Business

By Ingrid Sjostrand

SOUL FOOD HAS GROWN TO BE A FOUNDATION IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN COOKING and a staple of Southern meals. After moving to Michigan, George and Martha Clay saw a need – especially when friends urged Martha to cook for them – so they opened carryout-only Motor City Soul Food in March of 2001 on 7 Mile Rd. in Detroit.

 “My wife is a native of Mississippi and I was born in Alabama. Soul food was our everyday way of living. It is what we were raised on and what we prepared every day,” George Clay says. “Soul food has a generational, multi- cultural bond – it transcends age, ethnicity, race, socio- economic background, education, gender and time.”

 The couple had years of experience as entrepreneurs, running businesses ranging from custom casual clothing and real estate to an ice-cream shop and it was quickly obvious that Motor City Soul Food was going to be anoth- er successful venture. Everyone from Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel – who featured the restaurant on his show Bizarre Foods America in 2012 – to comedian DL Hughley have raved about Motor City Soul Food.

 “We were voted #1 fried chicken by Thrillist magazine earlier this year,” Clay says. “We were the only restaurant that represented the great state of Michigan on this list.”

 After more than ten years of success in Detroit and help running the business from their son Scott, Motor City Soul Food expanded in 2013 to a second location in Oak Park, located at 24790 Greenfield Rd. It is also cafeteria- style ordering and carryout-only.

 “One of the biggest reasons we chose Oak Park is because of the great location. We are near the I-696 freeway which brings customers from Eastside Detroit and Detroit suburbs as well as customers that live further west.” Clay says. “One of our favorite things about Oak Park are the diverse customers we encounter. We serve people from all walks of life and are inclusive of everyone.”

 On top of their nationwide-famous chicken wings, dinner options include turkey wings and pork chops. But the real soul food experience – and the items you aren’t going to find anywhere else – are in the food like Neck Bone, Ham Hocks and Ox tail. You couldn’t call Motor City a soul food restaurant without the side item choices of tender collard greens, okra, sweet black-eyed peas, candied yams and macaroni and cheese – which has a crisp, golden top coat and seasoned kick of paprika. Of course each dinner comes with a cornbread muffin too.

 “Our menu is literally anything that you could want for any holiday, any social event, when you need comforting or just want something delicious and homemade,” Clay says. “Soul food is a comfort, down home, good tast- ing meal – it includes a deliciously-seasoned meat and always includes a starch. Often, my wife will prepare items that aren’t on the menu because she has a taste for it. My wife is an awesome cook!”

 Other menu options include fish, like their crunchy, cornmeal-coated catfish, and hot sandwiches, including a meatloaf one. It may be hard to fathom eating more after such hearty dinners, but the dessert is worth it. In addition to banana pudding, Motor City Soul Food makes sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and 7-Up pound cake, a moist, delicious treat that brings back memories of childhood.

 Both locations are open seven days a week from 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. and offer in-store and off- site catering available through their website, www.officialmotorcitysoulfood.com.

 “Our customers should expect to be served a quality-made product prepared fresh daily and served hot for their enjoyment,” Clay says. “We are a family owned-and-operated restaurant. We do our best to provide quality products and service to our custom- ers because we are all family.”

 

By Ingrid Sjostrand

CREATING CONNECTIONS AND BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS ARE SOME OF THE BEST WAYS to grow your company, but it can be difficult to meet other business owners and generate new sales.

That’s where TradeFirst comes in.

Fred Detwiler, president and CEO of the company, explains, “We are a trading or barter company; we act as a marketing agent to help companies buy and sell their products and services based on the reality that companies can sell tomorrow but you can’t sell yesterday.”

Barter companies allow members to exchange their services with other companies without the use of cash and to reach business owners they might not typically meet. But how does that play out in the real world? Detwiler provides a recent example, of which he has many.

