cakes and Catering, was coming up with her menu for this year’s Taste of Muskegon, she knew she wanted to it to be an ode to her grandmother, Corine Fox: the woman who introduced her to the world of cooking and baking. And so a menu of Rose’s long-beloved dishes—the ones that have fed family, friends and customers for years—was born: macaroni and cheese, peach cobbler, catfish, and crack chicken wings.
It was a resounding success: this year was Corine’s Cakes and Catering’s first time entering Taste of Muskegon, and the business won the People’s Choice Award.
“I wish my grandma was here to see this,” said Rose, who began learning how to cook from her grandmother at age 11, started Corine’s Cakes and Catering from home in 1999, and moved her business to The Lakes Mall in March of 2019. “It’s a dream come true.”
The award is, of course, an exciting validation of that which Corine’s Cakes and Catering’s large fan base has long known: the food is flat-out amazing. It’s so good that the business regularly draws people from far outside of Muskegon to its counters. But, for Rose, it’s even more than that: the recognition from Taste of Muskegon is a powerful reminder that, even in the midst of a pandemic that brought her to tears as she wondered what would become of her business, people are still clamouring for her food. They still love her food. And they will keep showing up to remind her of that.
“I wanted to cry when [Covid-19] first happened,” Rose said. “I put everything I had into this business. The longer we were down, the harder it was. I was worried about my employees, about how we were going to pay the bills…To reopen, I had to go into my own unemployment money and the money I made making cakes at home. But Muskegon came back out, and Muskegon is looking out for us.”
“When [Covid-19] first started, I didn’t know what to do; I said I wanted to cry, but I didn’t just want to cry—I did cry,” Rose continued. “It was hard, but we made it. And when Taste of Muskegon said a lot of people wanted us to be involved, we decided to do it and that helped get our sales back up.”
For many, if not all, of Taste of Muskegon’s participating restaurants and food trucks, this year’s event was a deeply emotional one after Covid-19 shuttered culinary businesses across Michigan as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to curb the spread of the global pandemic. Typically, Taste of Muskegon—an annual summertime festival that showcases area restaurants and food trucks—brings thousands of people to downtown Muskegon each year for the event, but, as we all know, this year is different in a way none of us could have imagined just months ago. Instead of a crowd filling Hackley Park, Taste of Muskegon was held virtually, with restaurants and food trucks offering take-out to festival goers at their own places of business. In addition to Corine’s winning the People’s Choice Award, Mylan’s Waterfront Grille in Whitehall won Best Taste; Abeshi Ghanaian Cuisine, a food truck that operates throughout Muskegon, landed Best New Bite; Bone Ends in Whitehall received Best Dessert; and The Hideout in Muskegon Heights won the Best Beer and Bacon award. There also were a number of honorable mentions, all of which you can see by clicking here.
For Rose, things are, piece by piece, getting back on track. But life is far from what it was before Covid-19 hit, and Rose is turning to her supporters to steady her business as she works to get to where she was just before the pandemic forced her to close. She recently launched a Patronicity fundraising campaign [which you can see by clicking here], and she’s hoping to raise $5,000 to help with utilities, rent, working capital, and purchasing the products she needs to keep cooking.
“It’s been a hard time,” Rose said. “We’re making it, but it’s hard.”
Despite often daunting challenges, Rose knows she’ll make it. Or, rather, that she is making it. In addition to reopening her Lakes Mall location, she’s hoping to soon debut another soul food spot on Sherman Boulevard, in the same shopping complex as the Walmart. She expects the additional location will open in several months, and Rose plans to operate both the Corine’s at the Lakes Mall and the new venue.
“It’s a dream to be opening that,” Rose said of the new space.
This past year has certainly been a whirlwind in Rose’s life—the Lakes Mall space debuting, the forced closure due to Covid-19, the Taste of Muskegon win, and, now, another Corine’s in the works. It’s been a year filled with a roller coaster of ups and downs—but, more than anything, it’s a time in which Rose has been able to fill people’s stomachs with the food that has drawn friends and family to her home for years—the aforementioned peach cobbler, crack chicken, macaroni and cheese, and catfish, plus a bevy of other dishes, including loaded mashed potatoes, candied yams, cupcakes, and more news.
“It was hard when I first opened but then I started cooking and it drowned everything out,” Rose said of the soul food space at The Lakes Mall. “I find peace when I cook. I love how food brings everybody together.”
That is exactly what Rose will continue to do: in the midst of all this uncertainty—in this time of pandemic and division, she will keep cooking, she will keep bringing people together, and she will keep remembering the woman who inspired this all: her grandmother. And in Rose’s restaurants, the tables will be filled—with people laughing and toasting and hoping for a better future while they eat the food Corine Fox taught her granddaughter how to make.