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Why stop now? 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," says Spencer. "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," says Spencer. "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 towards 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.

If you don't evolve, you die: How Jacob Bishop re-energized the Mr. Alan's brand

Despite having grown up in and around his father's shoe stores, Jacob Bishop showed little interest in joining his dad's company once graduating from Michigan State University. 
 
He wanted to strike out and build something of his own—an understandable impulse for a 22-year old. So Jacob and his brother Adam did just that, opening Soles Inc., a small high-end sneaker boutique in Miami's South Beach that grew to five locations throughout Florida.

But Bishop would eventually move back north and take over the family business, re-branding and re-energizing the decades-old company by drastically shaking up the business model. And it seems to be working. Mr. Alan's is now Elite Mr. Alan's, a place for finding the latest trends in shoes and clothing, not just the best bargains.

It's a quality over quantity approach. Some told him it wouldn't fly. Michigan is not Florida, they said. Keep it simple and don't get too colorful. But as incremental changes proved successful, Jacob was emboldened. It was time for change.

"If you're either not growing or evolving, you're dying," says Bishop.

Jacob is the son of Alan Bishop, founder of the Mr. Alan's chain of shoe and clothing stores. Like his son, Alan also split off from the family business at an early age. In 1974, Alan opened his first shoe store when he was 18-years old. Alan's father, Robert, had his own stores, specializing in women's shoes. So as not to compete with his dad, Alan opened a shoe store that carried men's shoes.

As with any successful business, Mr. Alan's changed with the times. Starting out in men's dress shoes, the company eventually began carrying men's casual shoes and even a few sneakers. Clothing was later introduced. As the decades wore on, Mr. Alan's shifted to a price-point-driven model offering good products at good prices, nothing too fancy. Sneakers became the focus. This shift is best identified by one of the catchiest slogans to be transmitted across Metro Detroit's broadcast airwaves—Mr. Alan's: $29 or two for $50.

Somewhere around 2012, the brothers Bishop merged their Soles Inc. brand with their father's Mr. Alan's chain of stores. Soon, Jacob would be making the trek up north to help with the strategic merging of companies. What he thought would last one month turned into three and then six. Following his father's departure from day-to-day duties, Jacob did something he never thought he'd do. Along with his brother, he became Co-CEO and Co-President of Mr. Alan's.

"The company was doing fine; they were doing great—everything was pretty much consistent," says Jacob. "We weren't necessarily growing, we weren't necessarily declining, but we were not, for a good chunk of time, evolving as a company. Which, I think, leaves you very vulnerable. So even though we were flat, we were a sitting target."

To change that, Jacob took what he learned in Florida and applied it to the Mr. Alan's stores here in Michigan. Though some told him it wouldn't work, Jacob started small. He introduced higher end and better quality products into one section of the store and waited to see how customers would respond. 
 
"If I only mess up 20 percent of the store, I only mess up 20 percent of sales, right?"

Sales, in fact, only grew. Soon the higher end concept took up half of Mr. Alan's stores and eventually would come to take over the whole store. Drastic updates and improvements were made to the furniture, displays, and overall designs of each store. To reflect that evolution, Jacob changed the name from Mr. Alan's to Elite Mr. Alan's.

The company is now in expansion mode. The older Mr. Alan's stores have been re-designed and re-branded as Elite Mr. Alan's. New stores have been popping up throughout Metro Detroit, including the latest at McNichols and Grand River, near the new Meijer development. It's the thirteenth Elite Mr. Alan's store. The company plans to open six more over the next 18 months and 24 more over the next three years.

Like his father before him, Jacob Bishop is proving that in business, evolution is key.

Name and title: Jacob Bishop, Co-President and Co-CEO of Elite Mr. Alan’s

Year Mr. Alan's opened: 1974

Year Elite Mr. Alan's opened/began: evolution into Elite began in 2012

One interesting job he had before running Mr. Alan's: Jacob started his own car detailing business in high school. His niche was that he would pick up the cars from his customers (wherever they were), detailed the cars at his house and then returned the cars to his customers.

