In the past two weeks, The Huffington Post has featured two notable Detroit residents/business owners, Torya Blanchard (owner of Good Girls Go to Paris) and Phil Cooley, co-owner of Slow's Bar BQ.
Below are their articles from the Huffington Post:
Detroit Creperie Rises From The Wreckage
Nathaniel Cahners Hindman
When Torya Blanchard was a child, she was caught shoplifting from a local store on the eve of a family trip to Paris. Given the timing of the transgression, her immediate grounding was all the more painful. Only good girls get to go to Paris, her mother told her. Crushed, Torya quickly cleaned up her act, but never forgot Paris.
As an adult, she took a job at a Detroit public school where she taught French for five years until her passion for Paris and its cuisine, sparked years before by her mother's slap on the wrist, finally bubbled to the surface.
Blanchard quit her job in 2008 at the age of 31. She cashed out her 401(k) and, without any business or restaurant experience, used the $20,000 to open up a tiny creperie in downtown Detroit. In the spirit of her mother's motto, Ms. Blanchard named it Good Girls Go To Paris.
Good Girls was born during a bad time in Detroit -- amidst abandoned factories, vacant commercial buildings, and homes that were either boarded up or bulldozed. The median home price in the city fell to $7,500 in December 2008 while the jobless rate jumped to nearly 50 percent over the next year.
Weak demand in the Motor City's sputtering real estate market enabled Blanchard to rent out space on the cheap. And her risky bet that the neighborhood would buy low-cost, high-quality crepes, a dish she says most locals had never even heard of, has paid off. Today, business is booming. Good Girls offers 40 different types of crepes, has expanded to a midtown location, and is about to open another spot.
"When I started out, [Good Girls] was 48 square feet and it's moved to 1,000 square feet. I have more employees, I'm able to give employees that want it insurance -- and I'm able to insure myself," Ms. Blanchard told Huff Post.
In the first installment of The Huffington Post's new video series on individuals who dove into entrepreneurship after losing or leaving their nine to five, we give you the story of Torya Blanchard and her Detroit creperie, Good Girls Go To Paris.
HuffPost's Greatest Person Of The Day: Phillip Cooley, Detroit Revitalization Advocate
Every day on HuffPost, we're highlighting one 'Greatest Person'- an exceptional individual who is confronting the country's economic and political crises with creativity, generosity, and passion. Today we're profiling Phillip Cooley, who after a successful career in modeling returned to his native Michigan, where he opened a local restaurant and launched a series of city revitalization projects.
For many, Detroit, known for its high unemployment rates and arguably dysfunctional local government, is the face of American urban decay. For Phillip Cooley, the young proprietor of Slows Bar BQ, a popular eatery there, Detroit is a city of opportunity.
Cooley, a former model who worked in places like Barcelona, Paris, Tokyo, and New York City, before moving back to Michigan to open his restaurant, bemoans the dearth of commercial options in his city: "Detroit is starved for commercial and small businesses," he says. "There's no Starbucks, and mostly mom and pop shops." But where Detroit lacks, he says, there is room for massive revitalization, for building businesses, seeding ideas, and, giving back on a very local level.
As the owner of his own small businesses, Cooley himself only works an actual 10-15 hours a week, which allows him more than enough time to volunteer. His current big project: transforming Detroit's Roosevelt Park. "We need more green space, more interacting with each other out of our homes," says Cooley of his focus on changing public spaces.
So far, $300,000 has been invested in landscaping, and another $200,000 went into creating a parking lot for the park. Another $50,000 has been raised so far for the next addition: a skate park that will consist of massive, skateable letters spelling out "Roosevelt Park." Slows has been a major financial donor (along with many others) for these projects.
Cooley also points to Detroit's Heidelberg Project, which promotes social change by transforming a previously crime-ridden neighborhood into what is now an art-covered tourist attraction (one house is draped with smiling stuffed animals, another painted with bright, multi-colored dots), as a prime example of urban renewal.
"The crackheads you once worried about when your children were walking to school are out of there because there's so much traffic," says Cooley. He helps out by organizing events and fundraisers to introduce new people to the project, making fliers, providing generators, and collecting purveyors for the annual street festival.
But, there are challenges. "Detroit is a huge city segregated by abandoned structures and abandoned lands, so connecting our city is very difficult," he notes.
Cooley currently sits on seven advisory boards, including the ACLU of Southeastern Michigan, The Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, and The Center for Community Based Enterprise. This is all in addition to co-owning Slows BBQ restaurant, and real estate and development firm, O'Connor (he founded both with his brother).
"I can't imagine leaving anytime soon," he says. "In a sense, this is utopia."