 WE HAD A LEAK IN OUR ROOF AND THE ROOFER CAME OUT AND SAID, ‘Fred, we’ve had a million dollars’ worth of trade from you guys in the last number of years, which is good, but the best part of it is I’ve gotten three million dollars of cash because of that’,” he says. “’I would do a roof for one of your trade companies and right next door is a tool-and- die shop who isn’t a trade member because they don’t have anything to trade but they have the same roof as their neighbor so they hire me. I’ve gotten three-to-one cash to trade just from trade and that’s business growth.”

TradeFirst has over 5,000 members and office locations in Toledo, Ohio, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and their Oak Park headquarters at 23200 Coolidge Hwy.

“You join TradeFirst and get instant access to clients and business owners,” Detwiler says. “The business owners will give good referrals, you’ll have access to all those people and you’re getting income you wouldn’t have had before. You redeploy that cash more efficiently and you’re creating referrals.”

TradeFirst was founded in 1978 under the name Michigan Trade Exchange after Detwiler saw how he could expand upon the one-on-one trading he used working in radio advertising. The station often made deals with restaurants exchanging radio ads for meal credits to use with sales clients.

“I knew the benefits of one-on-one trade but it was limited because after a while the restaurant said, ‘I like radio time but I also need my menus printed, my grease traps cleaned and the roof repaired’,” Detwiler says. “When I was introduced to the ‘round-robin’ concept – where company A can buy from company B and B from C and so on – a light bulb went on. I was 27 when I left the radio business and started this trading company; we subsequently signed up a lot of radio stations because it was a natural, and now we have thousands and thousands of companies as clients.”

AS TRADEFIRST CONTINUED GROWING in the early 1980s, Oak Park was a natural fit for their headquarters. Detwiler’s family even has a historical connection to the city: his great uncle Harold Tanner founded the WLDM radio station and built its radio tower in Oak Park in 1948.

“When looking at the whole metropolitan area we found that Oak Park was at the center of it all. We have account people that service from Ann Arbor to Mount Clemens to Downriver to Grosse Pointe to Detroit to Rochester and we are about a half-hour from everywhere,” he says. “We liked the area and were looking to buy a building because we were expanding, and this made sense.”

For more than 40 years, TradeFirst has grown their network of businesses, but has seen the challenges of an ever-changing landscape.

“It is particularly tough in the current environment. Not only do you have all the struggles of running a business – regulations, taxes and all the other stuff – you’re also fighting against the big box stores and chains and the Internet which is taking a lot of business away from local customers,” Detwiler says.

HE ATTRIBUTES THE CONTINUED AND GROWING SUCCESS OF TRADEFIRST to the employees they’ve hired; some of which have been with the company for close to 40 years.

 “You look at restaurants, they all serve food but the successful ones have a better chef and I think we have a better chef; we put together the right combination of customer service and people,” Detwiler says. “We’ve always had our own technology platform and developed our own software, which has been instrumental in tracking and marketing, and I think we have a commitment to helping our clients try to maximize what they get out of trade.”

The loyalty of businesses using TradeFirst is even more proof of their success.

“We have a powerful network of businesses and probably the most fun is that not only do we have employees that have been with us for 39-40 years, we have clients that are going into multiple generations,” Detwiler says. “It’s fun to see we are all helping each other. That’s one of the more satisfying things: Watching businesses and people grow.”

By Sara E. Teller

Photos By Bill Gemmell

ALEX WASEL OPENED ALASKA FISH & CHICKEN in Oak Park in 2012. “I had a dream to open my own place after working in a fish market with a friend of mine,” he said. “I got to know how to manage everything then and I knew I wanted to have my own business.”

Right from the beginning, Wasel and his staff worked hard to keep their customers happy, and they now have many regulars who stop in “six or seven days” a week, according to the owner. This has to do in part with Wasel’s customer-oriented, close-knit team who truly understands the market. The food is cooked-to-order and served fresh daily, too, which makes Alaska a unique experience for those who appreciate high quality chicken and seafood.

