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Joe Spencer has big plans for Louisiana Creole Gumbo

In the early parts of 2014, the infamous polar vortex descended over Detroit, bringing temperatures that made the North Pole seem downright tolerable. With sub-zero temps combined with above average amounts of snow, it was the type of weather that inspired people to stay indoors, to avoid going out whenever possible. For a restaurant owner, it's the type of weather that means trouble.

At Louisiana Creole Gumbo, sales were down 20 to 25 percent that year, says the restaurant's president and co-owner Joe Spencer. The New Orleans and Southern-style kitchen is located at 2051 Gratiot Ave.just on the outskirts of Eastern Marketand has been since 1970. Spencer says it was one of the first, if not the first, Creole-style restaurants in Detroit.

The polar vortex threatened to put Louisiana Creole Gumbo out of business. Instead, Spencer has managed to turn the restaurant around, in part by taking advantage of the many small business programs in Detroit. Starting in 2014, Spencer enrolled in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses program. He's since received funding from Invest Detroit and Motor City Match. Most recently, Louisiana Creole Gumbo won the $100,000 NEIdeas award.

With the help of those programs, Spencer recently opened a new location on the city's northwest side at 13505 W. Seven Mile Rd., near Schaefer Highway. The Goldman Sachs program helped Spencer conduct a survey, determining that 25 percent of his customers live in northwest Detroit.

"Detroit has a really terrific system that's designed to help small businesses, to help people start businesses as well as help businesses that already exist," Spencer says. "I've been benefited greatly from that."

The restaurant was first established in 1970, though not by Spencer. That distinction goes to Joseph Stafford, a chef who learned to cook from his mother in Bayou Laforche in New Orleans. Spencer, who's lived most of his life in Detroit, had never even tried Creole-style food before a fateful flip of a coin set the course for the second part of his career.

Before he purchased Louisiana Creole Gumbo, Spencer had made a name for himself in broadcast media. In 1972, he worked for WWJ, becoming one of the first black radio producers in Detroit. In 1975, Spencer became the program director at WGPR-TV 62, the first black-owned television station in the nation. He stayed with channel 62 through its purchase by CBS in 1994, eventually taking an early retirement opportunity in 2001. He's since focused on the restaurant full time.

It was in 1982 when Spencer and business partner Doug Morrison purchased the restaurant from original owner Stafford. Wanting to go into business for himself, Spencer had originally approached Morrison about purchasing an eight-unit apartment building on the city's westside. Morrison, on the other hand, had his eyes on Louisiana Creole Gumbo. A coin flip decided the duo's fate.

"Joe Stafford, having sold us the restaurant, spent the next year coming in to work every day to teach us how to prepare the product," Spencer says. "How to maintain his proprietary spice blends that he had, to control the taste of the food, how to manage the product, to introduce us to the vendors, create a relationship with the vendors, so we could continue his legacy. He really had a great product."

The restaurant's continued success, now edging toward 50 years since first opening, is a testament to Stafford's original product. And now that Spencer has gone through a number of Detroit's small business programs, both educationally and financially beneficial, he's gearing up for a major expansion of the business.

The new Louisiana Creole Gumbo in northwest Detroit is just the beginning. Spencer has an ambitious ten year plan to open 100 new locations throughout the I-75 corridor. He's also going mobile, having pegged the NEIdeas award money for two food trucks. The menu, too, is expanding; the new location features healthier options like red beans and quinoa, rather than rice, and vegetarian gumbo, in addition to the traditional favorites.

For Lousiana Creole Gumbo, just a couple of years removed from that nasty polar vortex, it seems that a new season has arrived.

Flash Delivery partnership to bring Eastern Market's Red Truck Produce to your door

Later this month, Detroiters can go online, select from an array of fresh fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, and made-in-Michigan favorites, and, with a few clicks, have their order delivered directly to their home or workplace, thanks to a partnership between Eastern Market’s Red Truck Fresh Produce and Flash Delivery.
 
With a projected launch date of Nov. 15, Flash Delivery could help customers get turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes on the table by Thanksgiving.
 
The exclusive deal is a coup for Flash Delivery, the two-year-old Detroit startup led by entrepreneurs Ericka Billingslea and Tatiana Grant.
 
Better than planned
As a growth objective, the team sought a relationship with a regional chain like Meijer or Kroger, but when negotiations didn't materialize, Billingslea and Grant redoubled their efforts to strike a deal closer to home, and found a partnership that is more in line with their business ethos.
 
"To be honest, we were turned down by Meijer and Kroger, and a couple of years ago we attempted to get this off the ground, and it fizzled out and we never revisited the concept," Grant says of initial hopes with Eastern Market.
 
