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Tami VandenBerg’s Unique and Creative Approach to Success

Tami VandenBerg’s Unique and Creative Approach to Success

James Li
4/10/15
Eat Local, Local Business, Social Entrepreneurs, Diversity, Sustainable Business

Tami VandenBerg, the owner of the The Meanwhile, The Pyramid Scheme and executive director of the Well House, has always put community first. As she explained at the second annual INsight Conference, her first business venture, The Meanwhile, was born out of a desire to create a comfortable community space for her friends - artists, musicians, activists and small business owners alike.

As the co-owner of The Meanwhile (the other owner being her brother), VandenBerg had a large degree of control over her business’ direction. “Wanting something different”, she envisioned a bar with outdoor seating six months of the year, local Michigan products and no televisions - which would also intentionally engage with its local community. She also decided that The Meanwhile would be best located in Eastown for the neighborhood's diversity, historical architecture and community. This vision lead to a distinctive bar praised for its community involvement, fundraising events and wide selection of Michigan brews.

This undertaking wasn’t without its challenges - each bringing its own creative solution. Soon after they started working on the historical Wealthy Street building, they discovered that it was rotten from the inside-out. Instead of scrapping the building and rebuilding it, VandenBerg decided to save the historical structure and spent the next five years remodeling it. This cost the not-yet-existing business an unforeseen financial challenge.

One creative solution VandenBerg came up with was Meanwhile Money. After her lawyer confirmed that it was legal, if not rare, to make an official currency, The Meanwhile began offering Meanwhile Money to the community. Members of the community could invest in the specially minted currency. Ten US dollars would buy you twelve dollars of Meanwhile Money, which could be redeemed at the future bar. This unique venture was particularly successful, and was even featured in a story on NPR.

An ongoing challenge for VandenBerg is diversifying The Meanwhile’s staff. By making its staff more representative of the community it's located in, VandenBerg believes that The Meanwhile will become a more welcoming and attractive space for people of different ethnicities and backgrounds.  This, VandenBerg says, is a challenge which can only be overcome by "sheer persistence", and has been gradually garnering hard-earned success over the years.  

VandenBerg's outspokenness on justice issues, personal approach to business and sincerity has garnered her a positive, if not often controversial, reputation.  As one of the only two female bar and pub owners in the entire city and the face of The Meanwhile and The Pyramid Scheme, VandenBerg has discovered that recognition has helped her newest venture.

VandenBerg is currently the executive director of Well House, an organization that buys and remodels historical homes and gives them to Grand Rapid's homeless. Not only has VandenBerg’s reputation as a business owner given her leverage in the community, but her experience with The Meanwhile and The Pyramid Scheme has given her the skills necessary to fund and support a non-profit organization.       

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