I Am Young Detroit was a startup focused on exploring and promoting the local community of Detroit, established by Margarita Berry. It has since evolved into I Am Young America, with a different focus.
I wrote these pieces for the launch of I Am Young Detroit.
Entrepreneur Profile: Kimo Frederickson
Kimo Frederickson is an entrepreneur in the Detroit area. He opened his business, True Body Fitness, in the hustling and bustling neighborhood of Corktown, Detroit. "It's really rewarding. It's very cool, and I'm lucky to be in a field where I get to help people, so it's a positive environment, you know. I may be selling a service, but it's something that I really believe in."
Kimo started getting into personal training in his 20s. Being overweight growing up and into his teens, he decided he wanted to change his lifestyle. He got really into being healthy and fit, and wanted to help other people achieve their goals of being healthy and fit. When someone makes the decision to make a change in their lifestyle, it's an invigorating experience to work with someone who can relate to what they're going through on several different levels.
Have you ever met someone that made you feel like you've known them for a long time? That's the sort of vibe that Kimo gives off. The atmosphere in his facility is welcoming and full of hope — traits that exude from him as well. Even Batman, the tiny chihuahua that he saved from the streets, wags his tail enthusiastically like the little canine ball of joy that he is. Within moments, Batman was on my lap, as if we went way back.
When Kimo first started training people, he was at a big, corporate gym which he absolutely hated. "It had no life to it. It was more about money. So I started out on my own five years ago and slowly climbed my way up here!" His modestly is humbling and his integrity is uplifting. Right now, his place is set so that the left side is dedicated to group fitness, while the right side is dedicated to personal training. He's hoping to expand up a floor. There are two other trainers that work in his space, as private contractors. It makes it easier for people to come and go naturally.
"I just kind of work by the philosophy, if you work your butt off, everything will work out," he laughs contagiously. Going from just being a personal trainer to doing all of the business stuff too has taken a slight toll on his availability, but he handles it with complete grace and care. When asked if he thought about expanding, he said, "I'd love to just keep working with the community, and see how that evolves. It would be cool to take the feedback and keep creating pockets. I'd love to create a health and wellness neighborhood where we had acupuncture, massage, fitness and the like. It would be cool, you know, we have the same thing for cars where you go and get your oil changed and engine tuned up, it would be cool to have that place for people."
Kimo loves what he does, and it comes across with every word he speaks. Originally from Brighton, he has transformed into one of the most passionate Detroiters I've ever met. His passion for helping people become the best possible versions of themselves is unparalleled. It's no wonder true Body Fitness has already grown so much, so fast.
Restaurant Profile: Brooklyn Street Local
A married couple from Toronto have graced Detroit with their presence — Jason Yates and Deveri Gifford (pictured below). Located on Brooklyn Street in Corktown is an adorable little diner with tastes that will delight any native Canadian's palate, using local ingredients and products that are organic, natural, and heart-warming. When speaking with local entrepreneur, Kimo Frederickson, he divulged how much he was in love with this place, and I had to check it out. One of his favorite parts about it, besides the tasty food, is the fact that it's a Mom & Pop shop. "You know it's assisting a family," he said, "rather than a corporation where all the hard workers don't get anything and it's a guy you never meet that's making out."
Before I made my way to this trendy new spot, I decided to check out their online presence. I noticed right away that several of my friends had already been there. Fortunately, my friends are those people that always take pictures of their food, so I was able to get a sneak peek of what I might be getting. Then I looked at their menu, which they also had online. It was all I could think about until I went the next day to check it out.
It was a Saturday, so they were open from 9-3. A friend came with me, and we found a great parking spot. Upon entering, I noticed a friendly staff and customers enjoying themselves. We sat down and were promptly asked if we'd like anything to drink. We each got water and coffee, which happened to be from the Great Lakes Roasting Company, a local micro-roaster of certified, specialty grade coffees. My guest had to leave for a few minutes, so I occupied myself with some homemade scones. They were accompanied by two ramekins, one filled with Peach Rosemary jam from Slow Jams in Grosse pointe and the other with a creamy lemon curd.