“All of our seafood and other dishes are always fresh,” Wasel said. “And everyone loves working here – we’re like a family, and we take care of our customers. We’ve gotten the hang of everything here in Oak Park and have our operation under control. We are very busy.”

SOME FAN-FAVORITES INCLUDE Alaska’s jumbo shrimp, snow crab, and fried lobster tail. There are many types of fish available, too, either separately or in combos, including tilapia, cod,perch, catfish, whiting, pickerel, bass, and orange ruffy, among others. Chicken options include wings and tenders along with breasts, legs, things and even gizzards. Family combos are available, and Alaska offers a tempting dessert menu. There are ten cheesecake options to choose from, including specialty slices such as peach cobbler, sweet potato, and superman, as well as six traditional cakes by the slice, including chocolate, caramel, velvet, lemon, pineapple, and coconut. Overall, Alaska Fish & Chicken has something for everyone and is able to cater to a wide variety of dietary preferences.

“When people come in here and try our seafood, they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Wasel said. “They love how fresh it is and how we’re able to make it just the way they like.”

He added, “I had some friends come in here from out of town and when they left, they told others about it. Now, the people they told now come here all the time. I also have someone who comes in every morning to get chicken.” Wasel laughed fondly, “He says he needs my chicken! We’re always busy.”

WASEL LOVES OAK PARK IN GENERAL. He first started in Highland Park in 2008, but said he wasn’t in a good neighborhood and decided he would need to relocate. When searching for a new spot, he stumbled upon Oak Park and knew that’s where he wanted to be.

Four years later, that dream would become a reality. And even though Wasel still currently resides in Hamtramck, he hopes to relocate in the near future to be closer to the community he serves. He said, “I love this city. It’s safe and everyone’s friendly. The City of Oak Park is great. They’re good neighbors to have.”

Wasel is quick to show his appreciation to both his staff and customers, too, understanding they are responsible for Alaska’s success. “I really appreciate all of our customers in Oak Park. And, I really appreciate my staff,” he said. “They know what they’re doing and work hard every day to ensure we’re taking care of our customers.”

Alaska Fish and Chicken is located at 3701 W Nine Mile Rd. and is open Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M. as well as Sundays 10:00A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Online delivery is available viaDoordash.com. For more information about the menu, call 248-556-0000.

By Sara E. Teller

PETER BOSANIC AND MICHAEL KULKA STARTED PM ENVIRONMENTAL in Lansing, Michigan in 1992 after graduating from Michigan State University and working as project managers at a large Midwest geo-environmental firm.

The company began with “a single truck and business cards” as Bosanic and Kulka explained to area gas station owners the benefits and state incentives for underground storage tank manage- ment and removal, and started offering these services. The company quickly expanded, adding service lines, staff, and equipment, and branching out well beyond the Lansing area.

Since its inception, PM has continued to expand and is now ranked number one by EDR ScoreKeeper in Michigan. It is also nationally recognized as a top-20 environmental consulting and engineering services provider, with 15 offices nationwide and seven in Michigan.

PM OPENED ITS OAK PARK LOCATION THIS YEAR after having outgrown its office and warehouse space right across the street in Berkley. The Oak Park location was able to offer an additional 9,000 square feet for its Industrial Hygiene and Site Investigation Services departments, which the company desperately needed. And having the two facilities close to each other is “a huge plus,” according to Wieber, who added, “The new space provides ample storage space for PM’s specialized sampling drill rigs and other equipment, including 15 vehicles and four trailers and creates a secure and controlled environment for crews to dispatch from each morning.”

She said PM Environmental serves a wide range of clients, helping both businesses and individuals. She states, “We serve banks and credit unions, lawyers and developers, petroleum and industrial clients. Anyone who is investing in or redeveloping commer- cial real estate requires our services. Having an expansive amount of services allows us to be involv- ed in many aspects of a single project and see a project through from start to finish.”

