After struggling for two years, one of few minority-owned businesses in town re-opens

Maya Denslow, owner of Jib-Bob Korean restaurant, opened new Franklin St. location on Nov. 2


On Nov. 1 Maya Denslow poses for a portrait in what used to be a greenhouse, but was transformed into a dining room.

On Oct. 12, Maya Denslow, the owner of Jib-Bob Korean restaurant, sat at one of her self-made wooden tables underneath the dim lantern lighting as she shuffled through lists of potential grocery providers for her business that was over-due to re-open for nearly two years. 

Denslow originally opened Jib-Bob on Mission Street in 2019, when she had quit her job as an art substitute teacher. When COVID-19 emerged in 2020, she had to partially close, which meant only doing take-out orders. 

Around this time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant as a means to provide relief for businesses that were struggling due to COVID-19. The grant offered $20,000 for businesses that were closed due to the pandemic, and $15,000 for those partially closed. Denslow was among 20 minority-owned businesses out of 178 confirmed recipients that were awarded $10,000 across six counties.

Denslow received the grant funds when they were distributed during February 2021. She was able to put this money towards relocating her restaurant to Green Tree Co-Op's old location at 214 N. Franklin St.

Denslow moved to this location in the midst of April 2021 and has been struggling to re-open since. Shortly after using the $10,000 to relocate, Denslow said she needed to take out a loan. 

She first attempted to apply for a loan at a few different banks, one of which she has been a customer since 2008, when she moved to America from South Korea. Denslow said she was unable to receive the loan due to her not having a secure flow of income and lack of background. She had only been a substitute teacher and ran Jib-Bob for a year until it closed.

Nevertheless, Denslow was able to receive a loan from Lake Trust Bank that assisted her in renovating the  building on Franklin Street. 

“This is an old building, it never ends,” Denslow said. “I didn’t expect this much, but I’m happy, to be honest with you.

“My husband says, 'why are you killing yourself?' And I just say, 'I don't like the holes,'” she continued. “My restaurant [is] not fancy or anything but [it] needs to be nice and clean. So I bleach all this wall and the floor. [It] gives me extra work. But it makes me feel good.”

Denslow has been doing the majority of the work that goes into remodeling, creating the art that decorates Jib-Bob and putting together a small business. Occasionally, she receives help from community members and Central Michigan University students.

The Guardians stand tall the night before Nov. 2 awaiting customers arrival. 

Denslow said that she had been trying to find contractors to assist in the construction process of Jib-Bob. She called builders in Midland, Saginaw and Mount Pleasant until she was finally able to hire one in March.

Conflict arose between Denslow and the contractor, Integrity Builders and Landscaping, LLC, when the builder allegedly threatened to quit in May 2022 if Denslow didn’t pay them the balance due on her account. 

In an affidavit and claim filed May 26 in Isabella County Trial Court, Denslow alleged that Integrity Builders and Landscaping, LLC, did not show up for work, had no respect, didn't complete the work over the course of three months and asked for more money or else they would quit. 

Denslow is seeking $6,500 in damages, after paying the contractor $24,250 according to court documentation. A hearing on the case is set for Dec. 9, according to Isabella County Trial Court records. 

Central Michigan Life contacted Integrity Builders and Landscaping, LLC, and were referred to its attorney, Braun Kendrick Attorneys at Law, regarding the pending litigation.

“There is active litigation between Ms. Denslow and Integrity Builders and Landscaping, LLC," Attorney Mitchell G. Piper wrote in an email. "Integrity is confident in its legal position. To the extent that Ms. Denslow felt the Jib-Bob project was not progressing as quickly as she would have hoped, the construction was impacted by widespread pandemic supply chain issues and other similar factors beyond Integrity’s control. Integrity works to minimize the impact of these factors on its customers wherever possible.”

“They cut off my heart, because I cannot make that much money," Denslow said. "That money all came from when I was in Korea before I came (to America), because I work hard and that money [is] supposed to be toward this place for good people to enjoy it.”

Nevertheless, Denslow was able to hire Mount Pleasant Heating and Air Conditioning and 3D Electric to get electrical work done.

