Business

By Ryan R. Ennis
Photos ©2021 by David McNair

IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME: ON A CHILLY NIGHT, HURRYING TO A DESTINATION, a driver hits an unexpected pothole on a poorly lit road. Suddenly, a loud pop is heard, followed by the hissing of a deflating tire. Within moments, a warning light appears on the dashboard. The distressed driver scowls and abruptly pulls off onto the shoulder.

In Metro Detroit, a man who can turn a distraught motorist’s grimace into a smile is Mohamed Majhed, owner of BMI Road Service. His dispatchers are on call 24-hours and seven-days per-week “to get you off the road and home safely,” he assures his customers. Some of BMI’s services include tire changes, air delivery, jump starts, assistance with lock outs, as well as local and out-of-state-towing. Working with AAA and other insurance companies, BMI offers unlimited towing coverage.

MAJHED HAS MANY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD. Unsure about which path to pursue in college, he took a job at a Southfield auto repair and gas station 11 years ago because he has “always loved automobiles.” At the Southfield shop, he ran the gas station and helped with towing, believing he was “making a difference in people’s lives by providing an ambulance for cars.”

After five years at the station, he felt confident enough to strike out by himself, and found a suitable location for his own business at 13380 Capital Street in Oak Park.

In the beginning, it was just Majhed responding to stranded motorists’ calls with his own van. After a year, he expanded by offering towing services. Before long, he amassed a fleet of nine tow trucks and a staff of 12 employees.

In doing so, his job responsibilities have increased. In addition to handling daily operations at the shop, he heads out on the road when duty calls. Despite the long hours, he is “happy to be an important helper in the community.”

HIS ADVICE TO MOTORISTS, to keep them from becoming stranded, is to “not use their cell phones while driving.” He estimates that 70 percent of the problems drivers incur while operating their vehicles are from cell phone use. “When drivers are on their phones,” he says, “they (often) don’t pay attention to the gas level is in their tank, the curves ahead in the road, and naturally the potholes and debris in their paths that could damage their tires and undercarriage.”

To avoid potential accidents, some insurance agents recommend storing your phone in the glove box or another compartment, out of sight, when you are behind the wheel.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Majhed and his employees follow strict safety protocols. Wearing masks, he and his staff strive to keep a safe degree of distance between them and their patrons during their inter-actions. All BMI Road Service employees also frequently sanitize their hands and do not enter other vehicles unless necessary. Additional guidelines are that only one tower is assigned to a specific truck, and that the truck’s interior is frequently disinfected throughout the worker’s shift.

Like other towing companies, BMI Road Service has adopted another procedure to protect its staff and you: If your vehicle must be towed, you will not be able to ride in the cab with the driver. You will need to make your own arrangements to be taken home or to the repair shop.

“All my employees are well-trusted family members,” says Majhed. “When they arrive on the scene to assist you, expect to be treated with a high level of care and respect.”

To contact BMI Road Service, call 313-460-3222. Cash, check, and all major credit cards are accepted.

By Jenn Goeddeke

Creating the Essential Learning Curve

MEETING TORI WEBSTER IS THE DEFINITIVE BREATH OF FRESH AIR! She is the founder and Director of Best Friends Early Childhood Education Center, located in Oak Park (8430 W. 9 Mile). Webster’s strong, positive attitude and her enthusiasm and dedication become quite apparent after conversing.

She is achieving her goals on a daily basis: Keeping high standards in teaching young children, and nurturing them too. Webster maintains a five-star quality rating through the Michigan Department of Education, the first daycare in Oakland County to achieve this rating. She consistently sticks to the ‘quality over quantity’ approach and takes pride in the small group settings. Ages throughout the several classrooms span from infants to preschool children.

Webster attended school to attain a degree in early childhood education. She then purchased a home specifically to start a daycare; to build on the expanding curriculum and to gain all necessary behind-the-scenes expertise over a 13-year timeframe. Her ultimate goal was to start a daycare in a commercial building, which has been keeping her busy now at the Oak Park location since 2017.

The main reward, Webster explained, is to see each successful stage of development for a child as they progress in the program. The classrooms build on each other, with the end result being a thorough preparation for kindergarten.