The company currently offers environmental site assessments, site investigation services, remediation, underground storage tank management, economic incentives consulting, property condition assessments, and industrial hygiene services, and has been responsible for securing brownfield grant funding for major projects, including up to $6.5 million in reimbursable costs for the Iron Ridge development in Pleasant Ridge and Ferndale.

Wieber said, “PM prepared the approved brownfield and 381 Work Plan, securing up to $6.5 million in reimbursable costs associated with environmental assessments, due care responsibilities, demolition, asbestos abatement, site preparation, and infrastructure improvements.”

Four of PM’s clients were also recently awarded Environmental Project Agency (EPA) brownfield grant funding totaling $1.5 million, which only a very small percentage of projects are able to do each year. Wieber explained, “The process is highly competitive, with only 149 communities selected by the EPA this year. PM assisted these clients with their brownfield grant applications, which included collecting stories of the communities, researching data, visiting potential sites, interviewing stakeholders, and performing community engagement activities.”

WIEBER HERSELF HAS BEEN WITH PM ENVIRONMENTAL for four years, saying, “I started off as a Business Development Coordinator after working as a manager in retail for over five years. I eventually moved over into PM’s marketing department as the Assistant Marketing Director. A year later I took on the role of Marketing Director.”

She said the staff loves the community involvement of Oak Park and are amazed with the number of engagement activities the City offers. PM’s Oak Park location is part of the area’s up-and-coming Eleven Mile Rd. corridor, which is a prime spot to set up shop, and Wieber said, “We look forward to the upcoming developments.”

The Oak Park office is located at 15431 West Eleven Mile Rd. For more information, call 800-313-2966.

By Colton Dale

Photos By Bill Gemmel

In 2018, the City’s Economic Development and Communications Department, along with City Planner Kevin Rulkowski, took the step to rezone a portion of Eleven Mile Road from light industrial to mixed-use.

After extensive research and development of the new zoning ordinance district, the rezoning was passed by the Planning Commission, and eventually City Council as well. That stretch of Eleven Mile Road from Tulare Street to Gardens Street, once a relic of decades past when small indus- trial corridors were sustainable and manu- facturing ruled the day, is now attracting interest from restaurants, breweries, retail and more.

The new mixed-use zone is intended to do just that, in fact. Cities often rezone areas to mixed-use because they want to create an environment more conducive toward a more socially and economically connected neighborhood. Mixed-use zoning, which often entails retail, office, and restaurant space on the ground floor with the possib- ility of residential on the above floors, is known to create settings that are friendly to new businesses, new residents, and commuters of all kinds.

THIS MIXED-USE ZONE IN PARTICULAR permits a wide array of uses that weren’t allowed before, such as specialty retail, sit-down restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, art galleries and more. Special land uses, which require extra parameters before approval, include brewpubs, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and restaurants serving alcohol. The wide array of business types outlined in the ordinance have the potential to create a vibrant, inviting neighborhood for all.

This three-block area of Oak Park was perfect for rezoning not only because of the character of the architecture or the fact that many of the buildings are zero-setback buildings, but also because of the three large public parking lots that sit immediately behind this corridor. This gives an extra incentive to prospective new businesses. The lots currently offer over 300 parking spaces altogether, though they may see changes in the future that would not only make them better in terms of traffic flow but also increase the number of spots.

“This section of Eleven Mile was studied extensively as part of the 2017 Master Plan and has all the ingredients to create a special local neighborhood place,” said City Planner Kevin Rulkowski. “Here you will find interesting industrial building design, great potential outdoor dining venues, and densely populated neighborhoods from four surrounding communities within walking and biking distance of the new business district.”