“Really good workers, I can recommend [to] everybody,” Denslow said. “Without them, I could not make it.” 

Another resource

Denslow said she believes she has received three grants since the Michigan Small Business Survival grant. In order to obtain records of Denslow's grants, Central Michigan Life reached out to Middle Michigan Development Corporation Vice President Kati Mora, who has been helping Denslow apply for grants, but she was unable to comment.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Regional Director Tony Fox was unable to comment on specific clients.

“We (SBDC) had a lot of clients that were reaching out, asking about what grants they were eligible for, and when they started to receive some there was a great amount of confusion as to the sources of some of those funds,” Fox said. “So it's not surprising that a business owner isn't exactly sure of what happened.” 

However, Denslow mentioned that most of the time she has not qualified for grants she has applied for in the past, due to her lack of background and income. In addition, she said she sometimes has a hard time understanding some of the questions asked by the grants and ends up not being able to apply to them. 

“I need that money for, you know, to keep [this business] going,” Denslow said. “Like I said, I cannot get the loan and nobody even tried to give me chances. I been using my out-of-pocket (money). It's not going to stay there. So sooner or later it's going to be empty.”

Fox introduced the term "bootstrapping" when asked what the SBDC's response is to clients that are unable to qualify for a grant or a loan. This means that that individual will have to do what they can with “the resources they have, coupled with whatever proceeds they can get from customers,” Fox said. 

However, Denslow has had no customer revenue since she has been unable to open. The funds she has been able to take the most advantage of are her own from when she moved here from South Korea.

“There's been a great misconception around minority- and/or women-owned businesses or lots of different classifications that people think there's money for these businesses, there's money to start these businesses or there's money to support them,” Fox said. “And it's not 100% inaccurate, but so much of the funding is through ... a nonprofit-type model where there are funds to support, but those funds don't go directly to the business.” 

Fox said funds that go toward minority-owned or women-owned businesses are often for support, services and resources for a business “to put them in a better position to succeed.”

“But sometimes people hear 'resources' and they think that that's a check to the business and that's just frankly not the way it typically works,” he said.

The one grant that Jib-Bob has been confirmed to be a recipient of is the Michigan Small Business Survival grant that allowed Denslow to move locations and, as Fox said, putting her in a better position to succeed. That is, until  Denslow starts receiving customer support again.

Although Jib-Bob has been closed for almost two years, Denslow has had customers from when Jib-Bob was open, visiting the new location every now and then to check up on her and the restaurant – which has meant a lot to her, she said. 

“It’s pretty much a lonely fight,” she said. “But I'm not lonely with my customers. I really enjoy … I mean, my body might be telling me [I’m] not really happy, but I am really happy. 

“I think my place is going to be just like everything is art. Food is art, decoration, my people, they’re going to sit there, laugh, enjoy their moment. It’s just art. It's just like me. It's joy.”

The business re-opened Nov. 2. The restaurant will be open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Jib-Bob is closed on Mondays. 

Jib-Bob Korean restaurant prepares the night before for the big re-opening Nov. 2.

Michigan Small Business Survival Grant down to the numbers

The Michigan Small Business Survival grant, as previously mentioned, was issued by Gov. Whitmer during COVID-19 in 2020 for small businesses struggling due to the pandemic.

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) website, the overall grant was $52.5 million for 6,000 small businesses across Michigan, and was approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund on Jan. 14, 2021.

The program allowed for grants up to $20,000 to be awarded to small businesses that were closed due to the pandemic and $15,000 for those that were partially closed, as stated by MEDC. A total of 5% of overall funding went towards administrative costs for the economic development organizations (EDOs) that administered the grant. 

Applications for the grant opened on Jan. 19, 2021, and closed on Jan. 22, 2021. 

The Middle Michigan Development Corporation was given $1.925 million from the grant to go towards 183 small businesses across six counties in Michigan -- Isabella, Midland, Arenac, Clare, Gratiot and Gladwin. 

President and CEO of Middle Michigan Development Corporation James McBryde said that MMDC was originally in charge of Isabella and Clare counties; however, due to how the grant was set up, they needed to distribute the funds to four other counties. 

