Business

By Sara E. Teller

VITRINE GALLERY & GIFTS OPENED IN DECEMBER 2017. The Berkley location was perfect because it included both a studio and retail space, according to owner Susan Rogal.

“We jumped on it,” she said. “Later, I would understand more fully the incredible sense of community in Berkley. I have been in retail for almost 40 years, and it’s rare to find men shoppers, couples shopping together, just happy shoppers. Every hour of every day there are lovely people in here.”

The name of the store is a French word meaning “a glass display case filled with treasures,” she explained, and it was inspired by a shabby chic antique hutch Rogal found with a glass front. This would also be incorporated into Vitrine’s logo.

In the retail space, shoppers can explore a multitude of treasures, including clothing, accessories, housewares, food, and other goodies made by artists and artisans. Vitrine also features garden accessories, handcrafted baskets, and a spa area with many handmade soaps and bath bombs. SERV, Ten Thousand Villages, and many others are on display, with products also available for purchase online.

ROGAL SAID, “THE STORE IS FOR LOCAL ARTISTS, artisans, potters, jewelers, and crafters. We feature many local artists and foods, soap artists, pens, and many other products each month. We have Wee Bee Jammin’ jams and Sanders Chocolates. The shop has also become the flagship store for Kari Hughes’ Buy the Change line. We have an art show once a month, and we also curate the art through the Berkley Public Library, which offers even more exposure.”

She added, “It’s really a trip around the world, and we bring in new stuff once a month. Our vegan handbag line has quite a following. We searched the world for a wonderful collection with phenomenal prices. Many people buy more than one!”

To add to the eclectic and one-of-a- kind ambiance, there is a door at the back that annexes to Holy Cannoli’s Bakery which fills Vitrine with incredible bakery smells and allows guests to experience both businesses at once. The studio also serves as Rogal’s workspace for her other endeavor, Artwear Detroit, a company that transfers local artwork onto items available at Vitrine and elsewhere. The company’s mission is to support regional artists and their contribution to Detroit’s legacy.

ROGAL BELIEVES IN A “DO GOOD, FEEL GOOD” mantra and remembers as a child her mother sponsoring children in developing countries through World Vision.

“She would always have their pictures on the wall and would refer to them as her other children,” she remembered fondly. “Now that she’s passed, I wanted to do something for her – offer a memorial gift – and I also wanted to do something extra to show how much we care. This became a very personal journey.”

She added, “We decided to have some of our profits go towards sponsoring six kids in Haiti, all from the same village. And, eventually the goal is to support ten. Doing it this way, we can extend our resources to the entire area, supporting healthcare, clean water, safety and education. It goes towards the whole community.”

Through Vitrine and Artwear Detroit, Rogal is truly able to exemplify her personal mission of giving back. “It’s my hope that as the world gets smaller with resources like the Internet we’ll all begin to realize we can make a difference.”

Vitrine is especially event-driven throughout the summer, participating in the Street Art Fest and hosting various pop-ups featuring a rotation of artists. Rogal said that Small Business Saturday, held on November 30, 2019, will also be an especially big day for all Berkley businesses.

For more information, visit Vitrine at 2758 Coolidge Hwy,
thevitrinegallery.com, or call 248-629-7329.

Story By Ingrid Sjostrand | Photos By David McNair

People don’t usually think of “charitable” and “altruistic” as adjectives to describe their banking establishments, but Vibe Credit Union isn’t your typical financial institution. While most credit unions are run by members and qualify as non-profits, Vibe takes it a step further in caring for its members and the communities it serves. Allan McMorris, President, explains the philosophy behind the company.

“WE ARE A NOT-FOR-PROFIT FINANCIAL INSTITUTION, and we invest our profits back into our membership to provide convenient technology, better rates on loans and deposits, and more locations,” McMorris says. “We are in business to improve the financial lives of people in our communities.”

Community involvement is common at all 16 Vibe Credit Union branches and is essential to the company’s philosophy.

Linda Smith, Marketing Manager, explains Vibe’s commitment to the community. “We want to give back to the communities we serve,” Smith says. “We support over 100 local organizations each year and we offer financial education classes at local high schools.”