SO FAR, THE CORRIDOR HAS ATTRACTED A NEW BREWERY to the area, thanks to the rezoning. River Rouge Brewing Company, currently operating in Royal Oak, is planning to open a second location under a new name at 14401 Eleven Mile Road, the site of a former cabinet manufacturer. The new brewery, to be called Unexpected Craft Brewing, will be the first of many new businesses in the area as the corridor transitions from light industrial to mixed-use. The brewery is scheduled to open in the late Fall of 2019.

When all is said and done, City staff expect the corridor to look like a mini-downtown, with a wide variety of businesses, beautiful and unique facades, and plenty of foot traffic. The City is also currently studying the feasibility of putting bikes lanes and green infrastructure on Eleven Mile Road, partnering with the cities of Berkley and Huntington Woods to do so. Such street improvements would only further add to the commuter-friendly and business-friendly environment that is to come.

By Sara E. Teller

SHELLBACK MANUFACTURING CO. is Hazel Park’s oldest manufacturing business. “We’ve been here for 85 years and Hazel Park hasn’t even been around that long,” said Office Manager, Colleen Lessnau. “The company was founded before Hazel Park became a city.” The pump maker, which ironically got its start due to some unfortunate personal circumstances on the part of its founder, was established back in 1934. It all started after Axel Nielsen and his wife, Marie, came to the United States from Denmark in 1928. Finally able to purchase their own home after years of hard work as a chauffeur, private cook and housekeeper for a local family, the couple settled into a small residence in Hazel Park. The home did not have a basement, prompting Axel to dig one. Unfortunately, it flooded soon after he had finished, and Axel could not find a sustainable solution. It flooded again and again until he realized he had to dig a crock.

Axel then went shopping for a sump pump, but when he took a close look at the device he thought he could probably build his own. So he picked up all of the components he’d need instead and assembled it at home. It worked! Apparently, Axel and Marie’s home wasn’t the only one in Hazel Park with a flooding basement and the couple soon started receiving requests from their friends, asking if Axel could make them sump pumps, too.

The Nielsens eventually had more orders for pumps than they knew what to do with and it became apparent the endeavor was a gold mine. Axel worked at General Motors during the day and assembled the sump pumps at night. Marie would paint them while he was at work. On the weekends, the couple began driving to hardware stores to sell their products. Finally, business grew so much that Axel quit his day job and officially started his business, incorporating Shellback Manufacturing Co.

“Axel was the original owner and he has the patent for the pumps,” Colleen explained. Now his son, William, is the owner.” William J. Nielsen, Axel’s son, is a United States Air Force veteran as well as a veteran of the Korean war. He has taken over the charge, keeping Shellback in the very same location in which it started all those years ago.

THE BUSINESS HAS, AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE, passed down to the Nielsens’ family members. “This allows for a personal touch in the daily operation of the company,” Lessnau said, explaining that the company’s family-oriented structure has probably enabled it to survive for so many years, “because during hard economic times, personnel could be adjusted easier.” Shellback also has a reputation for employing local residents. It continues to operate as an OEM repair shop for all types of home and industrial application pumps and pump mechanisms; manufacturing, distributing, and repairing its Torpedo Sump-less Sump Pumps and Laundry Tray and citing customer service as a top priority. Asked why being located in the heart of Hazel Park is ideal, Lessnau responded, “Employees can walk to work.”

Residents looking for a new pump or to service an existing one can contact Shellback Manufacturing Co. at 248-544-4600 or sbmfg1320@gmail.com, or just stop on by 1320 E Elza. The office is open 8:00 A.M.-4:30 P.M., Monday through Friday.

By Sara E. Teller

YOUNGBLOODS IS A BARBERSHOP AND MEN’S RETAIL STORE that sits at the former Phoenix Café location on John R. in Hazel Park. Husbandand-wife team Lyle Hayman Jr. and Angie Yaldoo officially opened for business in July 2018. Hayman and Yaldoo both have years of experience in their field – Hayman as a hair stylist and Angie as a retail and fashion guru. Hayman was formerly a stylist at the Berkley Chop Shop and Yaldoo was a manager of Incognito, a now-defunct Royal Oak boutique.