She re-pitched Eastern Market—this time with success. "We had an impromptu meeting, and they said this is something we might be able to get to work," Grant says.
 
It works for the bottom line too. Red Truck Fresh Produce staff will receive and package the orders for Flash Delivery drivers to collect and deliver, increasing profitability and efficiency over having drivers "shop" the orders on behalf of customers, Grant says.
 
A learning curve
The big picture focused quickly, but finer points required additional work, delaying the launch by a couple of months, Grant says.
 
"From a software perspective, we had issues synching the two systems," she says. Unlike their restaurant meal delivery service, which initiates with customer contact at Flash Delivery’s website, grocery delivery will begin from Red Truck Fresh Produce. This will be seamless to customers, as they will still begin their order at Flash Delivery's site.
 
"At the present we will be sending people to a specific URL," Grant says. "When the order comes in, [Red Truck] will send it to us, which is the reverse of how we started. This process makes it easier from a partnership perspective. We just get a notification, and we send it right over to our driver's phone."
 
Grant and Billingslea also conducted research to outfit their drivers' vehicles to best accommodate groceries.
 
"We settled on a combination of plastic crates and mesh containers, which keep things separated and upright," Grant says. "We also have coolers for things that need to stay cold," Grant says.
 
A wider customer demographic
Red Truck Fresh Produce, owned jointly by Eastern Market Corp. and the Warren-based Community Growth Partnership, accepts Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, payments. Grant says this creates opportunity for Flash Delivery to reach customers happy to save time and taxi fare by having their EBT-qualified purchases delivered.
 
"This will expose us to a further demographic that we couldn’t serve before. It's a win-win for both of us because we have been looking for a grocery partner and Red Truck will increase their sales volume," says Grant, adding that future growth will likely include business-to-business deliveries of fresh produce to area restaurants.
 
Just the right step
With Flash Delivery, Southeast Michigan Eastern Market fans can shop local, even when life gets busy and weather is uncooperative, Grant says.
 
"We are looking forward to giving people an Eastern Market experience direct to their door," Grant says. Customers can even take advantage of fresh, custom-designed meal ingredients, complete with chef-designed recipes already available in the store.
 
"Of course we were bummed when we were unable to move forward with regional and national companies," Grant says. "But the majority of our customers are pro-Michigan and pro-Detroit and for them to be able to get locally sourced fresh foods and Michigan-made products, it made more sense for us. We are looking forward to being able to tout that as well."
 
Claire Charlton is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Connect with her on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

The Craft Cafe Detroit thrives on city's lower east side

The Craft Cafe Detroit is off to a fast start. The "sip and paint" party venue opened last June on Mack Avenue, just blocks from city's eastern border with Grosse Pointe Park, and it's already turning away customers as some parties reach capacity. But that's a good problem to have.

While owner Candice Meeks is considering a move to a bigger location, she says she wants to keep the Craft Cafe in the neighborhood. Its location is part of the reason for its success.

"The location at Mack and Phillip, there's nothing like this in our community," Meeks says. "You have to drive downtown and pay for parking or drive out to the suburbs for this kind of fun. We need to keep something like this in the neighborhood."

Craft Cafe Detroit hosts a variety of celebrations, from birthdays to bachelorette parties. Guests can bring their own food and drinks while Meeks leads the party through a painting session. Subjects are pre-sketched onto each person's canvas, allowing them to paint along while Meeks teaches different techniques like blending colors. She also offers vision mirrors, where guests create collages on mirrors and then seal them with a clear coat finish.

Other parties include Eat | Paint | Drink, where refreshments are provided, and monthly date nights, where couples paint together.

Meeks credits a number of small business programs that helped her get off the ground. She graduated from ProsperUs Detroit, where she met her current landlord. Meeks was also the recipient of a $4,000 technical assistance grant from Motor City Match. She says she plans on using the grant money to help with marketing and website construction costs.

"Going through those programs really gave me a platform to open my own business," she says.

The Craft Cafe Detroit is located at 14600 Mack Ave. It's open Tuesday through Friday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Gwen Jimmere makes all-natural hair care product to celebrities like Beyoncé

LeBron James. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Serena Williams. These are household names throughout the United States and even much of the world. They're also members of the The Root 100 for 2016, a list of the 100 most influential African-Americans as put together by The Washington Post-owned publication The Root. In November, a gala is being held in New York City to celebrate those that have made the list.