The charitable contributions of Vibe Credit Union extend past local branch involvement, too. There are two organizations they consider “Charities of Choice,” which receive ongoing contributions: The Salvation Army’s Bed & Bread Club and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

“We have been supporting the Bed & Bread Club since the 1980s when we welcomed them as a partner. We donate ten dollars for every member referral, and our staff has volunteered in their kitchen and on their food trucks,” Smith says. “We have been a top fundraiser for PanCAN PurpleStride fundraiser for many years. Because our employees have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer, we enjoy holding fundraisers throughout the year to support PanCAN.”

Through longstanding relationships with charities and a commitment to being active in branch communities, Vibe Credit Union is constantly working to be the best for its members and its employees.

THE BERKLEY BRANCH, LOCATED AT 3082 COOLIDGE HWY., is one of Vibe’s busiest
branches. Tamara Powell, Berkley branch manager, serves as treasurer for the Berkley Chamber of Commerce – just one of the ways Vibe Credit Union takes community involvement to the next level.

“Our staff has enjoyed serving the Berkley community since 2007. Berkley’s friendly residents and business owners make this community a great place to do business,” Powell says. “We love participating in local festivals and programs like the Berkley Street Art Festival and the Berkley Library Summer Reading program.”

“WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES to add better products and services, as well as more branches, to better serve our members,” Smith says. “It is our goal to deliver an exceptional experience every time we connect with our members. Vibe is also a great place to work. We have a company culture that values, respects, and celebrates each team member.”

First established in 1936 as the Telephone Employees Credit Union with just ten employees, the company grew over the next 77 years and changed its name to Vibe Credit Union in 2013 to honor the “sound waves of the past.”

“Anyone living or working in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is now eligible to become a member of Vibe Credit Union. In 2018, we partnered with Oakland County Credit Union, which was founded in 1953 as Oakland County Employees Credit Union,” McMorris says. “Over 83 years, our assets have grown from a humble $100 to nearly $1 billion. We now serve over 65,000 members with 14 branch locations and two ‘eCenters’ in Metro Detroit.”

Vibe Credit Union’s two eCenters are located in the busy downtown development districts of Ferndale and Royal Oak. Although eCenters don’t have traditional tellers, Vibe staff is onsite to assist people with opening accounts, applying for loans, and using the multi-functional ATM.

3082 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley MI 48072 (248) 735-9500

Mon-Thur 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Fri 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sat 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

By Ingrid Sjostrand

Some wouldn’t think of Berkley as the go-to place for brides-to-be, but two of Metro Detroit’s top wedding shops are located within the city’s 2.62-square-mile radius and both offer a unique, customer-focused experience for their brides.

THE WEDDING SHOPPE

ACCOMMODATING A BRIDE’S NEEDS was the number one priority for Michelle McFarland when she opened The Wedding Shoppe in 1999. Recently married herself and a full-time employee at the headquarters of a German steel company in Detroit, she saw first- hand how inconvenient planning a wedding could be for a working woman.

“I worked long hours and would get stuck in rush-hour traffic. By the time I got home everything was closed. I ended up having to do everything on Saturdays because stores were closed Sunday too,” she says. “One thing that was really important in opening my store was being available to brides. Right now, we’re open seven days a week to accommodate their needs.”

Flexible hours were just the first step in putting the bride’s needs first. McFarland expanded from accessories to dresses in 2008 and hired twelve expert stylists to help create the perfect experience for her clients.

“Everything in our store is hand-selected. We work with design houses from all over the world and we bring wedding dresses to the U.S. that aren’t available here,” she says. “We are a high-volume store that focuses on giving the bride an intimate experience.”

WHEN THE WEDDING SHOPPE relocated from Woodward Ave. to 2186 Coolidge Hwy., McFarland took it a step further by creating the “Private Viewing Experience™” – nine custom-built, private bridal suites to allow an intimate experience for brides-to-be and their families.

“Brides get their own suite to enjoy their experience with a stylist. They might have an idea of what to try on and what style they like but until you put a dress on your body you have no idea what is going to look good,” McFarland says. “Our stylists are trained to listen to the words you are saying, and also the words you are not saying, to help you choose the perfect dress.”