The “youngbloods” are excited to start their first venture together and blend their expertise to offer a unique experience for members of the community. Their shop is an eclectic mix of dark colors with pops of red and gold – a masculine, yet classy look with a touch of edgy rock n’ roll. On racks and shelves at the back of the store, patrons will find men’s hats, jackets, jeans, shirts, and accessories. The shop is lined with Straight to Hell apparel, which is inspired by music and culture and includes leather and denim jackets, animal prints, and more.

There’s even a line of all-natural, soy, handmade candles available in black and white. And, of course, at the front, the shop offers a wide variety of men’s hair styling products, including pomade, balms, and sprays.

Yaldoo explains, “We offer everything from haircuts and beard trims to men’s apparel, accessories, grooming products and candles.”

Hazel Park was a great place to establish because of the tight-knit neighborhood and ability to connect with residents. When locals walk in they’re looking to get to know and trust their stylist, so they can return time and again. Hayman was already wellknown around town and has maintained some of his Berkley clients.

“WE LOVE THAT HAZEL PARK ISN’T OVERRUN BY BIG CORPORATE CHAINS and individuality is still embraced. We also love the people! Everyone has been very welcoming and supportive,” Yaldoo said, adding that they chose the location because “we loved the energy of Hazel Park and the renaissance that is expected to happen within the city.”

Keeping with the vibe of the once prominent Phoenix Café, which was a place for residents to come out and listen to live music, the couple has incorporated music into their routine as well.

“We strive to provide an experience,” Yaldoo said. “It’s more than just a place to get your haircut or pick up a shirt. We recently hosted a show where a handful of bands played after hours. We hope to have other events and pop-up shops here as well.”

Hayman and Yaldoo believe they can offer something a large chain cannot. “Youngbloods is owner run and operated and the staff genuinely cares about their craft and their clients,” Yaldoo explained.

As far as the “experience” that kicks in as soon as patrons walk through the door, it’s one that is unique to the barber shop and boutique. It’s not simply about a quick haircut and shopping trip. “We love to have a good time,” Yaldoo said. “Come in and find out!”

For an appointment or to learn more about Youngbloods, stop by or call 248-629-6626 Tuesday through Friday between 9:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M. or Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Check out their Facebook, www.facebook.com/YoungbloodsBarberMenswear Boutique, and Instagram pages, @youngbloodsbarberboutique, to keep up with what’s happening.

By Maggie Boleyn

BILL HITCHCOCK KNOWS MORE THAN A THING OR TWO about Hazel Park and properties in the City. He and his family have lived and worked in this area since the 1940s.

Hitchcock is a certified real estate brokerage manager, and owner of Hitchcock Real Estate, also known as ReMax in the Park. Hitchcock Real Estate is one of Hazel Park’s oldest businesses. Hitchcock has been selling real estate for over 60 years, beginning by working in his father’s real estate business.

“My father started out in 1946,” Hitchcock said. The company has been in the same area ever since. Hitchcock himself began selling real estate in 1951. “I sold my first house when I was 15,” he recalls. The property was sold as a land contract, and Hitchcock typed up the sale paperwork himself. “My father didn’t type,” he said with a chuckle. Today, Hitchcock Real Estate is reported to generate an estimated $1,000,000 in annual revenues and employs approximately ten people at the Hazel Park location.

The Hitchcock family has been a long-time fixture in this area. The family moved to the Hazel Park area in 1941. Hazel Park was incorporated in 1942. Hitchcock is a product of the Hazel Park school system, and a graduate of Wayne State University.