One example of a teaching focus is building literacy through phonemic awareness. This basically means introducing the alphabet in relation to the sound of each letter, not simply by its name. This leads to blending the sounds, creating word recognition.

Lesson plans are not set in stone either. Webster clarified that there might be a need to pivot from anything previously planned-out. Staff listen out for cues, then build on what the children are focusing on. For example, a strong interest in the cooking play area could result in an early math-and-fractions class using fruit!

ALL TEACHERS AT BEST FRIENDS CHILD CARE maintain detailed, daily developmental assessments which then get compiled into reports. Educational software helps in this process. Any developmental delays can be noted in real time, and addressed quickly. One way Webster can help parents is to make recommendations for specialists, so that the child is not held back in his or her education.

Children can truly make some lasting social bonds. They track each other through the years. Some of these bonds can last a lifetime. Webster’s tagline for the daycare is: “Building early childhood foundations that last a lifetime.” She mentioned how extremely rewarding it is to receive many thank you’s over the years from parents for doing a good job or resolving a particular situation.

Webster pointed out that staffing has been the most challenging aspect of running the daycare. She has set high standards for the teachers: All have degrees in childhood development or are progressing towards their teaching qualifications. Webster frequently assists staff in furthering their educational goals, at various different levels. “I strive to keep them with me, but also want them to be prepped for life.” she added with a smile.

The longevity of staff employment and continuing a family-type environment are important factors. With the hiring process, and all other major decisions, Webster considers these to be a group decision among the daycare staff: “It’s our decision, not my decision!” Trust is a huge aspect, so adding on can be difficult.

The Covid19 pandemic has certainly affected the hiring process, but Webster keeps forging ahead in a determined manner. Best Friends has managed the situation by putting safety first, and following strict guidelines. All of the classrooms are self-contained with their own furnace and A/C unit, plus teachers maintain a single classroom.

Additionally, there is an air purification system in place for each room, including high-quality furnace filters. Therefore, if someone becomes sick, that classroom shuts down and not the whole facility. Webster emphasized that the children have adjusted well to wearing masks and the other Covid 19 safety protocol. They are, of course, already seeing masks in their everyday lives and they are typically thriving and happy. Occasionally, staff have to pull down their mask to show a smile or articulate something. But overall, the children have learned to accurately read inflection and body language cues.

WEBSTER SAID SHE WOULD LIKE TO EXPAND AT SOME POINT. Until then, she is focused on her current location and providing the structure children need to prepare for primary school. For important resources to those looking for a daycare, Webster mentioned two key web sites: www.GreatStartToQuality.org and www.michigan.gov/LARA (an acronym for ‘Licensing And Regulatory Affairs’). Both of these sites allow parents to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison with daycares in the area. They provide key details on hugely important matters such as safety, licensing, staff and administration management along with expert personal observations.

Finally, Webster wanted us to give a special ‘shout out’ to all her devoted staff, especially to Kelly Westwood (employed for nine years) and Lauren Reagan (employed for three years). They have all been troopers through the pandemic and loyal, supportive employees through the various ups-and-downs!

Best Friends Early Childhood Education Center is located at: 8430 W.9 Mile, Oak Park, MI 48237.
They can be reached at: 248.629.7065.
Daycare hours: Mon thru Fri, 7:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M.
Closed on weekends.
Visit their web site at: www.bestfriendsearlychildhood.com

By Mary Meldrum
Photos ©2021 by David McNair

DEFINITELY DIFFERENT HAS BEEN SERVING QUALITY FASHION FOR 28 YEARS. Imani Daniels took over the store after her mom passed in December of 2017. The interesting clothing and accessories they carry give her store a unique flavor. It’s the type of clothing you aren’t likely to find at any of the big box stores or even some of the smaller boutiques.

“I try to find unique and interesting pieces. A lot of it is custom, one-of-a-kind,” Imani explains.

She enjoys a lot of return customers looking for clothes for certain events like concerts, weddings, and showers. Right now, she feels the interest is shifting to a dressier style. People are starting to go out again and looking for more formal wear and unique pieces.