Your favorite shoe of all time: White-on-white Nike Air Force 1

Biggest lessons you learned from his dad about running a business: To treat your brands with the same respect used to treat the customers

Local semi-pro soccer player one of area's youngest non-profit execs by day

There are a lot of remarkable things about Ezekiel Harris.

The 24 year old Flint native graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Michiganand a semester early, no less. Harris plays the Right Back position for Detroit City FC, the local semi-professional soccer team. He's worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Flint. He started a crowdfunding consultant company called Crowd Flint.

He's also a former Challenge Detroit Fellow, which is what initially brought him to the city. As a fellow, Harris was part of the team that launched United Way X, a research and development division within United Way here in Detroit. He was later named a senior fellow at Challenge Detroit. Yet for all these accomplishments, perhaps none is more remarkable than the fact that Harris was named executive director of MACC Development before his 24th birthday, becoming one of the youngest executive directors in the local non-profit sector.

In the Community Development Corporation world, Harris's peers are more likely to be twice his age than they are to be anywhere near it. But it's his youth, Harris believes, that will only benefit the neighborhoods of the 48214, the zip code that is the focus area of MACC.

"It's the perfect time to start not only looking at the best practices, but the next practices," says Harris.

Challenge Detroit prepared Harris to take on MACC at such a young age, a sort of masters degree program in non-profit leadership and social impact work. The numerous projects in which he took part, the community leaders he met throughout the city, and the networks he was able to build all prepared Harris for leadership. And he's still involved with Challenge Detroit today, having just wrapped up a five-week challenge in which he led 42 Challenge Detroit Fellows working on community development in the 48214.

MACC has three focus areas: youth and education, housing and blight, and economic development. It's an economically diverse area that MACC represents. While the commercial districts of West Village continue to grow and attract new businesses, others, like the Pingree Park neighborhood, have yet to see the same level of development occurring on Agnes and Kercheval streets. Harris believes that instead of waiting for change, organizations like his must push for it.

It's one of the reasons he's so excited for The Commons, a 12,000 sq. ft. building located at 7900 Mack Ave. The Commons will be a laundromat, coffee shop, and community center all in one. A general lack of laundromats in the neighborhood is an opportunity for MACC to provide an obvious need for nearby residents. A coffee shop and the size of the space serve as a place for neighbors to meet casually or hold community meetings and other events.

Halfway through construction with a planned opening in the summer of 2017, The Commons is a business that works on multiple levels. It's an example of addressing the neighborhood's needs by asking residents what they want, rather than prescribing a solution on to them. Harris hopes it to be a domino that triggers a chain reaction of development along Mack Avenue.

"It's a risk to start any business, but it's even more of a risk to start a business in the area that we are," says Harris. "But at the end of the day, that's what non-profits should be about. We can't be afraid to take those chances because if not us, then who will?"

Name, title: Ezekiel Harris, Executive Director of MACC Development

Year MACC Development opened: 2010

What is one interesting job you held before running MACC: Years before I was at MACC Development I founded a crowdfunding start-up in Flint, Michigan. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people and learned how to fail and get back up.

Who's your favorite soccer player: Theirry Henry

One of your favorite things about living in Detroit since moving here: I love that Detroit is a big little city. It's incredible how in a few short months you can meet some of the most talented, passionate people working on some of the most interesting projects in the country.

Boots with a mission: Detroit non-profit launches footwear line manufactured by local veterans

It's been nearly two years since a chance meeting on the streets of downtown Detroit left Jarret Schlaff inspired and searching for a way to help empower homeless veterans. What resulted is Boots on the Ground, the non-profit arm of Pingree Manufacturing. The boot-making organization employs and benefits veterans, focusing on worker well-being rather than profit margins.

After months of wrangling designs and logistics, Schlaff and his line of multi-purpose urban utility boots, Boots on the Ground, will open its first round of pre-sales on Friday, November 11Veterans Day. With only 500 pairs available and around 2,000 orders already pledged, the first round of boots should go fast. Luckily for those interested in purchasing a pair, a successful first round of sales means that Boots on the Ground will be able to keep manufacturing and selling their boots well into the future.