The City of Hazel Park is currently undergoing exciting changes. The city’s story cannot be told without mentioning the Hazel Park Raceway. The Raceway opened in 1948 and was instrumental in the city’s growth. By providing a hefty chunk of tax revenue, the Raceway supported Hazel Park’s finances for many years. The landmark clubhouse, stables, and track at 10 Mile and Dequindre have been torn down, making way for new growth. Now, with the Raceway only a fading memory, current development on the property includes one of the largest buildings in Oakland County. “I remember when that corner was the trash yard for Highland Park,” Hitchcock says.

Now, as in the very early days of the city, Hazel Park is an economical alternative to living in nearby cities. “The town is growing, and schools are improving,” Hitchcock points out.

Hitchcock has served as the chairman for the Downtown Development Authority since its inception, more than 40 years ago. He says that present plans include a bond sale to finance resurfacing of John R and Nine Mile roads. Hitchcock says plans for John R include narrowing the road at certain points. He says this will help local businesses currently located on John R, and will serve to attract new businesses to Hazel Park.

HITCHCOCK ALSO SERVES AS CHAIRMAN FOR THE PROMISE ZONE, which helps finance college for Hazel Park High School graduates. “The Promise Zone is a unique thing in this area,” he said. Scholarship grants have blossomed from approximately $500,000 in the first year to $6.1 million dollars. Hitchcock credits City Manager Ed Klobucher with the rise in recent building developments as well as the increase in Promise Zone scholarships.

There are many qualities that make Hazel Park a one-of-a-kind place to live. There is a strong spirit of volunteerism in Hazel Park. Time and again, since the city’s founding, residents have pitched in to improve the city. “Volunteers have made Hazel Park what it is,” Hitchcock says.

As the city’s website notes: “Hazel Park has proven itself to be adaptable to change and will continue that tradition in the coming years. “

Hitchcock Real Estate, which also operates under the name ReMax in the Park, is located at 22200 John R Rd in Hazel Park.

By Sara E. Teller

KERI VALMASSEI HAS HELD THE TITLE OF DIRECTOR at Madison Heights/ Hazel Park’s Chamber of Commerce for six years. Asked to describe what her position entails, she said, “A lot of hats. Lots and lots of hats. I’m an ambassador, event coordinator, counselor, marketer, promoter, welcome-wagon, connector and more plus cleaning service and secretary. Directors do a lot of things under the umbrella.”

Regarding what the Chamber does, exactly, Valmassei said, “The Chamber of Commerce is here to promote local business. We do this through arranging networking events, publicity, making introductions, and general promotion. The Chamber is the only place where you can get a marketing team at a fraction of the price you’d pay an agency. And no one knows our communities better than we do!” She added, “The Chamber of Commerce is valuable to residents because we provide a trusted lineup of providers that has been vetted, so consumers know they can trust our members.”

The Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce is governed by a Board of Directors, with execution by a Director. According to its website, it is “dedicated to promoting business and provides lines of communication with the cities.” It also “encourages and sponsors civic activity.” The Chamber is responsible for coordinating the annual State of the Cities address, where community members can get a playback of the previous year as well as hear what’s planned for the current year from community leaders.

Members of the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce include an eclectic mix of home-based businesses, large corporations, and everything in-between. These businesses do not have to have a residency in either city to participate, and they enjoy exclusive benefits such as discounts and deals made available to them via an affiliate program, networking possibilities, and access to an online directory, to name a few.

THE ORGANIZATION ALSO SUPPORTS THE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT TEAM, the Hazel Park Literacy Project, Hazel Park’s animal shelter, and its school district, and members participate in charitable events, partnering with the Community Coalition. In the past, participating businesses worked together with the Coalition to donate well over 100 backpacks to needy families with children getting ready to go back to school.

“We plan at least three events a month,” Valmassei explained, “Our calendar is available online at www.madisonheightschamber.com. “Coffee & Companies,”

“Drop-In Lunches” and “After Hours” are some of the events currently scheduled, as well as our annual Golf Outing and Gala Fundraiser.”

The Chamber also arranges ribbon-cuttings and grand openings for members and partners with other area Chambers to host collaborative events. These events bring people from all over and provide a perfect opportunity to mix and mingle.