With regard to her inventory, much of it is custom-made and unique. Other items are available in a wide variety of sizes. To acquire inventory, they go to California, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York, and trade shows. The Magic Show trade show is an especially valuable event to see what is coming out for the next season and get some fill-in pieces for the current season. Over 1,000 manufacturers attend the trade shows. Often she takes an employee or family member on the trips.

WHEN ASKED WHAT IS HER BIGGEST STANDOUT QUALITY at the Definitely Different store, Imani conveys, “I am big on customer service and customer appreciation. The customer always comes first. A lot of my customers want something that nobody else will have. I try to find those pieces for them.”

As you walk into her shop, you will be greeted by a sales associate. Some people want specific attention and want you to show them things. Some want to just browse.

“We have a variety of different clothing, dresses, jackets, funky hats, and purses. We have gloves and scarves. We carry all sizes, small to 3X. We can also do alterations for customers. Looking for things that they have seen online and they might want to have something made. We can offer to make it as well. I have a couple of seamstresses who make pieces, stylish clothing. I have two other tailors who make more clean-cut pieces.”

New customers will appreciate the vibe and layout of the store and the wall emblazoned, “Dare to be Different.”

Imani grew up in Oak Park, where her store is located. She went to school at Hazel Park High School and Detroit Public Schools. She attended Central Michigan University and earned a bachelors in neuroscience and a masters in health administration. She is now attending the University of Detroit Mercy and is in the process of achieving a second bachelors degree in nursing.

Imani jumped in to keep the business running following the death of her mother but still wants to become a nurse. “I need to get hands-on experience, but I do know I want to combine entrepreneurship with nursing and merge the two together.”

After losing approximately 100 pounds, she believes that you can do anything that is in your mindset. “Anything is possible if you work toward your goals.”

Definitely Different
22011 Coolidge Hwy, Oak Park, MI 48237 | (248) 584-2299

By Kevin Alan Lamb

WE LIVE IN A TIME WHEN IT IS DIFFICULT TO TAKE 10 STEPS before someone offers their uninvited opinion or advice on how to act, think and run your business.

Rather than lead by example or applaud those pioneering a unique path, we often criticize others who face the changes we weren’t willing to make ourselves. As such, it is refreshing to discover a place, space, and concept designed to help their clients find their own way.

“The D-Loft Cafe is focused on being a hub for the food professional,” says Brandi C Shelton, founder/ owner.

“We assist new and established professionals to grow and maintain their customer base while assisting them in the development of business concepts that increase their brand awareness, financial stability and most importantly creativity. The Cafe works daily on the enrichment of small food businesses by working hand-in-hand with the creator/ owner and continuously developing new and out of the box thinking for the future.

“We work to provide things not normal to a banquet space or hall. Social connections build. A banquet hall isn’t a place to build unless it’s made into a full social environment. TVs, fireplaces, lounge furniture and more provide the client with a different viewpoint. It is a training concept. Social spaces are considered banquet halls but what we do and how we offer the space is by far on a different level to our consuming public.

“Our drink partners both help us to be innovative. No more of the boring drinks. We bring a full brand to the table. It is healthy, tasty and fresh. Our drinks are handcrafted right here in Michigan and they are a super-small business. Lymonheadz started with five total drinks on their menu. In one year we assisted them in the development of 25 flavor combinations and they have even started distribution to stores and restaurants for 2022.

FOR OVER 20 YEARS, SHELTON HAS BEEN BLENDING BUSINESS AND BEYOND, which she credits as the recipe for creating social spaces.

Like rocket fuel for dreams realized, Shelton’s passion and vision continue to provide others a guide to reach, and navigate their stars. The D Loft’s mission is to ensure each professional that walks in their doors is successful on three levels.

• START: Beginning stages of building the business and brand foundation.

• MOVE: Movement is the element where the business is growing and gaining momentum with a brand presence.

• TRIUMPH: The final stone to the foundation of building a business. When the company is established and working, growing and making money. It is the crossover point of knowing you are in the winners circle.

NO MATTER YOUR PROGRESS ON YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY, the D Loft’s mission should excite and quite possibly intrigue you. Their studio space focuses on being a part of the arts, building with educational programs, independent artists, and other small businesses. They host a variety of different business and art-based forums, all by special invitation only.

