What is your business?
The Southern Pantry Company is a specialty food store and marketplace for Detroit based food entrepreneurs who create seasonal, healthy, organic and locally sourced products. The name pays tribute to the South, where my parents are from, and also to how Southerners grew up eating – locally sourced, handmade, and fresh food. I started Southern Pantry Company in New York but after Hurricane Sandy was forced to close my business. I decided to move back to Detroit and start over. I am excited about bringing Southern Pantry Company to Detroit!
How did you get started?
I was working for an organization called WIBO in New York, which provided workshops and business resources to entrepreneurs in underserved communities. I volunteered with them for 8 years, helping entrepreneurs develop their business plans. At the same time I was working in branding and licensing for Hearst Publications, finding ways to create new revenue streams for struggling magazines.
Working with both of these organizations, I decided to start Southern Pantry Company so I could combine my experience in entrepreneurship and branding by helping local entrepreneurs create a brand name for their business.
Tell us about your experience in Build Institute.
Coming from NY to Detroit and being away from the city for 20 years, I wanted to get reacquainted with the entrepreneurial scene here. You can’t start a business without creating an ecosystem of people and resources around you. I wanted to be very methodical by building up my base of support and then rolling it out gradually.
Going through Build, it gives you the opportunity to talk to other entrepreneurs in other parts of the city. The exchange of info between old and new was important for me. Both seasoned small business owners and budding entrepreneurs are in the same space and encourage an environment of learning from each other.
What was it like coming back to Detroit from New York?
The number one asset of Detroit is its people. We are really a ‘hive’ and everyone is a worker bee, working individually but also together on behalf of the city. Detroiters, in my opinion, are very resourceful. We are in a city where there may not be a lot of financial support from our municipality, but we figure out a way to get it done despite setbacks. Resource hubs like Foodlab Detroit, D:hive and Green Garage really helped guide and root me in Detroit. I don’t think I could have done it without them!
After being in Detroit I’ve learned to not be so focused on ‘me, me, me’ but something much bigger and greater than me. Detroit is all about collaboration, clustering, and community. In NY everything is so fast paced, but Detroiters really work together and understand that it’s more about the journey than the destination.
What are your latest developments after Build?
Right now I am working on Detroit Kitchen Connect, an initiative brought forth by Foodlab Detroit to create a distributed network of commercial, licensed kitchen spaces for food entrepreneurs where they can legitimately work and develop their product.
I also just started a blog – in.green.dients – to tell the stories of food entrepreneurs – farmers, growers, cheesemongers and more – right here in Detroit contributing to the local good food movement. Being a storyteller is really what I’m in the business of. By sharing these local food stories, we are bringing attention to the amazing local food culture we have right here in Detroit.
What’s in the future for Southern Pantry Company?
In addition to being a small gourmet specialty food shop, I want SPC to be a community hub and meeting place. It will be located in a neighborhood, where it will hopefully become a destination for people, not only to enjoy great food products but also to meet others and get involved in the community. People will travel for good food – it can be transformative in activating a block or neighborhood. Just look at Slows BBQ on Michigan Ave, Avalon Bakery on Willis, or Honeybee Market in Southwest Detroit.
Not only do I want to be a number one retailer in the city but I also want to provide a service – helping the retail environment in Detroit and telling the stories of our food entrepreneurs. Foodlab Detroit is a great place to start for food entrepreneurs, but what do you do after that, when you are ready to enter into retail? Southern Pantry Company can be the next step.