Prior to landing her current position, Valmassei had a marketing and promotions background, and also held management positions as well as on-air positions at a few radio stations. A local to the area, she said, “I sleep in Royal Oak, but I live in Madison Heights and Hazel Park.”

She loves the ability to wear many hats in her current role and be involved in many different activities. “There are no two days the same,” Valmassei said fondly. “I’ve really enjoyed making connections with so many people in the community. I feel like I’ve found another family.”

Asked about plans in the works at the Chamber for the current year, she added, “2019 is going to be an exciting year! The Chamber is here to serve residents and businesses – give us a call.”

By Maggie Boleyn

COFFEE. YOU PROBABLY START YOUR DAY with this beverage. You might grab another cupful at midmorning. Or, perhaps you drink it constantly throughout the day before downing another cup after dinner. You drink it with co-workers, and maybe you drank it on a first date. Whenever and however you choose to enjoy it, coffee is very likely a big part of your life.

“Coffee is a great conduit to bring people together,” says A.J. O’Neil, the self-described “Chief Bean Officer” of Detroit Bold Coffee Company. “We’re not too serious about titles,” he added.

What Detroit Bold is serious about is providing good coffee geared towards “hardworking humans.” From its beginnings as AJ’s Music Café in Ferndale to the present, O’Neil takes his coffee seriously, while providing a little shot of fun along the way.

Organizing a musical marathon featuring 50 hours of “Danny Boy” beginning on St. Patrick’s Day and setting a Guinness Book of World Records for holding the longest “Assembly Line Concert” are just two examples. O’Neil said the Assembly Line Concert was created to “bring awareness to the little café that bailed out Detroit, one cup at a time.” The event logged an impressive 288 hours of live music running for 12 days with more than 300 performers participating.

“Our vision is to promote great things about the hardworking people of the community,” O’Neil said. He said that coffee provides the backbone for hard work done by people in this region. One of the things he loves about Hazel Park is the industriousness of the residents. “There are hardy souls in Hazel Park,” he said.

After a roofing accident ended his days working in construction work, O’Neil says he found himself in a coffee shop and thus began a new career. “Coffee found me,” he says. He decided to use coffee as a vehicle to showcase and “promote the Detroit area and the great things we do here.” Detroit Bold’s beans are roasted in Highland Park, the city which launched auto giant Henry Ford. “Between Hazel Park and Highland Park is where this all happens,” O’Neil said.

O’NEIL SAID THAT HE DOESN’T REALLY SEE HIMSELF AS COMPETING with larger coffee chains like Starbucks. With millions of coffee drinkers in the US alone, O’Neil says, “There’s plenty for everyone.”

According to Espresso Business Solutions (EBS), approximately 50 percent of the population, roughly 150 million Americans, drink espresso, cappuccino, latte, or iced/cold coffees on a daily basis. EBS pegs the average U.S. consumption at 3.1 cups per day, and notes that specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20 percent per year and account for nearly eight percent of the 18 billiondollar U.S. coffee market.

By promoting the local aspects of his products, O’Neil says any competitive aspect is downplayed. “We complement, we don’t compete,” he said.

Unlike the former Starbucks CEO, who is toying with a 2020 presidential run, another area where O’Neil will not be competing in soon is politics.

Although he was a 2010 Congressional candidate, he says, “I have no future plans to run for office.” Instead, he said he will be concentrating on his product line and marketing new coffee offerings like “Baseline” – the “8 Mile” deep, dark roast blend which is served every Saturday at Eastern Market.

O’Neil sees Hazel Park as populated by hardworking people that care about the community. “We don’t kick our wounded, and we don’t leave anyone behind,” is how he characterized the community. “If I were rich, I would still want to live in Hazel Park,” he concluded.

For more information about Detroit Bold Coffee, visit www.detroitboldcoffee.com.