After nearly 20 years of successful business, McFarland gives credit to her team of stylists, seamstresses, receiving, administration and all those that have helped The Wedding Shoppe succeed.

“I truly, honestly believe it centers around the people we hire and select to be on our team. Without them, there is nothing. Without the stylists being as amazing as they are, brides would not want to come here,” McFarland says.

JENNA IN WHITE

JENNA EL-ZAATARI IS INNOVATING THE BRIDAL INDUSTRY. With experience in both production and retail, she and her team are designing wedding dresses that are unique and different from what is prevalent in the US market.

First introduced to the wedding industry at age 21 by her mother-in- law, a gown designer and store owner in Lebanon, El-Zaatari was inspired to make her own mark in bridal fashion.

By 2012 she established Jenna in White, located at 2685 Coolidge Hwy. since 2014, and launched her Jenna in White line.

“This line is our own, unique, and is not available anywhere else in the US. We also carry other designer lines such as Casablanca, Amaré, and Sophia Tolli,” El-Zaatari says. “When the bride comes into our store it’s all about her; we strive for magic for the bride and the family.”

El-Zaatari and her staff have worked to take the stress out of shopping for a wedding dress and create an environment for great memories.

“We are very upbeat in the way we operate. The vibe is always exciting and fun,” El-Zaatari says. “Our entire team functions in accordance with that, to make sure the bride finds the dress she loves while simultaneously having an amazing experience.”

THIS ATMOSPHERE EXTENDS beyond just the store. Jenna in White has made it a priority to be a part of the community, even working with radio station Channel 95.5 FM to do regular dress giveaways with Shannon Murphy of Mojo in the Morning, and has collaborated with the Berkley Chamber of Commerce as well.

“We share elements of that experience with the community, so it’s really more about creating a bridal culture,” El-Zaatari says. “Metro Detroit is a very vibrant area, and the whole process becomes not only about us but about the entire culture and community.”

“I love being part of every bride’s shopping; It’s very rewarding,” she says. “I take every single bride’s experience very personally.”

Story & Photos By Lisa Howard

TEN YEARS AGO, A SMALL SHOP CALLED BERKLEY EYEWEAR opened on Coolidge near Wiltshire. Lisa Gilbert was the driving force behind the store – she had worked in the optometry field for nearly three decades – but, soon after, her husband Andy found himself working there, too.

Seeing as his dad, cousin, and brother-in-law are optometrists, it wasn’t a stretch for him to join the family trend. The couple opened a separate shop called Local Sunglass Company just down the street by Dorothea to also offer sunglasses, and eventually they built out the second location and merged the two arms of their business. Today, they offer eye exams as well as a carefully curated collection of glasses and sunglasses.

“We can’t be everything to everybody, but we try to be everything we can to the local community,” Andy says. He and Lisa focus on offering high- quality lenses and frames for reasonable prices whether people have vision insurance or not. Unlike many of the bargain-basement glasses you find at big-box stores, at Berkley Eyewear their lenses are made with a protective scratch- resistant coating that makes them much more durable.

And Lisa is always on the lookout for stylish frames. “There are also big differences between single-vision lenses and progressive-lens technology,” Andy explains. “For one thing, you don’t see a line with high-quality, progressive lenses.”

As he and Lisa have tailored their collection over the years to suit their customers’ needs, they’ve come to specialize in frames for petite women. Andy points out that it can be difficult for small- framed women to find glasses that fit well and are age-appropriate. “They don’t want to have to shop in the kids section and wind up with glasses that don’t quite fit and aren’t the kind of patterns or colors they want,” he says. While bright blue frames with lime-green dots might be fun for kids to wear, it isn’t exactly a flattering look for an upscale night out on the town. Likewise, if you’re a man who finds himself shopping in the big-and- tall section, the standard glasses selection might not work for you, either.

NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF STYLE YOU’RE LOOKING FOR, you’ll find glasses ranging from $90 to $450. “Our meat-and-potatoes is within the $150 to $200 range because that’s a reasonable amount for a pair of good-quality, fashionable frames,” says Andy.