There’s even a bed-and-breakfast. “Another hole in my belt of trying something new. We took a home and converted it into a boutique style, mini-hotel concept, with art and more. We removed the basic kitchen appliances and replaced them with what a general hotel would have, and created a breakfast menu for up to eight to partake in every morning of your stay. What can go wrong with shrimp and grits, French toast or pancakes, fruit platters, fresh juice, alkaline water and desserts?”

Investing time, energy, and love into the realization of others dreams, helps illustrate the reality that a dream shared, is less likely to be a dream deferred.

“There are several success stories. From food to food trucks. The mission is sustainability. From Confections Factory to Flavor for the Soul, Jerri’s Cheesecakes, Rosey Cheeks Treats, Sweet Babe Treats (our sweet lineup), Blu VI Catering, Chef Taz Bistro (our co-Executive Chefs), Chrissy Cuisine, Culinarian’s Corner (our Executive Chef and Food Director) to Fantastic Fruit (fresh fruit and veggies) and more. On the food truck side, we built a relationship with Touch of Honey and DC Novelty Eats and they both are gaining momentum.

“Touch of Honey is focused on the building phase of life. Her final goal is full domination in the communities where she becomes a household name. She brings back that mama approach, providing you a meal that reminds you of Sunday dinner on a Tuesday. All of them hold something special to me and the foundation of what the cafe stands for. Collectively, there are 20 members that build up.”

Visit the D Loft’s three locations – Hamtramck, Ferndale and Oak Park – to experience its wondrous offerings for yourself.

13710 W Nine Mile Rd, Oak Park
138 Stratford, Ferndale
313.879.0750 | thedloftcafe@gmail.com

By Sara E. Teller

Serving the Public for More Than 70 Years

PUBLIC SERVICE CREDIT UNION (PSCU), formerly known as the Wayne County Employees Credit Union, opened for business in the Detroit Metropolitan Area more than 70 years ago. Branch offices can be found all across Southeast Michigan and the company is headquartered in Romulus.

“We have 140 dedicated employees who feel an obligation to provide the best financial services available to our near 35,000 members,” said Nadine Hohnke, Digital Member Experience Manager for PSCU’s Oak Park branch. “Our mission is to help our members reach their financial goals.”

Every customer who walks through the door can be sure their own unique needs are heard and met. In fact, members are considered part of the team. Hohnke said, “As a member of the PSCU family, everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Every one of our members is also part owner of the Credit Union, which means that whatever benefits the Union also benefits members.”

While PSCU seems to have a more personalized feel than larger banking facilities, it’s still able to offer a broad range of financial services from checking and savings accounts, CDs, online and mobile banking options, vehicle loans, mortgages, and more.

“We also provide a wide array of commercial banking services for our business members,” Hohnke said. “Best of all, our products and services are offered at better rates [than at traditional banks] because we are a not-for-profit cooperative that does not have to create income for stockholders.”

Some of the more specialized services PSCU Oak Park extends to its members include Savvy Money, which provides free credit monitoring and daily updates without impacting credit score, as well Round Up, which allows customers to round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit the extra pocket money into a special savings account. First-time auto buyers also have an opportunity to purchase a vehicle without having a credit history. “This is a great service to the younger buyers,” Hohnke said.

PSCU OAK PARK IS INVOLVED IN A VARIETY OF LOCAL ACTIVITIES and fundraising opportunities throughout the year. The Pink Fund, Eleanor’s Walk for HOPE, and Relay for Life are just a few of the charitable events in which PSCU has participated.

“Every year a group of PSCU employees go out to spread some holiday cheer in our neighboring cities, including the City of Oak Park,” Hohnke added. “In the past, we have gone to stores and paid for a shopper’s items at checkout, purchased meals for strangers, surprised people by filling their gas tanks at the pump as well as extended many other random acts of kindness.”

Of course, the pandemic has put a damper on some of the community involvement over the past couple of years, but PSCU Oak Park has developed alternative strategies for continuing to give back.

“This past holiday season was a little different due to the pandemic,” Hohnke explained. “We decided to do PSCU 12-Days of Tipping. Employees were encouraged to order carryout at local eateries. PSCU gave our employees $200 to tip [for their service].”

THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS HAVE ALSO PROMPTED PSCU to make a few changes to allow for members to have better access to online services. “To meet the needs of customers during these uncertain times, PSCU redesigned its mobile app, online banking portal, and websites so customers can do even more online,” Hohnke said.

She believes PSCU Oak Park is more than just one of the branch locations, saying, “It’s where the community, local businesses, and organizations can come together to receive genuine support. Through lending, financing, investing, and community development, PSCU is here to grow and sustain the wonderful community of Oak Park.”

For more information on membership options, products or services, call 734-641-8400 or visit www.PSCUnow.com

13401 W 9 Mile Rd, Oak Park MI 48237

By Kim Marrone
Director of Economic Development & Planning, City of Oak Park

IN OAK PARK, WE CONTINUE TO HELP OUR BUSINESSES SOAR, NOW WITH THE HELP OF A REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. The new South Oakland Area Regional (SOAR) Chamber of Commerce primarily serves members in Oak Park, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Hazel Park. SOAR replaces the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce and will now better focus on supporting businesses in Oak Park and other surrounding communities by providing networking opportunities, business support and advocacy, community partnerships and professional resources.

The idea to expand the reach of the former Ferndale Chamber of Commerce to Oak Park and beyond began with a meeting between SOAR President/CEO Joy R. Wells and Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan in November of 2019 to discuss logistics. Although the impending pandemic brought some hiccups, it also allowed enough downtime for the creation of SOAR to be worked out.

Since then, the Chamber has held networking events and worked to engage the hundreds of businesses that encompass South Oakland County.

The SOAR Chamber of Commerce is focused on B2B (business-to-business) networking opportunities. Most of the events are designed to encourage members to get to know each other, exchange ideas, and share information about resources, such as virtual Coffee Connections or in-person After Hours networking events. The Chamber offers a monthly e-newsletter, which highlights member businesses and community events. Of course, a business doesn’t have to be located in any one of the primary communities to be a member. I encourage everyone to sign up on their web site to receive their e-newsletters and event notifications. A kickoff networking event will be scheduled in the near future somewhere in Oak Park.

To say I am excited to have the SOAR Chamber of Commerce as a resource to us in Oak Park would be an understatement. When I first began working in the City of Oak Park it was something our business community asked for but never had. We worked off and on with the Ferndale Chamber to include our business community but our businesses never really felt connected. When they made the decision to include other communities and expand into Oak Park, I was elated.

NOT ONLY DOES THIS ORGANIZATION PROMOTE the economic growth and stability necessary to allow our community to continue to thrive, but it also mirrors many of the same values we have in Oak Park. One of the SOAR Chamber of Commerce’s main tenets is diversity and inclusion, something we work to include in all of our decisions and practice in Oak Park. The SOAR Chamber also puts a high value on partnership, collaboration, connection and service.

The Chamber’s values are not only exhibited in the outreach events and services, but also in those that comprise the Board. Currently, the SOAR Chamber Board of Directors consists of 50 percent business leaders and 50 percent local government officials, all of whom are committed to listening to, identifying and addressing the needs of their communities. In Oak Park, Mayor Marian McClellan and myself sit on the Board and we are looking for local Oak Park business owners who would love to join the board as well. If you are an interested business owner looking to get involved please reach out to me.

With such representation and involvement from Oak Park leaders, and the same commitment from our South Oakland County neighbors, I am certain the SOAR Chamber of Commerce will become the regional heart of economic and community development. The more diverse voices we have at the table, the better prepared we are to secure resources and opportunities for the benefit of all our members.

I cannot wait to see what is in store for this next chapter of economic growth and stability.

To learn more about the SOAR Chamber of Commerce visit www.southoaklandarearegionalcc.org or call (248) 542-2160

Photo ©2021 by Bennie White

THE OAK PARK CITY COUNCIL IS THE LEGISLATIVE AND GOVERNING BODY FOR THE CITY OF OAK PARK. City Council is comprised of a Mayor, a Mayor Pro Tem, and three City Council Members who are elected at-large. The voters elect the Mayor and the City Council Members, while the Mayor Pro Tem position is determined by the greatest number of votes by the voters in the previous election.