Also attending that gala will be Gwen Jimmere, a local entrepreneur who has seen tremendous growth in her all natural line of beauty products, Naturalicious. In just three years, Jimmere has quickly gone from creating an all-natural hair care product in her Canton, Michigan kitchen to being picked up by international beauty product distributor Jinny Beauty Supply and the first African-American woman to hold a U.S. patent for a natural hair care product. She's now based out of the ponyride facility in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, where she and her team make all the products by hand.

Jimmere comes from a corporate communications background where, before even creating Naturalicious, told a friend who worked at The Root that she would one day make it to their 100 list. It only took her four years to do so.

"To find out that I'm actually on it is a full circle moment for me," she says.

Jimmere hails from Cleveland. After attending Kent State University for both her undergraduate and master degrees, she was recruited by Ford Motor Co. to become their global digital communications manager. She would later leave Ford to become the digital marketing director for Uniworld, and soon after make her Root 100 proclamation.

An influential moment for Jimmere was seeing Chris Rock's documentary movie "Good Hair" during her pregnancy. She cites a scene that shows a pop can being submerged in a typical hair relaxer product and subsequently disintegrating. Concerned about what she was exposing her body and her unborn child to, Jimmere decided to create a safer and more natural hair product. She experimented, researched, and honed her product. Still, she treated it as a hobby, something she might one day give to family and friends.

A couple of years later, with a two year old son and about 30 days from divorce, Jimmere was laid off from Uniworld. What some might see as a dead end turned out to be a window of opportunity. With little left in the bank, Jimmere decided that it was now or never.

"Having your back against the wall forces you to not doubt yourself," Jimmere says. "You don't really have the luxury to doubt yourself. It's like, I might as well just try everything because the worst that can happen is nothing."

That attitude, coupled with a desire to make her son Caiden proud, got Naturalicious off the ground. Jimmere called the Whole Foods Market in Detroit to set up a meeting, eventually convincing them to carry her product. Now several Whole Foods locations carry Naturalicious. And Jinny Beauty Supply just signed on to distribute, starting out in 1,500 stores and eventually growing to 7,000.

Naturalicious currently carries 10 products, all made by hand, designed for people with curly hair. The company is becoming known for both its all natural ingredients, and 3-in-1 and 5-in-1 products that help cut down on time. The clay comes from Morocco, the oils from Italy, Spain, and Argentina.

Jimmere moved the company out of her kitchen and into ponyride this past May, making her first hires. Three of her six employees are supplied through Services To Enhance Potential, or STEP, which connects employers with people with special needs looking for work. She anticipates having to hire more people soon.

Another member of the team is her son Caiden, now five years old. Caiden holds the title of chief candy curator, making sure that each order is accompanied by a piece of candy.

As Jimmere relates Caiden's enthusiasm for Naturalicious, there's no need to question whether her son is proud of her. She's got it.

Quick Facts on Gwen Jimmere

Title: CEO + Founder, Naturalicious

Date of opening: 2013

One interesting job before Naturalicious: In grad school I was an editor at a risque book publisher. Every book I was responsible for editing was basically 50 Shades of Gray on steroids. When I interviewed for the job, they just told me it was for an editing position. It wasn't until the day I started that I realized I'd be editing freaky books.  It was a pretty interesting gig, though, and my co-workers were really cool. It was a very laid back office; we could bring our pets in whenever we wanted and wear pajamas to work every day of the week if we chose to. The culture was nothing like you'd expect for that sort of business. 

Favorite music to work to: 70s Funk (i.e. The Gap Band, Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, SOS Band, etc.)
 
One indispensable beauty care tip: Coconut oil is good for practically everything. It's an incredibly effective makeup remover, it's perfect for helping your nails grow faster and stronger, and it's a phenomenal conditioning ingredient when found in hair care products. I can think of at least 10 excellent beauty uses for coconut oil. I always keep a jar of unrefined, virgin coconut oil in my bathroom cabinet and another in my suitcase for when I'm traveling.

Downtown co-working space to double in size, eyes big future

The Bamboo Detroit co-working space downtown is focused on the growth of its tenants, providing facilities, resources, and programming to freelancers and startups alike.

That commitment has resulted in the company's own expansion. Bamboo recently announced a new location twice the size of their current one at 1442 Brush St., growing from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet of co-working facilities and more.

Come January 2017, Bamboo will open its doors on the third floor of the historic Julian C. Madison building at 1420 Washington Blvd. Construction is currently underway.

The new Bamboo location will count 20 dedicated desks, seven private offices, and three conference rooms among its new features. The private offices are in direct response to customers' needs, co-owner Amanda Lewan says. The current location doesn't offer private offices, a fact that Lewan says led to a loss of potential tenants.

The top floor of the new location boasts a loft-style events space, something Bamboo will use for job fairs and other pro-business programs. Also planned is a large cafe area, complete with coffee and snacks. In April, Bamboo won a $30,000 Motor City Match grant to help build the cafe.