Their eye exams are equally reasonable – for those without insurance and paying in cash, an eyeglasses exam is $65 and an exam for contacts is $95. Either way, the exam includes looking at the eye health of the patient. A lot of people don’t realize it, but regular eye exams are greatly beneficial because optometrists can spot a lot of chronic problems early on (diabetes, high blood pressure), when it’s much easier to manage or correct the issue. Another bonus? Rather than using the dreaded “puff test,” the optometrist uses a tonometer to check for glaucoma.

ALONG WITH RUNNING THE SHOP WITH LISA, Andy is involved in many other aspects of Berkley life, from serving on the DDA Board and marketing committee to sponsoring the Berkley Street Art Fest. Andy thinks the art fest in particular has been an exciting event. It began in 2017 on Dorothea in the municipal lot right behind Andy and Lisa’s shop and then expanded onto Coolidge the following year, drawing several thousand attendees in the process.

“I still remember the first year the fest happened,” Andy recalls. “I walked out of my back door and saw people milling around and making and admiring art, and I just thought it was fantastic!” One attendee he talked to that day said that he had lived in Berkley for 20 years but had never noticed Berkley Eyewear before. A few weeks later, that same person became a customer. As Andy sees it, that’s the whole point of having events like the Street Art Fest: To introduce people to the shops along Coolidge.

After the Street Art Fest was established Andy rejoined the Berkley Area Chamber, and it’s also why he now participates in various other civic organizations in the city, too. He advises business owners and residents alike to get involved – it’s a fun way to help the city grow.

ASIDE FROM ATTRACTING MORE CUSTOMERS, another bonus of having a big annual event on Coolidge is the increased interactions between near-by business owners, from newcomers like Ullman’s Health & Beauty and Toadvine Books to established merchants like Nova Chiropractic. “The Street Art Fest has brought together businesses who may not have otherwise interacted much, especially as the event keeps growing and getting bigger and better,” says Andy.

That, plus increased support from the Chamber and the DDA, has led to a feeling of positive momentum along the Coolidge corridor, with several businesses using the DDA grant façade program to renovate and improve their storefronts (Andy is one; he’s hoping to get his new look before it snows). Ongoing regular events like Ladies Night Out also create buzz and lead to long-term customers.

“At the end of the day, Berkley is a fun little town,” says Andy, adding that he’s seen the area go from not exactly bustling when he opened in 2010 to now being one of the focal shopping districts in the city. “I like hanging out right smack in the middle of Coolidge – it feels like everybody is friends.”

Home


2680 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley
(248) 629-6410
Monday – Friday: 10 AM – 6 PM Saturday: 11 AM – 4 PM
Sundays: Closed

Story: Ingrid Sjostrand | Photos: David McNair

THERE MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER – or the food – that makes Berkley restaurants flourish. For a city of only 2.6 square miles it’s unusual to have so many successful restaurants, but the local eateries continue to defy the odds.

Two restaurants in particular have thrived in Berkley: Crispelli’s and Bagger Dave’s. Both source local product for their food, focus on adapting to their customer needs and have expanded to multiple locations due to their success in Berkley.

CRISPELLI’S

CRISPELLI’S, LOCATED AT 28939 WOODWARD AVE, has felt the support of city residents from the minute they opened their doors. Director of Operations Ron Nussbaum shares the story of their opening in February 2012.

“We had paper up in all the windows, we took it down at 4:30 P.M., and by 5:15 P.M. we had a wait – all we did was take the paper off,” he says. “We’re thinking ‘if someone comes in we can practice,’ but it turned into chaos within minutes. We thought no one would notice, but the first couple tables came in and started calling friends, telling them we were open.”

The fast-casual restaurant is best known for its gourmet pizza, but they also specialize in Italian classics and fresh-made artisanal bread. The style of “fast-casual” is somewhat unique to the area, allowing guests to order and watch their pizza made in front of them.

THE FAST-CASUAL PART REALLY SET US APART. And the speed – we still try to get food out in five minutes,” Nussbaum says. “When you order, by the time you’re done paying your pizza is almost ready. It’s good food, made from scratch in under five minutes.”

