Saturday Morning Marketing: Entrepreneurs Use Eastern Market to Grow

As Detroit's community marketplace, Eastern Market has attracted people from all walks of life to shop, mingle and work for generations. Now, a new breed of entrepreneurs is thriving at the old market.

Each week, these foodie entrepreneurs steadily increase their followings, with new customers getting turned on to their goods. Their unique products include coffee, baked goods, pastas, flavored oils and more.

More and more, small, start-up businesses are realizing that Eastern Market isn't just a great source for ingredients. For them, the Saturday market has become a marketing strategy and a key to success. Here's a look at three regulars who've found their success at Eastern Market.

Face to face with the foodies

Staked out in Shed 2 every Saturday, Great Lakes Coffee owes its success to bringing its product directly to its target audience: foodies. "The market is where all the foodie people gather and it's been great for our marketing," said James Cadariu, roast master for the company. "It's the best way to directly connect with our customers."

For those who want more than ordinary cup of Joe, the unique blends of Great Lakes Coffee are inspired by the coffee drinking traditions of Europe and offer a complete sensory experience. Cadariu is serious about the quality of his product and he wants others to take it seriously too. "I know there are a lot of people at Eastern Market who are into our product," he says. "People view our coffee like fresh food."

He'll even admonish you if you drink it immediately after it's poured. "It's best experienced at specific temperatures and conditions," he explains. "Good coffee should be more a part of our culture, and I want people to view our coffee like fine wine or scotch or beer."

The company goes to great lengths to find quality, fair trade and organic coffees and imports its beans from all over the world. Typically, coffee is grown at 4,000 feet or higher in tropical regions. Cadariu has traveled to Hawaii, India, Rwanda and South America to get the best beans -- including coffee produced through biodynamic farming methods in which all aspects of production operate as an interdependent living organism.

Once the beans arrive, Cadariu, who completed his master's thesis in cognac and wine production, uses high tech methods to determine their quality, size and density. To aid in this process, Great Lakes Coffee purchased a machine designed to test French fry consistency for viewing and matching the beans' color spectrum. Once quality is ensured, the coffee is both blended and roasted at their Bloomfield Hills facility using the subtle variations in the different beans to create distinct flavors.

Great Lakes has about 35 different blends and will concoct new signature tastes for clients. "We'll work directly with chefs to create a blend that best fits a menu." Cadariu explained. 

Great Lakes Coffee signature blends go much further than simply restaurants. "I'm all about promoting the city and neighborhoods," said Cadariu. The company has targeted individual Detroit neighborhoods and created special coffees like the Corktown and West Vernor blends.

Cadariu hopes to expand the operation and is seeking additional warehouse and retail space in Detroit, complete with a café filled with espresso machines. "I want to bring back the flair of coffee. It's a social cultural thing and I see people enjoying coffee in the city together."

That's some kick

Also found under the wide expanse of Shed 2 and next to Great Lakes Coffee you'll find Monique Sasser. "It's got a powerful kick," she warns as she hands out bottles of her homemade Nikki's Ginger Tea to the uninitiated. That's quite possibly an understatement. The ginger flavor hits you like a slap in the face as it touches your tongue.

In addition to the market, area businesses like Sala Thai Restaurant and the Harbortown Market have caught the buzz about Nikki's Ginger Tea and it can be found there and in a growing number of outlets. Sasser herself returns every Saturday to Eastern Market - the same place where she buys all the ingredients for her trademark tea. "Now that Eastern Market has new management, and new ideas, it's helped me immensely," she says. "It's gotten the tea into the hands of more people."

Sasser, who has been brewing her tea in Detroit since 1997, worked long hours experimenting with ginger root to produce the intense taste. "I wanted to squeeze every possible ounce of flavor out of the ginger root and get it into the tea," she explained.

Now a profitable business, Nikki's Ginger Tea began as a hobby for Sasser. "Originally I would make large batches for my friends," she says. "Then I started getting calls for the stuff."

The brewing process, which takes several hours, produces gallons of tea. "I made so much," says Sasser. "I needed a way to get rid of it. I called a café and made a deal. I thought I should water it down so it wasn't so strong but when they got it, they called me and asked for the strong stuff."

Sasser claims Nikki's Ginger Tea can soothe the symptoms of motion sickness, nausea, sore throats, chicken pox and a range of digestion problems. "Sometimes I get mothers calling me in the middle of the night asking to come pick up tea for their sick kids," she says.

Sasser and her tea have become an integral part of her community. Nikki's Ginger Tea is now a licensed business operating out of the Church of the Messiah on Lafayette and East Grand Boulevard. Ten percent of profits from tea sales go directly to the church and its public programs. Sasser, who has been with the church since 1994, serves as the community fitness and nutrition director.

Sasser sees Nikki's Ginger Tea and her growing business as a small sign of hope in the city. "From the day I started, good things have happened for me, and my vision is to always be a part of the good that's happening in Detroit."

Pickle power

Across the aisle from Nikki's Ginger Tea and Great Lakes Coffee, a line of people can be seen clamoring for free samples. They're hoping to get a taste of McClure's Pickles. Their two varieties, Dill and Spicy Garlic, have people wrapped in discussion choosing their favorite. Joe McClure and his brother Bob started the company in 2007 and since then they've taken a family tradition and turned it into a profitable business.

Joe McClure remembers making pickles with his family as a child and points out that Eastern Market has always played an important role in the process. "My grandpa and dad used to drag us to Eastern Market at 2 a.m. to get cucumbers and dill," he says. "Some of those same sellers are still there today, and we still buy our cucumbers from Ruhlig Farms and our dill from Bondy Farms in Ontario."

Joe McClure had a feeling the family recipe would be a hit. He and his brother would brew batches of pickles and take them to parties. "People loved them," he says. The McClures took the pickle-making process to the next level and searched for commercial kitchen space to experiment with making them in bulk. They rented facilities in both Michigan and Brooklyn where they made 150 batches and passed them out as samples. Almost as soon as the jars were out of their hands, the orders started coming in. "We knew we could make a viable business with it," he says.

Daily, the staff at McClure's begins at 5 a.m. All cucumbers are hand-sliced before they begin the pickling process. McClure's produces 4-5 batches of approximately 400 jars each week. In addition to the two varieties of pickles, the company also makes relish and beer-infused mustard incorporating Black Lotus Brewing in Clawson and Brooklyn Lager in New York. Now at capacity, McClure's is expanding into an adjoining building to add even more production and storage space.

Like many other businesses showcasing their products at Eastern Market, McClure's Pickles views their Saturday sales as part of their marketing effort and a factor in the company's growth.

"Eastern Market has always been a big part of our operation. It's always busy with a good mix of people," says McClure.

"Now a lot people don't sample when they come to us in the shed – they already know what they want. It's attracted a lot of people to our pickles and given us a lot of repeat customers," he says. "People try them at the market then go out and buy more."

Mike Gentile is a Detroit-based freelancer who lives on the East Side. Send feedback here.


Street musician

Shed 2

James Cadariu, roast master

Greatl Lakes Coffee beans

Nikki's Ginger Tea

McClure's pickels

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here
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