Currently, Marian McClellan serves as the Mayor of Oak Park, Julie Edgar serves as the Mayor Pro Tem and Soloman Radner, Carolyn Burns and Shaun Whitehead all serve as Council members. Whitehead is the newest addition to the Council; he was sworn-in in January of 2021 after former Council Member Regina Weiss resigned because she was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. From January to November of 2021, Whitehead served as an appointed member to Council because of the timing of the vacancy from Weiss’ resignation. Following the November 2021 election though Whitehead joined his peers as an elected member of Council.

In the last year the Oak Park City Council has witnessed a great deal of change, both in relation to the pandemic and how the City has been transforming. In 2020, Oak Park joined communities across the nation taking precautions to best protect the health and safety of employees and residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City facilities have since opened to the public, but safety measures remain in place. And, despite the challenges COVID has presented a great deal has been accomplished in Oak Park.

“Despite the obstacles presented by Covid, especially the inability to meet in person, we surprisingly accomplished a lot in 2021,” said Mayor Pro Tem Edgar. “We got new trash receptacles to keep our city cleaner, we held steady on water rates, passed a fair housing ordinance, and began planning for a new dog park that could open in the spring.”

Mayor Pro Tem Edgar also serves as a member of the Dog Park subcommittee and City Council liaison to the Parks & Recreation Commission.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT HAS ALSO BEEN BOOMING in Oak Park, a great deal of which is driven by policy.

“Small businesses, especially little restaurants, are the engine of our local economy,” said Mayor McClellan. “And so much of what has been opening in Oak Park has been changing us from a once subpar community to one that is spectacular.”

The new businesses in the Water Tower Social District have brought new food, beer, coffee and additional beverage selections to the City. And, the revitalization of the Nine Mile Corridor is another example of vision, dedication and innovation coming together to further build on Oak Park’s thriving community.

The development of the FedEx Ground Distribution Center at the former Detroit Armory site helped shift Oak Park from a surviving community to one that is thriving. Building on the original 2015 armory site announcement, as of today, the City of Oak Park can officially say that the former Detroit Armory site will now be fully developed in the coming months. Between FedEx, the new Forgotten Harvest headquarters and a newly approved development by OPUS Development Company, Oak Park is again welcoming new businesses.

The site approved for the OPUS spec build out is 17.3 acres, where a 275,484-square-foot warehousing and storage spec building will be constructed.

A diverse community, a dedicated community, a patient community and a community represented by committed, forward thinking and experienced officials have all led to a thriving community. And…more is yet to come!

“The change in this City is astounding,” said Mayor McClellan. “Our trajectory has completely changed, for the better.”

By Mary Meldrum

FORGOTTEN HARVEST IS CELEBRATING THEIR NEW HEADQUARTERS AT 15000 8 MILE ROAD (at Hubble, a quarter-mile east of Greenfield). The new campus is a 78,000-square-foot purpose-specific building large enough to bring all their employees under the one roof. The warehouse will have ample space to house, sort and refrigerate more fresh nutritious food for Metro Detroiters. Chris Ivey has been with Forgotten Harvest since 2018, helping to make sure no one in Metro Detroit needlessly goes hungry. Chris’ daily responsibilities include marketing and communications both internally and externally for Forgotten Harvest. He also recruits volunteers and works with the Development Department as they do fundraising for the organization.

“This new warehouse will have volunteer opportunities for approximately 60-70 people a day. We have two ways Forgotten Harvest accepts food.” One method is receiving large bulk loads from distributors and manufacturers. They also have their grocery trucks, the smaller box trucks that travel to Kroger, Trader Joes, Meijer’s and Costco where they rescue nutritious food from those organizations. This includes the “seconds” or the ugly or bruised fruits, which are all still edible, just not the prettiest.

Chris goes on to explain the new warehouse: “Right now, the grocery rescue is picked up in morning and delivered in the afternoon. With the new model, all the food will be brought into the new warehouse, sorted by food type and mixed more equitably at every distribution site with the larger bulk loads, so they can be delivered daily in a more equitable mix of food types to every location. This will result in a more balanced plate for everyone receiving our services,” explains Chris.