Due to the continued success of the Berkley location, the Crispelli’s brand has grown into a bakery in Royal Oak, restaurants in West Bloomfield and Troy, a food truck that made its first appearance at Berkley Street Art Fest this past summer and a new location in Clarkston, set to open in October 2020. All of this expansion hasn’t slowed the Berkley location one bit.

“This store continues to grow and it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Nussbaum says. “Restaurants don’t grow for seven or eight years straight; it just isn’t normal. Every day I find someone that says they have never been here before.”

(248) 591-3300 | 28939 Woodward Ave, Berkley Sun 11a-9p | Mon-Thur 11a-10p | Fri-Sat 11a-11p

BAGGER DAVE’S

ORIGINALLY STARTED AS A FRANCHISEE OF BUFFALO WILD WINGS IN 2008, Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern has matured into a restaurant truly focused on customer satisfaction. From where they source their food to the daily specials and discounts, Regional Managing Partner Aaron Van Kuren says it’s evolved into a much different experience.

“Three to four years ago we stabilized the menu, did some different things with our main items, expanded shareables, signature burgers and craft cocktails, and have gotten really good feedback,” he says. “Our mission statement is ‘Making regulars,’ and it’s really all about making every guest feel welcome.”

Located at 2972 Coolidge Hwy, one of the main ways Bagger Dave’s works to keep patrons coming back are their menu specials. On top of monthly specials like “buy-one-get-one burgers” and “two for $10 appetizers,” there are also everyday deals throughout the week. Matt Blankenship, owner/operator of the Berkley location, details some below.

“We have daily specials, like our $6.95 Great American cheeseburger Tuesday, and kids meals are half off on Wednesdays and Sundays,” Blankenship says. “Thursdays are all-day happy hour – we have a really aggressively-priced happy- hour menu. We have something pretty much every day.”

EVEN WITH DAILY DISCOUNTED PRICES, Bagger Dave’s doesn’t skimp on quality. Their ingredients are locally-sourced and fresh, including turkey burgers brought in from Grand Rapids.

“We don’t have walk-in freezers. We prep every day, we make our own sauces, we have local craft sodas, local draft beer,” Blankenship says. “I think that’s what separates us. We’re more local and in tune. We want to be the neighborhood go-to restaurant.”

“Eighty to 85 percent of the menu we get is from Michigan or the Midwest. We want to support the community by not only buying the products in the area but being one of those places that people want to go to get something fresh,” Van Kuren adds.

Bagger Dave’s has grown to include eight restaurants across the Midwest with five locations in Michigan, two in Ohio and one in Indiana. Although they’ve grown, they haven’t forgotten where they came from and appreciate the Berkley community, even offering discounts to local businesses.

“It’s a very tight-knit community. We’re just a small piece of the pie here and we enjoy taking part in it,” Van Kuren says. “It’s a very diverse area. We love each and every person that comes in.”

(248) 543-3283 | 2972 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley Sun-Tues 11a-10p | Wed-Thu 11a-11p | Fri-Sat 11a-12p

By Lisa Howard

WHEN SISTERS KATIE KUTSCHER AND CHRISTINE GROSS OPENED BERKLEY COMMON in 2017, one of the things they wanted to do was to create a common space for the community.

As Katie points out, “It’s part of our name.” They wanted a place where people could bring their kids and families, a place with healthy bar food options that women and men would enjoy equally.

Their combined efforts resulted in a community-minded restaurant that serves American food with a global twist. (They offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free dishes, too.) Case in point: Their most popular item is the Korean Cauliflower Wings with house-made kimchi and BBQ sauce. “We really focus on fresh ingredients and a scratch kitchen,” says Katie. “We have zero food storage space, so the ingredients arrive every day.”

Christine adds that the same holds true for their cocktails – they’re created with ingredients like hand- made bitters and freshly-pressed ginger. And, just like the food menu, the cocktail menu is rotated seasonally, with new menus in fall and spring. Along with cocktails, Berkley Common also has 22 beers on tap (all from Michigan!) and includes two nitro taps in the mix.

THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART, but the sisters have a synergy that makes them a great team. Christine, a CPA, does “the nerdy stuff” while Katie manages the staff and plans the menus. That said, she points out that the specials they run give their chefs a lot of creative freedom. “Anybody here who walks through the door has maximum creative development potential, because they’re adding to what we do,” she says. “If their idea is successful, we’re thrilled! It’s a collaborative business, and we’re always looking for good people to grow with us.” The sisters are also happy to say that 80 percent of their employees are from Berkley.

One of their ideas from the beginning has naturally unfolded into a key aspect of their business: Creating an event space where they can host everything from bridal showers to networking events to class reunions. They’ve even had musical groups rehearse in the second-story space.

They hold fundraising events, too, like the guest bartender series where the group picks the charity they want to support and Berkley Common gives part of the proceeds and all of the tips to that charity. A recent fundraising event for Cure JM (juvenile myositis) raised $1,200; on October 25 they’ll be hosting a guest bartender fundraiser for breast cancer.

During their peak season, they’ve had as many as 25 events in a single month in the upper space. Katie thinks that’s because the demand served the space. “There aren’t that many venues in this immediate area that will take a party of 40 or 50,” she says. “We have done private dinners for groups of 20 people and can fit up to 80. It’s a very versatile space.”

BEFORE THE SISTERS OPENED BERKLEY COMMONS, Katie had been running two beverage establishments in NYC, but she decided to move back to Metro-Detroit and open her own restaurant. It took a while to find the right location, renovate the building (the tin ceiling is still there, though!), and then get it staffed and open.
“My favorite part about all of this has been seeing our business and building change as Berkley has changed,” Katie says. Chris agrees. “Seeing how so many motivated, smart, and fun business owners and residents are committed to growing the city is great,” she chimes in. “It’s really fun to be part of everything.”

3087 12 Mile Rd.
Berkeley MI 48072
248.67.0795

Mon- Closed
Tues – Friday – 4pm – Close
Sat & Sun – 11am – Close

facebook.com/berkeleycommon

By Sara E. Teller

WHEN 36-YEAR-OLD PETRO DRAKOPOULOS DECIDED TO OPEN REPUBLICA in Downtown Berkley in 2013, he already had years of experience in the restaurant industry under his belt.

“My wife’s family owned Mitch’s in the Keego Harbor area. They opened in 1949. I also had 21 years of restaurant experience myself,” he explained. “I helped open Texas de Brazil in Detroit.”

Drakopoulos knew he wanted to start his own restaurant, and the spot in Berkley was ideal. “A lot of people asked if it would be like Mitch’s, but the nostalgia tied to a restaurant can be more important than the restaurant itself. And nowadays people are looking to be more health-conscious,” he explained, adding that Mitch’s was known for large portions of comfort food. “I wanted to start a healthy dining place with vegan and gluten-free options.”

Drakopoulos, who’s originally from the Chicago area, said Berkley reminded him of the Northwest Chicago suburbs where he grew up – a small- town feel with conveniences close by. He said, “I wanted to open a gastropub, which has a completely different meaning here than it does in Chicago or New York. The concept would be cool and unique, and the meals would consist of fresh ingredients but be approachable at the same
time.”

WHEN COMING UP WITH REPUBLICA’S MENU the family decided to infuse just a few favorites from Mitch’s to keep its memory alive, including its legendary ribs and family pasta. Drakopoulos’ mother-in-law is also a dietician and helped put together the one-of-a-kind “from- scratch kitchen” with “fresh ingredients,” he said,
saying, “She puts arugula and antioxidants in everything. After eating here, people can really understand the difference between a freshly- cooked meal and a freezer-to-fryer meal.”

The restaurant’s menu consists of small plates, burgers and sandwiches, soups, salads, entrees (even for the kids) and everything in between with options that meet a variety of dietary needs. Gluten-free and vegan dishes are highlighted along with organic bites and a note that all of Republica’s salad dressings are “made in-house and free of refined sugar and artificial ingredients.”

“Our bartender has also come up with drinks that are gluten-free and have less sugar,” Drakopoulos said, adding that Republica offers space for special events as well as off-site catering and party planning.