These scones were small, round, soft and crumbly, compared to the larger, triangular, dry and flaky scones i'm used to, and I assumed I would be disappointed. But I gave 'er a go anyway, applying some of the Peach Rosemary spread and was pleasantly surprised at the lightness and integrity of the scone. The chunks of peach in the jam made each bite truly authentic and I couldn't get enough of it. For my second scone, I dove head first into the lemon curd. It was cool, with a texture that was the median of pudding and custard, I may have even hummed in delight. I don't know. I was lost in that lemon curd.
Soon after I finished, and after at least a pot of coffee (these people understood my need for a permanent caffeine drip), my guest came back. I thoughtfully left a scone for him to try out, and just enough of each yummy spread. I told him to start with the Peach and finish with the Curd. He experienced the same amount of glee I did, and I instantly felt guilty for devouring two and only leaving him one, but my mood shifted back to excitement when one of our fine caretakers came back to take our next order.
I ended up ordering Jay's Grilled Cheese (made with sharp cheddar and apple compote on local artisan bread from Avalon Bakery), made it my own by adding ham and caramelized onions, and a side order of poutine (hand-cut french fries, mushroom or beef gravy, and cheese curd). I asked for my gravy on the side.
Now, growing up along the St. Lawrence River, poutine was a part of daily life. And being French Canadian, perhaps it's in my blood to love this stuff. I had been disappointed in the past with Detroit's version of poutine (Get outta here, Disco Fries!), but knowing these people came from Toronto, my hopes were high. Especially after my scone experience. My partner-in-crime threw all his chips in and got the large bowl of poutine.
When it all came out and was set in front of us, my eyes grew wide with excitement. Everything looked so beautiful and we had a bit of fresh fruit on our plates as well. We dug in. We looked at each other. We nodded. this was it. It'd been years since I've been back home, and every taste bud in my mouth decided to time travel. Even my sandwich teased my yearning palate with a killer sharp cheddar and apple compote that tasted like childhood in autumn. The ham was thick and flavorful and the caramelized onions completed the nostalgic symphony in my mouth.
Needless to say, I was a happy Tash. My friend finished his bowl an impressed and happy man, enthusiastic about what he is going to try the next time he goes back. We finished up, paid our bill, and were on our way. I took a moment to finish my coffee and write them a quick note to hopefully brighten their day as much as they did mine and left it on the table. We walked out, beaming with satisfaction, smiled and said good-bye. The rest of my day was even more inspiring and wonderful than usual, and I can't help but think that it had something to so with Brooklyn Street Local.
Entrepreneur Profile: Andy Didorosi
Andy Didorosi is a social entrepreneur in the Detroit area. He has several businesses/projects including Paper Street, Detroit Bus Company, Thunderdrome Racing Series, Wireless Ferndale, and even a liquidation company! He started working when he was sixteen, buying and selling auction cars. He would buy them really cheap and spend a long time fixing them up and sell them for a lot more online through Craigslist. At the same time, he'd be working at a little Italian restaurant, bussing tables, but realized it wasn't for him. "I'm a terrible, terrible employee," he says, "I could never work for anybody ever again." Detroit is better off with him doing his own thing anyway, because he's filling in the gaps that the city has failed to.
"It was really obvious if you use your intelligence and, you know, like a clever gimmick, then you can turn some money into a lot of money. It all made sense when I fanned out the money from the first car that I sold. He continued this path and progressed into racing cars, which he still builds and races today. For a little while, he was renting out an airplane hangar at the Detroit City Airport for $300 a month, but was kicked out for non-aviational use. "The FAA kicked us out, which is a really scary letter to get."
One of the first companies he started was Paper Street Motors, which is now known as just Paper Street. He launched this in early 2010 as his art and business incubator. He started out in a big building filled with workshop spaces, holding classes, and doing special events and all kinds of things just to facilitate small businesses and entrepreneurs around Ferndale and Southeastern Oakland County. Paper Street has now expanded into two more buildings just this year. One in Ferndale and one in Detroit.
In January 2012, Andy read "Detroit Light Rail is Dead" in a headline. "I was just super dismayed, because you know you heard about Light Rail and everyone in the city went, 'Awesome!' and 'Cool!'." There was a prospect of the Woodward Corridor coming alive again, just like back in the old days. "I firmly believe the main argument for killing Light Rail is hat there wasn't much of a demand for it, and I also firmly believe that Light Rail would have been enough of a sign of the future to come that it would have generated its own demand." So he took matters into his own hands. He bought a bunch of busses and gave it a shot, calling it the Detroit Bus Company. Right now, they're running Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30 PM to 2:30 AM. There's one bus running right now, but they're working on painting the second bus. "The second bus is already going online and it's really going to be nothing like anyone's ever seen." The best part? It's essentially a hybrid public/party bus. It's BYOB and it connects all the cool spots downtown. They're going to have another bus that connects Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hamtramck and Detroit. Basically, doing what Light Rail should have done!