McBryde said MMDC was given authority under the grant to issue funds as they saw fit. Therefore, MMDC decided it would be best to partner with Greater Gratiot Development for Gratiot County funds, Gladwin Economic Development for Gladwin County, Arenac Economic Development for Arenac County and Midland Business Alliance for Midland County to distribute the money.

“We took the total amount that we were receiving and … we created a population grid so that we could distribute the money more fairly,” McBryde said. “And we looked at the population of each of the counties and came up with a rubric. This would be a fair distribution, approximately."

Across six counties, 182 businesses were awarded $10,000, except for Midland Center for the Arts, which received $20,000 due to its closure during the pandemic. 

Furthermore, it can be confirmed that 20 businesses out of 178 of the 183 businesses were minority owned, Jib-Bob Korean restaurant being one of them. 

Jib-Bob had qualified for $15,000 during this time when Denslow’s restaurant was partially closed, but received $10,000 so that money was awarded fairly across all 183 small businesses, McBryde said.

“If we went to the maximum of $15,000, we would not have been able to give out as many grants,” McBryde said. “I think everybody got something. And so by lowering it to $10,000, I was able to give everybody that was qualified some level of support.”

Furthermore, McBryde mentioned that MMDC took 4.4% of the administrative cost, which was $85,000, instead of the full 5% so that they could award more money. 

Out of all the businesses in three counties including Arenac with 10 businesses, Clare with 21 and Gladwin with 17, none were minority-owned. As for Midland eight out of the 56 small businesses were minority owned, and 10 out of the 51 businesses awarded in Isabella County were minority owned. 

Furthermore, after conducting a business entity search on Michigan’s government website for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory affairs, it was discovered that three Tim Horton’s locations were recipients of the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant. 

Two of the locations were under Isabella County and one in Midland. All three franchises are owned by one individual and are not minority-owned. These Tim Hortons were separate due to the different LLC business entity names that were filed. Therefore, there are separate expenses to be covered by each location to go towards the franchise.

“We treated them as independent businesses because they actually are,” McBryde said. “It just happened to be under the Tim Hortons franchise."

The Tim Horton’s franchise owner could not be reached for comment.

The only $20,000 recipient

Midland Center for the Arts (MCFTA) was closed during 2020 due to COVID-19, as well as a flood that took place in May 2020.

The flood damaged two theaters, the science and arts museum, the education center and the Heritage Park History campus along the Tittabawassee River, Vice President of Communications & Development Diane Willcox said. 

In late March of 2020, MCFTA transitioned to virtual programming and outdoor experiences in an effort to keep the public engaged and staff employed, Willcox said. 

According to Willcox, between March 2020 and January 2021, when the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant applications were just opening, MCFTA engaged with over 400,000 people from the region, state and around the world. This was done through activities such as free weekly live content on Facebook, live readings of Shakespeare’s plays, summer art fairs, virtual educational programming and a new streaming service called “Virtual Pass”.

The Michigan Small Business Survival grant awarded MCFTA $20,000 toward payroll for its 45 staff members at the time when there was extremely low income coming in, Willcox said.

“This grant was key to retaining talented, experienced staff, allowing us to continue our programming to this day,” Willcox said. “Without these team members, we would have difficulty sustaining the level of activity we have now.”

Since MCFTA had received the Michigan Small Business Survival grant, it has been given at least six other grants.

“Donations and grants together cover approximately 40% of our expenses, with earned income covering 60%,” Willcox said. “We receive numerous grants for a variety of purposes – operationally, our grants include funding from HH & Grace A. Dow Foundation, Alden & Vada Dow Foundation, the Jenkins Family Foundation, Michigan Arts & Culture Council, Midland Area Community Foundation, Arts Midwest and others.”

MCFTA has a goal of $1.3 million in operational grants for its 2022-2023 fiscal year, Willcox said. 

Currently, MCFTA is working on renovating and restoring its main facility, which includes upgrading its museum and education facilities, as well as providing an exhibit and archive storage. In addition, MCFTA is working towards offering research library access to the public.

The project was announced in May 2022 at MCFTA’s 50th anniversary celebration. The project is estimated to cost $47 million and will commence in early 2023, Willcox said.