“Right now their distribution network looks very balanced, but if you look down the line, not every distribution place gets the same type of food. Forgotten Harvest is a large organization and reconfiguring the distribution process is a big job. The goal is to make sure each delivery site gets a balanced nutritional plate. We don’t order our food. We get what we get. Right now, we will have a lot of potatoes, onions and things like that. With the new model we will have a better variety and deliver the right food at the right pace at the right time.

“WE SHOULD HAVE THE WHOLE STAFF UNDER ONE ROOF by next Summer. The pandemic proved that the access and distribution network is very fragile because it’s led by volunteers. The access points to the services we provide are the biggest challenge. To have a distribution point in every neighborhood is the need and our goal.”

As Chris explains, “We can’t make it sustainable, and then all of a sudden we’re not there. We have to set it up to keep it up, once a community starts to count on us.”

The other challenge is volunteers. Fortunately, last year Forgotten Harvest had over 13,000 volunteers who gave 55,000 volunteer hours. They always need more and look to corporate, church groups, youth groups, etc. to help out.

When asked about his vision for Forgotten Harvest, Chris shared that “A peek into the future of the organization has me super excited. Our strategic plan will be Board-certified soon. Next June we will be into the new building. It’s a sense of excitement for where we are going.”

Chris is a long-time Metro Detroit resident and the father of two daughters, one in college in Michigan and one a junior in high school. Chris takes advantage of as much of Michigan’s offerings as he can.

Forgotten Harvest
21800 Greenfield Road, Oak Park, MI 48237
Phone: (248) 967-1500 | Fax: (248) 967-1510

 

By Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bill Gemmell

NU-TECH CLEANING SYSTEMS IS A MICHIGAN-BASED, SECOND-GENERATION, FAMILY-OWNED-AND-OPERATED BUSINESS. Brian Holter started the company in March 1993 to provide truck-mounted carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, pressure washing, and disaster restoration, including flood and fire support. Today, Nu-Tech has expanded from its home base in Oakland County to serve over 200 vendors worldwide.

“In a very short period of time, my Dad earned prominent accounts doing projects for several large universities and two of the largest hospital groups in Michigan,” said son Neco Holter of Nu-Tech’s earliest days. He added, “In the late ‘90s, he incorporated an in-house training center and a small supply store, which, over the years, played a pivotal role in shaping Nu-Tech’s future.”

Brian Holter performed consulting on many projects during Hurricane Katrina designed to help restore the communities affected, and the company has continued to do on many national disasters since that time. Nu-Tech currently sells to, and consults for, government contractors and agencies, hospitals, and universities across North America.

“Nu-Tech also played a major role right here in Metro Detroit during the 2014 flooding,” said Holter. “We helped thousands of small businesses and homeowners. The areas affected included those in Berkley, Huntington Woods, Southfield, Royal Oak and Clawson. After the event, we received many emails, cards, and letters thanking us for helping them through a difficult situation. Reading all of their cards and messages was rewarding beyond words.”

Unlike traditional janitorial supply houses that mainly sell toilet paper and plungers, Nu-Tech has specialty cleaning products designed to solve the toughest challenges, including drying equipment, flood extraction and floor care, as well as many professional grade must-haves. Holter said, “NuTech is nationally recognized as a leader in truck-mounted extractor installations. We are also one of the largest botanical disinfectant distributors and educators around.”

BECAUSE OF ITS POSITION AS A LEADER IN DISASTER RESTORATION, THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, Nu-Tech offers its customers and local businesses social networking opportunities based on this topic. Holter explained, “Each July, Nu-Tech hosts its annual Customer Appreciation Day event at which hundreds of customers come to enjoy a fantastic catered lunch while meeting and networking with local businesses and manufacturers.”

During these current, unprecedented times, as an educator in biohazard certification training, Nu-Tech stepped up a big way. Holter said, “When hand sanitizer was unavailable in the early onset of the coronavirus, the team at Nu-Tech went directly to the FDA and acquired licensing to produce high-quality gel sanitizer. At the time, the Big Three automakers were also struggling with union negotiations, figuring out how they help keep employees as safe as possible. Nu-Tech was able to provide many plants with enough hand sanitizer to keep operating.”