His side businesses are all about helping people as well. Wireless Ferndale provides free wireless internet to downtown Ferndale. "Internet is like air or water. Everybody should have it. It's this incredible communication network that's totally easy to use, and you can access super cheaply, but the cost of internet right now is prohibitive." At a price range of $40-$50 per month, many people can't rationalize a purchase like that, but Andy believes that eventually it will be a public service. The world could really use a few more of Andy! Another great aspect of this movement is how he sees it growing. They have a network of routers, where if one router drops out, the others fill in the gap. "We're going to have a program set up where people can buy additional routers and submit their own home internet to build the network further so hopefully we can wire-up all of Ferndale and then use that model to create maybe a Wireless Corktown or Wireless Midtown, or something like that.
His liquidation company, BuildingMinder, helps businesses that are downsizing get rid of assets and turn them into cash.
As Andy speaks of his business ventures and munches on his chicken and waffles, I listen intently while snacking on my sweet potato fries. I'm amused and fascinated by his stories, and am continually impressed by his ambitious nature. He was featured in Crain Detroit's 20 in their 20s in 2011, and received the Spirit of Detroit award this past Spring. When asked how he keeps track of everything, he replied, "The businesses I somehow keep all organized, but having a supply of clean underwear is the most difficult thing for me, so I end up buying new bulk bags of underwear, because I'm really terrible at the small things in life like keeping my apartment clean, or keeping my Comcast bill at home paid… like, they keep turning it off. It's not a lack of money, it's jus an over focus on my businesses and not on life." It's okay, Andy, we forgive you. Just keep on doing what you're doing, and remember to pick up more underwear before you run out!
Favorite Spot Profile: The Velodrome
When speaking with Local Entrepreneur, Andy Didorosi, he mentioned one of his favorite places: the Velodrome. In October of 2010, his partner, Ben Wojdyla and him came across an old racetrack on the East side, buried by sod. They spent a month excavating and ended up uncovering the track, and rediscovered it for a new generation. The original track was created in 1969 for an international competition. In the 80s, car gangs held illegal races at night, causing much damage to the track. Since it was too costly to repair, in the 90s they decided to abandon it and build another Velodrome in the 'burbs, in Rochester Hills. Now, back at the original site, it hosts a series of badass racing events, enthusiastically called The Thunderdrome.
They plan on developing a non-profit conservancy so they can raise money that's tax-deductible to completely rebuild the park. It's a 34-acre park that's dangerous, filthy, overgrown, and despite all of that, the neighborhood kids still play in it. As the responsible and passionate people that Andy and his team are, they go every week and mow it, maintain it and take good care of it.
In 2011, The Thunderdrome held four very successful events, and will be having two large events in 2012. According to their website, "The Thunderdrome! isn't your average race: it's loose, it's raw, and it's for people who take their cornflakes with a little bit of rocket fuel. You have to be a little weird to like it — but that's what makes it good!"
Entrepreneur Profile: Jacob "Jay" Rayford
Jacob "Jay" Rayford is a social entrepreneur in the Detroit area. His business "Rep Your City" is a prime example of this. To say his passion is infectious would be an understatement. If you take a few moments to stalk him on various social networks, you'll understand how invested he is in promoting positivity within Detroit.
Growing up in Detroit, Jay attended Frank Cody High School, graduating in 2001. He then went on to study at Wayne State Community College, Davenport University, and Full Sail University. He was also gone about four years before he came back to Detroit, exploring other states like Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
He was set up with an internship with GM, while only a Junior in High School. Ironically, not having a car, Jay was forced to take the only other means of transportation: the city bus. "I would have to leave my house at 5:00 AM just to make it to work by 8:00 AM." His positive spirit was alive with determination even at such a young age. He was also part of the National Vocational Technical Society. Being a part of that got him the City of Detroit award, while still a High School student.