"Be really clear about what you need; have a really clear budget," Lewan says to future Motor City Match applicants. "It might not be perfect, you might still be playing around with it as you get close to the end, but if you have a really clear plan, people can get on board with it."

The company believes that the expansion will result in significantly more tenants, with Bamboo expecting the amount to grow from the current count of 120 to 300 tenants. 

Bamboo currently has a pop-up co-working space at MASH Detroit on the city's east side. Lewan says Bamboo may one day have multiple co-working sites throughout the city and its neighborhoods.

Motor City Match winners use grant money to help cushion construction costs

Construction has started on the Meta Physica Wellness Center in Corktown. The business will be located in the Bagley and Trumbull building, which counts the Bearded Lady salon and barber shop, Mama Coo's Boutique, and the Farmer's Hand market as its tenants. The latter two businesses are Motor City Match winners. All four businesses in the Bagley and Trumbull building will be women-owned.

Meta Physica Wellness Center owner Jenevieve Biernat started her massage business in Midtown, which she has since outgrown. The Corktown studio will feature expanded services, including two massage rooms, three saunas, a raw juice bar, and an apothecary. Biernat won both a $50,000 Hatch award and a $20,000 Motor City Match grant for her business earlier this year.

"Every bit of money helps," Biernat says. "You don't always know how much you need going in but it turns out you need a lot of money to do this."

Biernat says that once she's established, she'd like to put herself in a position to help others through the Motor City Match application process.

A resident of Corktown, Biernat has been visiting the other shops at Bagley and Trumbull nearly every day, learning from her future neighbors, and soaking up as much advice and information that she can.

Another $20,000 Motor City Match grant winner, Noelle Lothamer, is currently in the midst of construction of an Eastern Market storefront for her Beau Bien Fine Foods. The Michigan-sourced fruit jam-, chutney-, and mustard-makers recently celebrated the one year anniversary of their Eastern Market location, which has served primarily as a kitchen.

Lothamer says the money won from Motor City Match has quickly gone toward construction costs, including the storefront, roof, and some other much needed repairs. "As soon as we knew we could spend it, we did."

The hope is for the storefront to open by Thanksgiving, though Lothamer cautions that there is no set date. In addition to acting as a retail area for their jams, chutneys, and mustards, the Beau Bien Fine Foods storefront will also offer grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and drinks.

Meta Physica Wellness Center is located at 1707 Trumbull Ave.

Beau Bien Fine Foods is located at 2478 Riopelle St.

This Detroit manufacturer is making prefabricated houses cool—and green

There's a hundred-year-old manufacturing building on Detroit's near east side not unlike many on that side of town. Drive by it and one might have little idea that behind those old brick walls is a company at the forefront of a potential trendsetting technology. 

What once was an automobile manufacturing plant a century ago is now home to Phoenix Haus, a designer and builder of prefabricated building components for super-high efficiency homes.

Phoenix Haus subscribes to the Passive House approach of high-energy efficiency building design and construction. This means that the building envelopes are super insulated, air-tight, consider the angle of the sun, and have high standards of ventilation. By prefabricating the components at their Detroit warehouse and then shipping the products to the construction site, Phoenix Haus is able to keep prices down and the technology more attractive.

Of course prefabricated building envelopes weren't invented yesterday. But it's a construction method yet to be embraced in the United States, and especially the Midwest, says Bill McDonald, founder and principal of Phoenix Haus. It can, however, be found all over Europe. 

But McDonald thinks that Detroit is primed for their style of building and is considering a parcel in the city, perhaps Corktown, where they can construct one of their homes as a demonstration of the finished product.

"Prefab is the answer," McDonald says. "There's a ton of companies looking into this mindset. There's a ton of pent-up demand for it. It's the next step.

"It's a level of innovation that hasn't existed in the housing industry in years. We've been building houses like we have since the 1940s and '50s, basically. There've been a few changes here and there but it's basically the same theory. It's like building your car in the front lawn."

While prefab is important to McDonald, the ultimate goal is to make buildings as energy efficient as possible—prefabrication is simply the means by which Phoenix Haus can make it happen. By employing the Passive House method, net zero energy homes is that much more attainable. A net zero building is one that matches the energy it consumes by producing its own energy, typically through methods like super efficient insulation and solar power.

Phoenix Haus is a family business, owned and operated by the McDonald family of Saginaw. It was born out of another family business, Cech Corp., founded in 1936. The mother, Hilde, who still runs Cech, is an investor and co-owner of Phoenix Haus. The son, Bill, started Phoenix in 2011. And Kate, his sister, recently joined on as project manager.

