Robert Gillum knows his way around the kitchen — he’s worked in food service since he was 13 years old.
“I tried to do other jobs,” he laughed. “But I always came back to cooking.”
He developed a special love for barbeque and spent years entering competitions, perfecting his technique and flavors.
As Gillum came to the realization that he wanted to be his own boss, he noticed the food truck scene in West Michigan was heating up.
“A food truck– I thought, ‘That’s my way to do it,” he said.
Combining a lifetime of experience with a formal education at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, Gillum started his journey to fund to launch his dream. He came up against the obstacle faced by many entrepreneurs just starting out: “I called bank after bank,” Gillum shared. “No one would loan me money.”
His wife came across GROW, and nudged him to call. GROW gave Gillum the business training he needed and the opportunity to take out a microloan to get his business off the ground.
“Kelli Smith (GROW’s director of lending) was such an awesome guide to opening a business on a small budget,” he expressed. “I did exactly what she told me.”
And so became Bobby’s Fusion Grill. With the microloan and coaching from GROW and mentoring from a fellow food truck owner, Gillum traveled around West Michigan serving up an exciting fusion menu: Garlic BBQ Shrimp Skewers with Naan Bread and Fusion Slaw; a California Burrito with Asada Chicken; Blackened Chicken Po’Boy and more.
Gillum describes his cooking style as “high-flavor and versatile.” Everything on the menu is original, and a customer favorite is his signature “Bobby-Q” sauce.
“Everyone loves it,” he smiled.
The food truck was just the beginning. Gillum formed a relationship with Michigan Moonshine, a locally-owned distillery located in Grandville where he would often park his food truck and serve customers. When an opportunity presented to partner with the distillery and open a restaurant out of their kitchen, he “jumped in with both feet.”
“I started two businesses within a year and a half … I wasn’t going to not take the opportunity.”
Gillum dubbed his restaurant “Bobby Q” and created a menu that showcases his deep love of food and excitement for discovering new flavors: garlic umami bbq meatballs, smoked baked potatoes, chef special bbq mac and cheese, carnitas salad and more.
Of his experience, Gillum says, “I learned how to start it all on my own with GROW. They offered my help every step of the way. If you commit, put in the work and the research, you can do anything.”
Per orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services regarding COVID-19, Bobby Q is serving take out only. While the past year has brought significant challenges to the food services industry, Gillum says he has big plans for the future.
“My brain never stops moving,” he smiled. “I have a lot of ideas and I plan to make them happen.”