Schlaff started Boots on the Groundand its parent company, Pingree Manufacturing, named after former Detroit mayor Hazen S. Pingreeout of a desire to address the difficulties many U.S. veterans face in finding employment. Currently in its beginning stages, Boots on the Ground employs two veterans on a part-time basis; more opportunities for employment will open up as the non-profit grows. All of the boot material is made in the U.S., including many Detroit-made materials, and the ultimate goal is for all of the materials to be made in Detroit and in a sustainable way.

The idea for Boots on the Ground arose out of a chance encounter. Schlaff was walking around downtown Detroit when he got in a conversation with a veteran seeking employment. Though he may have been homeless, that veteran was more than qualified for employment, possessing a masters degree in engineering. Inspired by their meeting, Schlaff decided that he was going to help that man and others like him.

"We want to create these jobs, we want to create employment for veterans. What can be handmade, what can we make? And I literally said this in a conversation, I said, what can be the boots on the ground in Detroit?" Schlaff says, snapping his fingers as the thought is triggered. "And then I said: boots."

Armed with good intentions but a lack of know-how, Schlaff began to research manufacturing boots. He was told that it couldn't be done. Production would have to occur abroad if they were going to keep the boots affordable. But thanks to some helpful partnerships along the way, Schlaff figured out how to make Boots on the Ground happen. He's put about $10,000 to $15,000 of his own savings and an additional $15,000 from donations into the project, he says. Schlaff estimates that Boots on the Ground has also received nearly $250,000 in in-kind services.

In starting Boots on the Ground, Schlaff says he's encountered a chicken-and-egg scenario. While there's been plenty of interest in the concept, Schlaff hasn't had the funds to get it off the ground. He's turned away investors because he doesn't want to give away equity and control. Also, investors haven't been incredibly interested in a worker-owned company that puts the emphasis on employee well-being over profit margins.

So Schlaff figured out a way to do it himself. Once the first round of 500 boots sell, Schlaff will take that money and operate Boots on the Ground full time, moving into a manufacturing facility connected to the Avalon Bakery building on Bellevue Street.

Instead of investors, it's been local partnerships that have helped Boots on the Ground get up and running. A storage facility in Pontiac has donated space. A retired engineer from Chrysler with a passion for shoes and a workshop in his basement offered his assistance. Southwest Solutions, Michigan Veterans Foundation, and local VFW halls are among those who have partnered with the organization. Bates Footwear of Rockford, Mich. has acted as a sort of mentor, and without asking for anything in return.

"How do we find a way? It's allowing for the best kind of collaboration, which is that relationships are our main currency. It's been a lot of volunteers, a lot of people seeing an opportunity to support our work without necessarily a return on funds," says Schlaff.

"We've gotten where we are because of the relationships we've built. It's inspiring."
 
Name and title: Jarret A. Schlaff, co-founder & CEO Pingree Mfg & Project Boots on the Ground

Years business has been open: 2

What is one interesting job you held before owning/running your own biz: In 2009 I worked for Senator Carl Levin in Detroit supporting veterans with their disability claims. I was introduced to the maze called the VA that veterans have to navigate and fight through to get the support they deserve.   

Favorite book: It's a tie between Ishmael by Daniel Quinn & 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell 

Advice for new non-profits: Anything is possible. Remind yourself at least once a day what you're committed to and what's possible because of you and your team's unique contribution. Embrace relationships as your primary currency and since we're all in this together, seek out opportunities to amplify the people, groups, and organizations around you doing good work without expecting anything in return.

How Canine to Five's Liz Blondy grew her dog daycare business from city to suburb

Liz Blondy has gone from zero to 250 dogs in eleven years' time. 

Owner of the Canine to Five dog daycare, boarding, and grooming company, Blondy has shepherded the business through a slow start on Cass Avenue in Detroit into a thriving company. She purchased a nearby pet grooming business, grew the Detroit location, and expanded with a second location in Ferndale. She's now ramping up for a 8,500 sq. ft. addition to the original Detroit facility. 