The McDonalds purchased the building at 1000 Mount Elliott St. in 2015, renovating for both their offices and production facility. The high ceilings and open space give the office a contemporary feel—and that's not to mention Bill's drum kit, set up just outside his own office. They're excited about Detroit and their place in it, hoping to see the city be at the forefront of another industry yet again.

"Detroit has a manufacturing mindset," Bill says. "So the people we're looking to hire, CAD designers or the people working in the shop—the city lends itself well to that kind of manufacturing. We've got a good pool of people to hire from."

It's a mindset that started a century ago, in buildings like the one they currently occupy. 

Quick Facts on Bill McDonald
 
Title: Principle of Passive Haus
 
Date of Opening: 2011
 
One interesting job held before Phoenix Haus: cafeteria dish washer, Marquette University 
 
What's your favorite TED talk: Sir Ken Robinson (Education reform activist)
 
Favorite drummer: Patrick Carney of the Black Keys

Bill McDonald will be giving a TED Talk on the Passive House methodology at the TEDxDetroit event at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Grooming company to return to Detroit, open barbershop in Corktown

Detroit Grooming Co. is returning to its namesake city. The company, which outgrew a small production space on Fort Street in Detroit, had since established itself in Ferndale, with both a larger production facility and, most recently, a Woodward Avenue barbershop.

At a private event for friends and family, the team behind Detroit Grooming Co. announced that they would be opening a second barbershop, this one on Michigan Avenue in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. The owners hope for a late 2016 or early 2017 opening in 2000 Michigan Ave., a building currently undergoing extensive renovations.

Detroit Grooming Co. co-owner and CEO Michael Haddad says a return to Detroit is important for the company. While it's a great business opportunity to open a new barbershop in development-crazed Corktown, Haddad says it's also a goal to re-establish a presence in the city for which it takes its name.

Haddad started the company in 2013, developing his own blend of beard oil. When Detroit Grooming Co. launched, it had four products; today, it has over 200 personal care and beauty products. Though the company started in the beard oil business, it has since expanded to products for both men and women, from mustache wax to hand soap, hair pomade to combs and brushes.

Dessert Oasis' Nathan Hamood pioneers coffee and pomade in Rochester and Detroit

Nathan Hamood isn't very good at sitting still. That's not to say he's an angsty or fidgety sort of person. He just doesn't stop working.

Hamood spends 13 to 14 hours a day between his family's two Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters locations, one in downtown Rochester and one in downtown Detroit's Capitol Park. And when the shops shut down for the night, he somehow finds the time to develop his own hair pomade company, Ace High.

Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters is a family business. Hamood's parents opened up the shop in 2009, and he his sister Stephanie soon became partners. Today, each Hamood remains involved. Dad Jamal is a business law attorney who handles business administration duties for Dessert Oasis. Mom Charlene can often be found helping out around either shop. Sister Stephanie, a talented musician working in the music industry in Nashville, books the music acts. She's turned the two locations into destinations for live music, especially for fans of Americana and roots music.

Hamood's role has increased substantially. He began to study coffee in earnest and by 2010 was experimenting with coffee roasting techniques in a small rotisserie oven. A year or two later, the Hamoods purchased a full-size coffee roaster.

"People started to seek out our coffee more and more," Hamood says. "I was beginning to become really proud of the coffee we were putting out, because what we do next year will always be better than what we do this year."

Dessert Oasis first opened on the edge of downtown Rochester in 2009. After a couple of years in that location, the family began to develop a new business model emphasizing craft coffee and moved to a central location within downtown Rochester. The first day they reopened, sales doubled. A few months later they tripled. 

While Dessert Oasis remains a family affair, Hamood is the face of the business. He says he does as much as he can, including buying coffee, roasting coffee, training employees, quality control, and day-to-day administrative work. 
 
He also regularly works behind the coffee bar. Being hands-on is important to him. While sitting down for this story, Hamood left the interview for 10 minutes, joining an employee to help make lattes behind the counter.

"There isn't a job here we ask our staff to do that isn't something I'd do," he says.

The success of Dessert Oasis in Rochester led to the Hamoods opening a second location in Detroit's Capitol Park in late 2015. While the brand remains consistent between the two, each has its own vibe. The Rochester location feels warm and living room-like, while the Detroit shop has a more stark, contemporary style.

The Hamoods are excited about Detroit and their place in it. With several residential projects undergoing construction around Capitol Park, Hamood certainly got in at the right time.