He credits the restaurant’s successful six-year run – and counting – largely to Berkley’s supportive community, explaining, “Berkley has a great school system and people just want to be here. I really love the sense of community. It’s often said, ‘it takes a village’ and Berkley is that village. I also have some regulars that come once a week from Grosse Pointe, so people come from all over. But Berkley and Huntington Woods have been especially supportive. The Chamber of Commerce holds meeting here, as do other organizations.”

FOR DRAKOPOULOS, BEING A RESTAURANT ENTREPRENEUR is a part of a long-standing family tradition. He believes Republica represents this, explaining, “We’re a family-run establishment. There’s always an ownership presence – whether patrons want to talk to my mother-in-law or watch me buzzing around, dropping plates.”

He also owns Brujo Tacos and Tappas, part of the restaurant collective and beer hall inside the Detroit Shipping Company, which is a high-traffic eatery especially on the weekends with thousands stopping by. He is an active participant in the Berkley community and enjoys entering its Soup & Chili Cook-off.

Republica is located at 1999 Coolidge Hwy and is open for lunch and dinner, 12:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Monday through Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays 12:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M., and Sundays 12:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. Carry out is offered online through GrubHub. For more information, call 248.268.3175.

By Sara E. Teller

COCO FAIRFIELD’S IS A BREAKFAST-AND-LUNCH DINER with classic eats like Belgian waffles, pancakes, omelettes, and fresh soup, sandwiches, and salads. They not only offer traditional favorites, just about everything on the menu can be made gluten-free.

Nicole Miller, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, Marty, said, “It had long been Marty’s dream to have a little local sandwich restaurant, and together we opened Coco Fairfield’s in August 2013. When the recession hit and displaced him from his auto- motive maintenance career, it was the start of the dream becoming a reality. We decided to take the plunge.”

In their search for a “cute little downtown area,” Miller said they just knew Berkley was the spot. “Marty likes to say that Berkley chose us. It just reached out and pulled us in!” she said. “We couldn’t wait to open and be a part of this great little community.”

Coco’s food is always top-notch and made to order, and the owners source many items from other Michigan-based companies.

“We don’t have deep fryers or microwave ovens,” explained Miller. “Everything is made to order and cooked fresh. We buy our maple syrup from Doodle’s Sugarbush located in Blanchard MI. We serve Zingerman’s coffee locally roasted in Ann Arbor. Our meats are nitrate- free, and we use organic mixed greens in our salads.”

A BERKLEY FAVORITE FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS, the restaurant has many regulars as well as those looking for a destina- tion spot while passing through. Miller said, “We love our customers and clearly would not be what we are without them! We have a lot of regulars, mostly from Berkley and the surrounding areas, but also a good amount from further out like Bloomfield and Farmington. We’ve even heard we have a following from the Grand Rapids area. Seems some people came in to eat while they were in town…now if people are coming to the Metro Detroit area, they come to eat at Coco’s.”

Part of creating such a warm and welcoming atmosphere means the staff treats every customer like family and the menu and vibe are all consistent with a community feel.

“Serving great food is only one part,” Miller explained. “We have the atmosphere and community that set us apart. And the community is the most fulfilling part of being a restaurant owner.”

Coco Fairfield’s is an active member of the Berkley Area Chamber of Commerce and helps to sponsor the Berkley Street Art Fest. The restaurant also regularly supports Berkley schools and many student teams through fundraisers and other events, as well as the Huntington Woods Men’s Club annual auction and Women’s League annual home tour. Miller is currently the Chamber president (through the end of 2020) and spends her time volunteering at local activities around town like the Art Bash, Pub Crawl and the Irish
Festival.

“Our staff loves helping people and and supporting the community as it grows and evolves with the ever-changing businesses.”

COCO’S WILL SOON BE EXPANDING to a new, larger building off of 12 Mile. The added space will accommodate its growing customer base and allow the restaurant to offer patio seating in the back.

“We should get approval of our plans any time now and able to start the renovation,” Miller said. “It’s going to be great! We hope to be complete by fourth quarter 2019.”

Coco Fairfield’s is open from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 248-399- COCO (2626) during normal business hours. A menu can be found online at www.cocofairfields.com/menu

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.”