And she now has two dogs of her own.

It all started over a couple of drinks with friends. With no plans to start a business of her own, Blondy was content with her job as a business-to-business sales rep. But she had met some friends at a bar in downtown Detroit in 2003 and eventually learned that her friends dropped their dog off at a daycare facility in Farmington Hills every morning, a considerable distance from their homes in Detroit. 

Intrigued, Blondy went home and declared that she would open a facility in the city. After visiting a company in Canada and writing a business plan in November 2003, Canine to Five Detroit opened at 3443 Cass Ave. in May 2005.

"Fortunately, Canine to Five Detroit grew really, really slowly," says Blondy.

Having never owned a business or managed a pack of 100 dogs, Blondy is grateful for the slow start. Two dogs showed up the first day she opened, and she'd average about nine a day the rest of the year. In the second year, Blondy cared for about 18 a day. In the third year, Canine to Five averaged about 30 dogs a day. 

Blondy used that time to learn how to run a business; how to order office supplies, how to break up a dog fight, and how to manage a staff. Since Canine to Five is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, Blondy spent most of her time there those first few years, often sleeping and doing laundry at the building.

It took Canine to Five Detroit seven years to average 70 dogs a day. In contrast, it only took ten months to average 70 dogs a day in Ferndale. The Ferndale location was such an immediate success, in fact, that Blondy was already planning to move to a bigger facility within a year of opening in 2013. She left her lease at the 5,700 sq. ft. building on Hilton Road and purchased the 22,000 sq. ft. facility Canine to Five Ferndale now calls home at 1221 E. Nine Mile Rd.

"When I opened Canine to Five Ferndale, for the first six months, I was very hands-on there, too. But I quickly realized that I couldn't be spending 60 hours a week at Ferndale and still grow both businesses and serve as the COO of Detroit still," says Blondy. "Having good managers and a good supervisory team at both places has been really essential."

Blondy recommends taking existing employees to help open a new location. It's something that will help you grow, she says, stabilizing the expansion.

Having two locations has allowed Blondy to take lessons learned from each and apply them to the other. The slow start in Detroit gave her the time to find out how to run a business. And she says she's learned a lot from the Ferndale relocation, so she's now better prepared for the future Detroit expansion. The two Canine to Five locations now employ approximately 60 full-time and part-time workers that care for about 250 to 270 dogs a day.

Blondy has also learned that a business with a Detroit location and a suburban location are two different beasts. Each city has its own personality, wants, and needs. It's important not to treat the multiple locations with a one-size-fits-all approach. 

There is one thing, however, that needs to be the same.

"Both businesses can have very different personalities, but exceptional customer service has to be the constant between the two," says Blondy. "I'm not gonna try and have everything be super cookie-cutter because I want the locations to have different personalities. But I want, no matter what, the customer to feel good when they leave."


Gwen Jimmere makes all-natural hair care product and list of 100 influential African-Americans

LeBron James. Beyonce 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 that 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, Ohio. After attending Kent State University for both her undergraduate and master degrees, she was recruited by Ford Motor Company 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. You don't really have the luxury to doubt yourself," says Jimmere. "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.

This Detroit manufacturer is making pre-fabricated 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 pre-fabricating 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.

"Pre-fab is the answer," says McDonald. "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," he adds. "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 pre-fab is important to McDonald, the ultimate goal is to make buildings as energy efficient as possible—pre-fabrication 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 borne 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 Mt. 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.