Hamood plans on continued growth for Dessert Oasis. He'd like to increase wholesale coffee sales to other shops as well as online. This past spring, Hamood took his beans to America's Best Espresso Competition in Dallas, where he placed second in the contest, qualifying Dessert Oasis for the final round in Nashville later this year.

There might even be more locations in the family's future, though Hamood says he won't do it at the sacrifice of identity and quality.


And then there's Ace High hair pomade, which Hamood developed with a Dessert Oasis employee. The pomade, which is sold at both Dessert Oasis locations, is named after old cowboy slang for someone being first-class and well-respected. It fits the country and Western theme present in both shops, something he picked up from his musician sister in Nashville.

"Over time, me and one of our guys started playing around with making our own pomade," Hamood says. "We thought we could come up with something kind of cool and brand it cool. We've just been chipping away at it whenever we had spare time. After hours, late at night if I couldn't sleep, I'd just work on the pomade."

While coffee and pomade may seem a surprising combination, it's that craftsmanship, that attention to detail, that keeps Hamood's imagination. Even when he's trying to sleep.

Quick Facts on Nathan Hamood

Title: President, Director of Coffee Roasting Operations at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters


Date of opening: July 2009 (Rochester), December 2015 (Detroit)

First job: "The business in a way was actually my first job. Before that I played drums, though I never did so all that professionally."

Favorite musician: "It's hard to name one favorite musician. I listen to all sorts of stuff, anyone from the Clash to Ray Price, but I'd maybe have to say Hank Williams overall."

Favorite Western: "It's a toss-up between 'Stagecoach' and 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'"

Grooming company to return to Detroit, open barbershop in Corktown

Detroit Grooming Co. is returning to its namesake city. The company, which outgrew a small production space on Fort Street in Detroit, had since established itself in Ferndale with both a larger production facility and, most recently, a Woodward Avenue barbershop.

At a private event for friends and family, the team behind Detroit Grooming Co. announced it would be opening a second barbershop, this one on Michigan Avenue in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. The owners hope for a late 2016 or early 2017 opening in 2000 Michigan Ave., a building currently undergoing extensive renovations.

Detroit Grooming Co. co-owner and CEO Michael Haddad says a return to Detroit is important for the company. While it's a great business opportunity to open a new barbershop in development-crazed Corktown, Haddad says it's also important to re-establish a presence in the city for which it takes its name.

Haddad started the company in 2013, developing his own blend of beard oil. When Detroit Grooming Co. launched, it had four products; today, it has over 200 personal care and beauty products. Though the company started in the beard oil business, it has since expanded to products for both men and women, from mustache wax to hand soap, hair pomade to combs and brushes.

At a recent party at the Detroit Grooming Co. Barber Shop, the owners threw an event to celebrate the big announcement. A red carpet and photographer greeted the guests. Chef Brennan Calnin, formerly of Detroit's Townhouse restaurant, offered a menu that included smoked turkey neck tamales and laughing bird shrimp ceviche. Corktown's Batch Brewery was also on hand, supplying an exclusive firkin of Goodrich, a wet-hopped version of their Marzen. And perhaps most befitting for a company that got its start in the beard oil business, old-timey band Shine on Kentucky Moon provided the music.

5 tips for growing a startup with Rocket Fiber's Marc Hudson

In the last three years, Rocket Fiber co-founder Marc Hudson has expanded an admittedly precarious and bold pitch for a high-speed internet venture into a successful, rapidly expanding Detroit startup in the face of major, multimillion-dollar competitors.
 
Hudson first pitched the idea for Rocket Fiber in 2013 while working as a software engineer for Quicken Loans. He says he thought of the idea while reading an article on Google Fiber in Kansas City, and the subsequent influx of technology and entrepreneurship following the launch.
 
Hudson says a light bulb went on, thinking it could be a "game changer" for Detroit. He pitched the idea through the Cheese Factory, Quicken Loans' internal ideas website where employees are encouraged to pitch concepts big or small that could improve the company.
 
This idea was definitely big and quickly caught the eye of Dan Gilbert, who backed the project financially.
 
The gigabit internet connection, which launched commercially in January, is 1,000 times faster than the average residential connection. The service is currently being used both homes and businesses in Detroit.
 
"Since January, we've been lighting buildings all over the central business district," Hudson says.
 
So far, Rocket Fiber has put down over 20 miles of fiber optic cable in Detroit. Various residential buildings in downtown and Midtown such as the Willy's Overland Lofts, Cadillac Square Apartments, and the Forest Arms Apartments already have Rocket Fiber connections available.
 
Hudson says Rocket Fiber is actively working to expand farther into Midtown, Brush Park, and New Center. They recently connected their first commercial customer in Corktown, as well.
 