Everything he did in vocational school set him up for a lucrative career in engineering, which he pursued for a short while, before deciding to make his mark on Detroit even larger and giving back to the community that shaped who he is today. Even though he has his engineering career to fall back on, he doesn't see himself in those shoes again. He wants to make a direct impact on Detroit, and engineering just isn't in the cards.
Jay's not satisfied with going through the motions. Fear doesn't control his actions, hope does. He's experienced enough of life's sick jokes to understand that even a sure thing can fall apart. He understands that taking risks is beneficial to leading a successful and happy life, and he will stop at nothing to spread his message. "I'm not saying I want my name in lights or anything like that. I just want to be, you know what I mean, I want to be a part of something that's bigger than me."
He loves to let people know what's happening in Detroit. Being part of something bigger than himself is what drives Jay forward in both his life and his quest to unite all of the forces of good in Detroit. He created a movement called "Social Sushi" which acts as a social hub for all of the circles and efforts that are working on making Detroit all that it can be. He recognizes all of the separate efforts in the city and unites them with their common love of Detroit and sushi. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #SocialSushi, or simply search "Social Sushi" on Facebook to be connected with the group and find out when it's happening next!
Another interesting effort that Jay is working on is his Community Loyalty card. It's essentially a punch card that Detroiters carry around with them to participating local businesses, ending up in deals and discounts. He feels that the deep discount sites end up hurting local businesses, and that this is a way to keep things at a completely local level and any money saved or spent goes directly back into the community, instead of a corporation's pocket that's not even based in Detroit. "It's a way for us to reward citizens for supporting local places." When asked about the possibility of a mobile app, he was open to the suggestion, as he'd already thought about it, but when it comes down to it, the punch card is the only way everyone can be involved, since not everyone has a smart phone.
Finally, his biggest project and business, "Rep Your City" is a site geared toward giving back to your community using his five point system of Community, Talent, Business, Youth, and Opportunity. His goal is to have it be the home for everything that best represents your city. His hope is that it will increasingly promote local talent, businesses, and organizations. You can check it out at RepYourCity.com!
Jay Rayford's relentless optimism is inspiring. It's no wonder he's been asked to speak in front of students and adults alike. After a conversation with him, you feel like you could take on the world! Keep an eye out for this guy. He's making more than waves in Detroit; he's making a tsunami.
Restaurant Profile: 1917 American Bistro
When speaking with Social Entrepreneur, Jacob "Jay" Rayford, he mentioned one of his favorite places to eat: 1917 American Bistro, which is nestled between 7 Mile and 8 Mile on Livernois. He spoke so highly of it, that I had to check it out. The restaurant opened in 2009 by Don and Katrina Studvent. It seemed to exist in some sort of oasis. A friend and I got a perfect parking spot and headed on in. We were greeted right away and asked where we'd like to sit. We chose the upstairs patio — anytime we can eat outside, we do. There's just something about the fresh air. On our way through the restaurant, I noticed brilliant artwork on the walls — all done by local artists (one of Jay's favorite things about this place). We sat down, were handed menus, and placed our drink order.
Some might say the menu is limited, but to my guest and I, it included just the right amount of variety. We ordered the Sampler Platter to start. It was good for an appetizer, but it was really no more than glorified bar food. Now, the entrees, that is a whole different matter. I ordered the Shrimp Scampi over a bed of wild rice and a grilled zucchini/squash/onion mix. It was succulent. Even the rice was spectacular. No grain went uneaten!
My friend opted for the Blackened Catfish with a side of steamed broccoli and the same grilled veggie mix that I did. Someone made a mistake along the way and gave him smashed potatoes instead of steamed broccoli, but the situation was fixed hastily and with grace. Since we weren't going to let the smashed potatoes go to waste, we shared them and were equally impressed with the creaminess and amount of flavor they possessed.
To top it all off, they were out of their famous Chocolate Obsession dessert, so we shared a slice of Deep Dish Cheese Cake drizzled with a small amount of chocolate. It was an exquisite specimen that almost put me over the edge.
Beyond the great food, 1917 American Bistro offers happy hour deals and live entertainment, including open mic nights and jazz nights. All in all, I left the bistro content and inspired. That's not something I can say about many places! Surely, this establishment will remain a part of the Detroit community for a long time to come.