“In Detroit, everyone has more than one hustle,” says my trusty tour guide during my #MittenTrip to Detroit. By that, she means that seemingly everyone within the city limits of Detroit is multifaceted – a banker by day and a DJ by night, or a painter during the week and a waitress on the weekends. Just like anywhere else, bills have to be paid. In Detroit, however, HOW they get paid is sometimes a different story.
Detroit is, at its heart, a creative city. Driving through town, one can see broken down buildings covered in gorgeous murals. Odes to the city are everywhere – in back alleys, on overpasses, and in the middle of fields where houses once stood. Creative outlets are critical to any city, but in Detroit it’s a way of life. Folks sacrifice everything to create, and those same folks are the ones smiling as they set your plate of breakfast food down in front of you.
Stepping in to Northern Lights Lounge I met Jane, a sculptor who bartends for rent money on the weekends. She was happy as a clam and totally in her element, calling everyone ‘sweetie’ and pulling pints before her regulars even asked. By looking at her, you’d have assumed that she lives for pouring drinks. Upon further reflection, though, I found that she’d gone to art school and spent time working for the Detroit Institute of Arts before going out on her own. Regardless of her ‘day job,’ she’s able to maintain a comfortable, respectable lifestyle without selling out too much.
I was lucky enough to bum around Ponyride a bit while in the city, checking out the workspaces of some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in a city chockfull of ’em. I met Hernan at Anthology Coffee, who knew he wanted to work for the coffee shop before it was even able to hire a lot of employees. He hung out there and learned the trade until they could hire him, and now he’s an important part of their small team. Ponyride is a breeding ground for all things creative – from Floyd to The Dirt Label, Detroit Denim Co. to The Empowerment Plan, ideas are flourishing in the collective co-working space that has a waiting list of over 150 new startups looking for a home. What’s further is that no one, save for Hernan, was in the office on Saturday. The likelihood that every entrepreneur who heads up a startup at Ponyride is also working a service-industry job to supplement their businesses is high. Detroit Hustles Harder… because Detroit doesn’t have any other choice.
Detroit SOUP is working to facilitate the entrepreneur’s transition from dream to reality. This past weekend, SOUP raised its 100,000 dollar bill, each of which goes to sustaining an up-and-coming startup project by way of popular vote. In a city that is being built from the ground up, it is projects like SOUP and others that are paving the way from the back of the kitchen to the revitalization of the city.
The students from Illuminate Open Mic know this, too. Know Allegiance Nation, facilitated by the talented wordsmith Jamii Tata, is giving the youth of Detroit their own voice. While so much of Detroit is being rebuilt, projects like Know Allegiance are preventing the necessity of being rebuilt in the first place. Students as young as 12 are spitting lines into microphones, learning creative skills trades, and finding solace in one another and in themselves through their work at Illuminate and Know Allegiance.
At Eastern Market on Sunday, you’ll find more incredible entrepreneurs. Fresh ideas are created regularly and fostered by a city that is full of people who understand one another. Detroit can be construed as a hard city for some, but there are so many doing exactly what they love and showing others that it’s okay to love what you do to earn a living. Through passion, positivity, and progression, the city is becoming one of the most sought-after food, drink, culture, and bike destinations in the Midwest. Curiosity only goes so far, so I’m glad I got to take a look at the inner workings of a city that wears its heart on its sleeve.
And that, my friends, is the true reason why we suggest visiting Detroit. Not just because there’s great food to eat, but because the people who make the food are downright incredible. To me, traveling isn’t about experiencing places or things, but about experiencing the locals who make their cities what they truly are. The people bring the passion and that’s what makes a city worth fighting for. Head to Detroit for a vacation and come away with your mind refreshed and your spirit renewed – I know I did.