“In 2017, we'll be setting our sights even bigger than just the downtown area," Hudson says. "We've always said that we want to expand, we want to grow, and we think there's a lot of opportunity to continue to build this company and network in the city of Detroit." 
 
Although solid plans aren't in place yet, Hudson says he hopes to eventually bring Rocket Fiber into the suburbs.
 
Beyond physical expansion, the company plans to soon break into the cable market, providing HDTV cable channels and on-demand services.
 
"We're still trying to work the bugs out," Hudson says. "TV is actually pretty hard to do, it's actually harder to do than the internet." Still, he says announcements regarding the new service will be made in the "not too distant future."
 
Hudson will be the keynote speaker at Southeast Michigan Startup's High Growth Happy Hour starting at 6 p.m. at Cafe Con Leche in Detroit. There will be time for networking and drinks, a casual chat and Q&A. The event is free, but advance tickets are required. Hudson will highlight Rocket Fiber's expansions and how the company has scaled an innovative tech startup across the city. To encourage this sort of growth from other ventures, Hudson has shared five of his tips for growing an innovative startup in the city.
 
Have partners
"I've been involved in a bunch of different startups, pretty much since I was in college, high school even," Hudson says. "One of the big difference makers for me in this startup environment was having partners. I tried to do a lot of it alone in the past, and it doesn't matter how well-rounded you are, there's always going to be some skill set that you just don't have."
 
Don't just have partners—have good partners
"For me, having Edi and Randy as my partners has been a huge part of the success of the Rocket Fiber story," Hudson says of Edi Demaj and Randy Foster. "They were the ones that we showing up, and doing things, and following through, and not just saying they were interested but showing they were interested. … So, to me, it's one thing if someone shows interest but if they actually jump in and roll their sleeves up and start building with you, that's a pretty good indicator that they want to be around for a while."
 
Trust the partners you put in place as you grow
"As a founder of a company, you have a vision, you have a dream, you have an idea and you want to do everything," Hudson says. "As you grow, you really have to trust in the people you put in place to pick things up for you because you can't be everywhere at all times. You have to have people you can trust to take and run with things. And you as a founder, a manager of those people, you need to be able to let go sometimes and let them go and build things. It might not be the exact same way that you would have done it, but that's OK."
 
Persevere
"Perseverance is one [tip] that is talked about a lot but is still understated," Hudson says. "There are so many times when this project, this idea, could have died along the way for different reasons. It was all about just rolling up our sleeves and just understanding, in our case, that this project was so important for the city of Detroit and for our organization that we weren't going to let the normal things that get in the way slow us down."
 
Ignore the noise
"We have a saying within our organization which is, 'Ignore the noise.' I think there's a lot of noise out there when you're building a business. It's other people trying to do something similar, it's your competitors dropping press releases, it's the naysayers telling you it can't be done. At the end of the day, it's really about putting the blinders on, focusing straight ahead on you, on your business, your dream, your vision, and shutting everything else out."
 
Lexi Trimpe is a freelance writer living and working in Detroit. You can find her on Twitter @LexiTrimpe or on Instagram @thewestvillageidiot.

Motor City Match winner Mama Coo's opens in Corktown as Round 6 application window opens

A full year into its small business programming and Motor City Match is starting to see some brick-and-mortar results. Vintage clothing boutique Mama Coo's has opened up shop in Corktown and coffee shop Detroit Sip and Comb-N-Weave manufacturer Black Pride Beauty are reportedly nearing the opening of their own stores in the University District and Jefferson East areas, respectively.

Those three businesses were winners of Motor City Match grants ranging from $18,000 to $60,000 each. Entrepreneurs and small business owners looking for their own shot at small business assistance from Motor City Match, which can include anything from grant money to free architectural services, business planning to tenant-landlord introductions, are in luck.

Round six of applications closes Saturday, Oct. 1. Applications are available online.

"Now that we're a full year into the program, Motor City Match is really starting to show some positive results," says Rodrick Miller, CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "Businesses are moving through the steps of the program and beginning to open their doors to serve our neighborhoods."

Lana Rodriguez, winner of an $18,000 Motor City Match grant, recently opened Mama Coo's in Corktown. In an earlier interview with Model D, Rodriguez spoke about the importance of the grant and how it allowed her to open Mama Coo's with less debt and more resources.

"I know that now I have a better chance of longevity and success and to keep this puppy going," she says. 

For those seeking guidance through the application process, Motor City Match has partnered with Wayne County Community College to host the Small Business Summit and Resource Fair, to be held Friday, Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the college's downtown Detroit campus.