Nu-Tech also helped Berkley Chamber members during the pandemic. With grant money from Oakland County, the Chamber purchased hand sanitizer, gloves and disinfectant from Nu-Tech and distributed the PPE for members most in need, especially those in food service and restaurants.

The company has also supplied disinfectant, nitrile gloves, Tyvek suits, and other [personal protective equipment] to businesses nationwide. Holter said, “Over the last 29 years we have built our culture around helping people during difficult situations, and the pandemic has been no different.”

When asked what the community can do to help during the pandemic, Holter opened the discussion up to include everyone in the same boat, replying, “Just be kind! Whether it be a waitress, nurse, police officers or your neighbor, everyone is short-handed and doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.” He added that being in the tight-knit Berkley community helps, saying, “I love Berkley for the people. We have been operating our business in Berkley since 2006, and every year has been better than the last.”

For more information on Nu-Tech Cleaning Systems, contact Neco Holter at 248-548-5211 or visit www.shopnutech.com.

By Lisa Howard

ANYONE WHO’S EVER WATCHED MAD MEN WOULD PROBABLY SAY that the advertising field isn’t exactly a breeze. But what takes even more dedication is leaving advertising to open a boutique corner market/wine shop/gift store.

“I’ve never worked so hard before in my life,” says Donna Dirkse, owner of The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “And I’ve never been so humbled by the kindness and support that the people in this town have given me. That’s what gets me up in the morning.” She purchased what used to be Tweeny’s in the summer of 2015 with a vision of what her new store would be like and zero experience in owning a business. She points out that there was some beauty to not knowing exactly what she was getting into — as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

The next three years “schooled her,” as she puts it, with Murphy’s Law kicking into action. Fortunately, the daughter of the previous owner stayed on to ease the transition, and a helpful next-door neighbor happened to know the owner of a successful wine business in Detroit who connected Donna with trusted distributors. Those distributors sat down with Donna and explained the ins-and-outs of stocking intriguing, hand-picked wines.

With the help of her husband Troy — who’s a master electrician and all-around handyman — Donna was able to quickly get renovations underway, painting the interior and exterior, pulling up the floor and putting in new tile, and building new fixtures, including new shelving that Troy custom-built using wine boxes and donated French doors. Throughout all of the renovations, Donna kept the doors open so that the community could see and experience the transition. “It’s so much fun to think back on that creation period,” she reminisces. “We wanted customers to feel comfortable when they walk into the store and feel like it isn’t an average party store.”

Those initial three years taught Donna the tricks of the trade, from what kinds of items customers wanted her to stock to how to find the latest interesting products. But then 2020 rolled around…and everything changed. Demand for frozen foods shot up, people were clamoring for fresh produce and, for several months, 90 percent of her business was curbside. Once people re-acclimated themselves to shopping in big-box stores again, though, sales of the new “staples” plummeted and items started to pile up. Deliveries became uncertain at best ordering 28 cases of Gatorade once resulted in getting four cases of Pepsi – and it was difficult to keep popular items like chicken and Popsicles on the shelves. Then, as restaurants reopened, deliveries and products shifted yet again.

BUT, DESPITE THE MYRIAD CHALLENGES, Donna loves running The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “I love my customers,” she says. “I love trying to figure out how we can grow the shop and make it better. I love being part of this community.” She’s constantly amazed by how friendly her regular shoppers are.

Two even stopped by her store on their way home from the hospital to introduce her to their brand-new baby, something she still can’t believe. “How did that even cross their minds?” she says. “When people move out of town, they come in to tell me goodbye. Who does that? Berkley is a ‘big small town’ where neighbors look out for each other. I could not run this store in any other community.”

Donna is always on the lookout for fun new items to bring in, whether that’s dog-chew toys shaped like wine bottles or craft beers. She also sells spice blends and rubs from the Recipe Kit warehouse and offers pizza and sandwiches freshly made in the store. During the holiday season, she’ll be creating gift baskets and passing out hot chocolate at the holiday parade. All of that ties into her core mission: To have fun. “I want customers to find surprises when they come in and to have fun shopping!”

And they most certainly do.

2833 Twelve Mile Rd., Berkley MI 48072 | 248.546.8960
www.neighborsshoppe.com
thedirksefiles@gmail.com