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," says Hamood. "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 re-opened, 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 ten 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. 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," says Hamood. "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'"

Big gets bigger: September 6 jobs news roundup

Underwear is the answer at the Shirt Box

Frank Witsil of the Detroit Free Press asked the question, "How does a business grow when demand for its key product is shrinking?" A men's clothing store in Farmington Hills, the Shirt Box, has done just that. In an interview, co-owners Ron Elkus and Rod Brown explain how they've kept up with the times as demand for men's business fashion has waned over the decades. While dress shirts are still a focus, the Shirt Box has stayed relevant since opening 35 years ago by being at the forefront of changing fashions. One way they've done it? Start selling high-end, $30 underwear, a shift from the "tighty-whities" they first carried. [Detroit Free Press]

Size adjustments for garment growth in Pontiac  

In just one year since starting up, cut and sew manufacturer Detroit Sewn has grown from one client and one employee to 80 clients and 14 employees. In the beginning of 2017, Detroit Sewn will move to a 5,000 sq. ft. facility in downtown Pontiac, twice the size of its current building. The company expects to hire up to five new employees to complement the move. [dBusiness]

Big and getting bigger in Southfield

Metaldyne Performance Group, one of the world's biggest automotive suppliers, just got bigger. The Southfield-based powertrain components supplier has acquired Brillion Iron Works of Brillion, Wis. CEO George Thanopoulos says Metaldyne has completed ten acquisitions in the past ten years, consistent growth for a company ranked 76th in the top 100 global suppliers as put out by the Automotive News. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Quote of the week: "I love it." -- Bill Clinton, when the Detroit News asked his opinion of the city during a Labor Day parade down Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The former president marched in the parade and later spoke at the UAW Solidarity House on E. Jefferson Avenue. [The Detroit News]

Jobs news roundup: August 30 edition

Surf's up: the "China wave" crashes on Michigan shores

In an op-ed written for the Battle Creek Enquirer, Tom Watkins, president and chief executive of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, celebrates the recent opening of the Michigan-China Innovation Center in downtown Detroit. Chinese investment in the United States has created tens of thousands of jobs here and the Innovation Center will work to bring more of those jobs to Michigan. According to Watkins, "Michigan has nearly 200 Chinese-owned firms that contribute over $3 billion in foreign direct investment." [Battle Creek Enquirer]

Please, don't go

Inteva Products, a Troy-based auto supplier, is creating 77 new jobs, and perhaps 50 more, through its $23 million investment in an Adrian, Mich. plant. The Michigan Strategic Fund awarded the $1.27 million grant to woo the company away from threats of relocation to neighboring Indiana. [Plastics News]

Towing the line in Troy

Another Troy-based auto company, Horizon Global Corp., is growing to become an $800 million global player with the purchase of Germany-based Westfalia Group. The companies are big in the world of towing and trailering products and accessories, designing, manufacturing, and distributing the auto-related products. [Dbusiness]

Success at Southfield's Nexcess

The Southfield-based data center and web hosting services company Nexcess celebrated the opening of two new facilities next to its Melrose Avenue headquarters. The growing company, which has hired 42 new employees over the past five years, is doubling its presence in the city, expanding from its 13,000 sq. ft. facility to over 26,000 sq. ft. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Recent RenCen news

Franco Publication Relations Group has hired a new account manager, marketing specialist, and assistant account executive, drawing the three new hires to its Renaissance Center offices. Franco was founded in 1964 in Detroit and is Michigan's oldest independent public relations firm, the company says.

Numbers game: $245,150 – the average salary of surgeons in Michigan, topping the list of 100 highest paid jobs in the state. Journalist and editor failed to crack the top 100. [ClickOnDetroit]

Jobs news roundup: August 23 edition

Zen and the art of motorcycle sales

Motor City Harley-Davidson of Farmington Hills is growing and the dealership is revving up for the grand opening of its new $15 million facility this Friday, Aug. 22. At 106,000 sq. ft., the dealership is more than three times the size of its previous facility. And it's more than just a dealership. In addition to a showroom, the new Motor City Harley-Davidson complex will contain a brew pub, a gathering place for bikers of all stripes, and a riding academy complete with a state-certified road course. The new facility, located at 24800 Haggerty Rd., will employ 70 people. [dBusiness]

Mcity plays Pied Piper, lures Silicon Valley to Michigan

The TechLab at Mcity, the University of Michigan testing center for driverless vehicles, has inspired three Silicon Valley startups to move some of their employees from their California homes to the Michigan facility. One of those firms, Civil Maps, recently received a $6.6 million investment from Ford. Zendrive and PolySync round out the group, all three of which are developing different technologies to put driverless vehicles on the road. [Detroit Free Press]