The Resource Fair is not Motor City Match-exclusive and will feature a number of Detroit small business support services including the Build Institute, CEED Lending, the Detroit Development Fund, the Detroit Public Library, Detroit SCORE, Grand Circus, Ioby, and Lifeline Business Consulting.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

New workforce development opportunities available, thanks to regional partnerships

Metro Detroiters looking to pursue careers in fields as varied as nursing, machining, IT work, and more are being offered a new path to job training and workforce development, thanks to a recent partnership between Focus: HOPE and a handful of local educational and business organizations. Two Oakland County institutions, Oakland University and Oakland Community College, are among the organizations offering training for Focus: HOPE participants.

The Steps for Success Program, a partnership between OCC, Focus: HOPE, and the Detroit Regional Chamber Fund, offers students continued academic and social support throughout their schooling. Students attend the first semester of school at the Focus: HOPE campus and transition to OCC for their remaining courses. A Focus: HOPE Student Success Coach/Case Manager will follow the student throughout their studies, offering tutoring services, workshops, and additional support.

Steps for Success is available to current and newly enrolled students at OCC as well as students already involved with Focus: HOPE.

For students wanting to get into the nursing field, Focus: HOPE has partnered with Oakland University for a workforce training program. Focus: HOPE's program, the Machinist Training Institute, is also currently forming new classes. That program has graduated hundreds of students into the manufacturing and automotive sectors.

To qualify for any of the programs, students must pass both math and English assessments administered by Focus: HOPE.

More information is available through Focus: HOPE by website, email, or (313) 494-4300.

Motor City Match completes first year of programming, 11 more businesses awarded grants

Detroit continues to grow its base of entrepreneurs through its Motor City Match program, awarding 11 more grants ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 to area businesses. The awards complete the fourth round of Motor City Match, marking one full year for the quarterly program.

That pipeline of entrepreneurs, as Detroit Economic Growth Corporation CEO Rodrick Miller calls it, consists largely of Detroiters. According to figures released by Motor City Match, 64 percent of MCM winning businesses are owned by Detroiters, 72 percent are minority-owned, and 68 percent are woman-owned.

In the program's first year, Motor City Match has awarded $2 million in grants to 40 small businesses, leveraging over $13 million in total investment in the city.

This round of grant winners include:
  • Twisted Roots, a beauty supply retailer in Eastern Market
  • Block Party, a building on Livernois that will house two restaurants and the Live6 Alliance
  • Detroit Vegan Soul, a West Village restaurant opening a second location on Grand River
  • Norma G's, a Caribbean cuisine food truck opening a brick-and-mortar location on East Jefferson
  • Live Cycle Delight, a cycling studio opening in West Village
  • Amaze-Enjoyment, an early childhood center at 20067 John R Street
  • Guadalajara #2, a butcher shop expanding into a full-service facility in Southwest
  • Lil Brilliant Mindz, an east side daycare and Head Start facility
  • Beau Bien Fine Foods, an artisanal jam, fruit preserve, chutney, and mustard maker expanding in Eastern Market
  • Meta Physical Wellness Center, an affordable holistic spa opening in Corktown
  • Third Wave Music, a music instrument retailer opening in the Forest Arms building in Midtown
"These are the kinds of businesses that help to create complete neighborhoods where people want to live," says Mayor Mike Duggan. "Motor City Match is helping dozens of Detroit entrepreneurs live their dream owning their own business while being a real part of our city’s neighborhood comeback."

In addition to the 11 businesses awarded grants, seven others will receive free design and architectural services, 26 have been connected with landlords, and 50 more will receive free business planning support.

The next round of the Motor City Match application process begins Sep. 1 and closes Oct. 1.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Next High Growth Happy Hour focuses on real estate

Detroit's rapidly fluctuating real estate market has no shortage of entrepreneurs breaking into it. There's an opportunity to hear from two fast growing local startups at the next High Growth Happy Hour, August 3rd from 6 to 8 p.m., in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

The speakers will be David Alade of Century Partners, a real estate development company with a holistic revitalization and innovative funding approach, and Max Nussenbaum, CEO & co-founder of property management startup Castle (read Model D's profile on Castle and their rapid growth). David and Max will share insights into Detroit's real estate market, including how they have broken in and created a new model for their businesses.

Agenda

6:00 - 6:30: Networking & Drinks

6:30 - 7:30: Casual chat and Q&A with attendees

7:30 - 8:00: Networking

RSVP here to attend. Space is limited for this free special event. Drinks and light appetizers will be served, and you’ll also get to be the first to see a brand new space Century Partners is redeveloping into a restaurant at 9425 John R Rd., Detroit.

Learn more about the High Growth Happy Hour series, which connects entrepreneurs and inspires them to scale in Metro Detroit.
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