Domino's pizza expands, yet neglects to bring back the noid

The Ann Arbor-based pizza company Domino's Pizza recently celebrated the opening of its 13,000th store worldwide, marking another quarter of growth for the company. Domino's execs credit a return to simplicity for the expansion. They've let go of "fancy models" in determining the location of new stores and started focusing on opening locations based on population sizes. Domino's has also developed technologies to make ordering pizza easier. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Tax law firm continues growth and hiring

For the third year in a row, the Southfield-based boutique tax firm Ayar Law Group has hired a new attorney and support staff for the growing company. Venar Ayar, principal and founding tax attorney for the firm, says that they're outgrowing their office for the fifth time. And they're not done yet. Ayar Law Group has already announced that they're seeking additional tax law attorneys to join the firm. Visit AyarLawGroup.com for hiring information.

Quote of the Week:

"A lot of industries in the U.S. died because they didn't continue to freshen themselves and continue to face what's next. I'd like to think that … the encouragement of the city, state and federal government have helped to keep the auto industry alive by not keeping it a captive of the past but by looking for the things to take it into the next generation."

- Fred Hoffman, recipient of the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award [Detroit Free Press]

Jobs news roundup: August 16 edition

Michigan jobs and the presidential election

Michigan jobs received national attention last week as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton visited Detroit and Warren, respectively, to tout their economic plans. Trump's speech at the Detroit Economic Club used Detroit's history of economic troubles to malign Democrats, while Clinton's speech at advanced manufacturing company Futuramic Tool and Engineering in Warren used that company's success as an example of the direction of manufacturing in the United States. [The Detroit News]

Lear may move jobs from Mexico to Detroit

Nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs could arrive to metro Detroit by way of Mexico, thanks to ongoing talks at the Lear Corporation. Conrad L. Mallett Jr., chief administrative officer for the Detroit Medical Center and board member of Lear, discussed the matter at the recent NeighborWorks Training Institute in Detroit. The international auto-supplier Lear is headquartered in suburban Southfield. [Detroit Free Press]

The biggest trend in Michigan jobs reporting lately isn't the creation of jobs or a jobs shortage, but the lack of a skilled workforce.

Short on workers

Sherri Welch writes that the Michigan agriculture industry faces difficulties in staffing many of the jobs required to keep the food stream running, from produce pickers to farm equipment mechanics. Much of this has to do with the more isolated, rural locations of farms, far from the population centers of Michigan, she says. [Crain's Detroit Business]

In a guest column for mLive, Chad Cushman, vice president of Owosso-based motorcoach business Indian Trails, Inc., scratches his head over the difficulties his and similar companies face in hiring drivers—and it's not for lack of trying. Cushman says the company offers paid training, competitive wages, and full benefits as part of its compensation package. Lisa Katz of Crain's agrees, writing that with more than 7,000 online job postings, truck drivers were the most in-demand occupation in the second quarter of 2016. [MLive.com]

Prominent public relations firm Berg Muirhead transitioning to new name and ownership

The transition seemed almost instantaneous. Last week Berg Muirhead and Associates was one of Detroit's most recognizable boutique public relations agencies. This week it has a new name, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, and new owners. But this change has been a longtime coming.

"It wasn't a quick turnover process," says Peter Van Dyke, CEO & co-owner of Van Dyke Horn Public Relations. "We have worked toward this slowly and carefully for the last five years."

Berg Muirhead and Associates is one of the household names in Detroit public relations. The company was founded in 1998 by Bob Berg, a public affairs advisor for former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, and Georgella Muirhead, a public relations administrator for the cities of Detroit, Southfield and Ann Arbor. The company built an enviable client list that included everything from Detroit Future City to Strategic Staffing Solutions to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Successful businesses like this are often built on the shoulders of their founders, and too often live and die with them. But Berg Muirhead/Van Dyke Horn seems like it has a better shot than most of surviving because it's been preparing for this moment for a long time.

Van Dyke started as an account executive at Berg Muirhead a decade ago, becoming an account supervisor a year after that. Five years ago Van Dyke made the move to vice president. He became a partner in the firm about two years later. Marilyn Horn, the co-owner and president of Van Dyke Horn, has been working at the company for even longer as director of administration before becoming a vice president in 2013. All four people became practically interchangeable over the last few years in preparation of this transition.

"Bob, Georgella, Marilyn and I work very close together," Van Dyke says. "If we can work closely together and leave each day as good business colleagues and friends, then we have something special going on."

That group of four will continue to work together. While Horn and Van Dyke are the new owners, Berg and Muirhead are staying on as "of counsel" senior staffers. The company's staff of nine will remain the same and continue to work in its offices in the Fisher Building in New Center. In fact, Van Dyke expects to hire another account executive or two before the year is over.

He and Horn have set a goal of raising the firm's annual revenue to $1 million this year. Van Dyke expects to announce new clients within a few months, and hints they many will come from developers building up the greater downtown area and the rest of Detroit.

"There will be a lot of growth in the next six months," Van Dyke says.

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Lawrence Hunt signs Tigers catcher endorsement to power brand growth

Lawrence Hunt needed a big name, but not too big, when it came to finding an endorsement for its clothing line. The name that fit that bill: James McCann.

McCann is the starting catcher for the Detroit Tigers, and just the right size of celebrity for the clothing startup: big enough to be known in Metro Detroit, which is where the company is trying to gain a foothold for its breathable-material clothing.

"Helping accelerate the brand's growth is the key," says Jeff Schattner, founder and CEO of Lawrence Hunt. "We wanted to find someone local so we can focus our growth on Metro Detroit."

Lawrence Hunt got its start a little more than a year ago making dress shirts for men that employ breathable material, like what's used in work-out clothes. The idea is to help keep the person wearing them cooler and limit the amount of sweat that sweeps through, while maintaining a professional appearance. An athlete like McCann appears to be a perfect fit for that.

It now offers six different styles of dress shirts, including four for men and two for women. All of Lawrence Hunt's clothing sales take place on the Internet. Schattner and his team are working to optimize the company's online profile to maximize its sales. They're also working to set up relationships with local boutique retailers and clothing distributors to increase their sales through traditional retailing channels.

"We want to start testing out the distributors and boutiques," Schattner says.

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

DC3 launches Detroit City of Design initiative

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) wants to help figure out how best to harness the Motor City's flair for design to improve its local economy, and it's launching the Detroit City of Design initiative to make that happen.

"We want to build a community vision for what the designers can achieve," says Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

This effort comes shortly after Detroit was recognized as an UNESCO City of Design, the first and only one in the U.S. The Detroit City of Design initiative's goal is to bring together design professionals in industry, academia, policy, and community to collectively build an innovative, equitable, and sustainable city through the power of design.

According to Stella, they'll ask and answer questions like, "What is unique about Detroit? What are our assets and opportunities?"

The Detroit City of Design initiative will take place over 10 years. In its first year DC3 wants to lay the groundwork for creating a common vision on how design can best impact the region. Specifically, organizers want to see how such a vision can boost Metro Detroit's economy.

Other cities with UNESCO City of Design designations have harnessed them for a variety of purposes. Since 2004, the creative sector in Buenos Aires has grown by 90 percent. It now makes up nearly 10 percent of the city's gross domestic product and employs nine percent (almost 150,000 people) of the city's workforce. Since 2009, Montreal has invested more than $225 million in public projects hosting 25 public design competitions that resulted in $17 million in revenue for the local design community.

DC3 hopes to make similarly big gains by harnessing the UNESCO designation.

"For us, it's about economic development," Stella says.

DC3 will host a series of events celebrating design in the Motor City throughout this year, including the annual Detroit Design Festival on Sept 22-24. The three-day citywide celebration of design has attracted more than 100,000 people the past five years.

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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