Category: Business - Original Written by Damon Autry
Nailah Ellis (pronounced ni-E-luh) recalls as a youngster the reaction people had after tasting the homemade tea her father prepared during holidays or at family gatherings. Their animated glee was a dead giveaway that, indeed, the beverage was truly something special.
It began with Ellis’ great-grandfather, who was a master chef on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping fleet. He developed the recipe for the tea and eventually passed it down to her father with the mandate that the recipe was to be sold and not told. In other words, take the recipe to market. Ellis’s father never got around to doing so, although he did share the formula with her. A series of unfortunate decisions landed him in prison, so Nailah, who always longed to be an entrepreneur, decided the family tea would be her entrée into establishing her own business.
The 25-year-old Detroit native started her endeavor, Ellis Island Tea, four years ago by brewing the tea in her kitchen — a process that took her hundreds of tries to perfect. Ellis’s venture hasn’t always been easy, but she points to the discussions with her mother as helping her discover the infinite possibilities of life in general, and her business in particular.
“My mother always told me to do whatever it takes to be successful,” Ellis said. “She told me to create lemonade out of lemons, to never take no for an answer and to create my own reality.”
It was recounting those pearls of wisdom from her mother that aided Ellis in molding her entrepreneurial mindset, particularly in light of what others initially thought about Ellis Island Tea. “People laughed at me,” she said. “They said, ‘you think you’re going to come out here and start a beverage company and compete with Pepsi and Coke?’ But I persevered, in spite of being told no at almost every turn when I was trying to get into stores. I used what my mother taught me and figured it out and found ways to get that ‘yes.’”
Part of Ellis figuring it out did, in fact, involve doing whatever it took to be successful, much like her mother insisted. Not having a particular roadmap to follow to attain entrepreneurial success, she simply used her gut instincts. When Whole Foods broke ground on its first store in Detroit, Nailah Ellis was there.
She met with and presented to several Whole Foods executives and convinced them to further demonstrate their desire to invest in the rebirth of Detroit by ensuring locally-made products are on their shelves. They agreed, and now Ellis Island Tea will soon be available in two local Whole Foods locations.
Ellis is even trying to penetrate into Whole Foods’ regional account, which could place Ellis Island Tea in 147 Whole Foods stores throughout the Midwest.
To accommodate her growing venture, Ellis will soon move her production operation into a 3,000 square foot warehouse in the city. “There are no beverage production facilities in Detroit, so that’s why it’s important that I bring it into the city,” she said.
You can find Ellis Island Tea in all Westborn Market locations, Soupdive in Southfield, Honeybee Market in Mexican Village, the Hudson Café downtown and the Mobil service station on Woodward and Forest.
Last Updated on Friday, 22 February 2013 09:15
Category: Business - Original Written by Cathy Nedd
The Michigan Chronicle and its parent company, Real Times Media, are expanding operations and moving into a 18,000 sq. ft. building located at 1452 Randolph in Harmonie Park. The building will house the new world headquarters for Real Times Media, which currently has offices in six states. Vacated by Dell Pryor Gallery five years ago, the property was recently purchased by Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings, a group of African American investors who are committed to the revitalization of Detroit.
A historically designated site, the building will be returned to its original splendor. Once renovations are complete, the new address will be home to an in-house studio which will allow the company to continue its expansion into the production of original video content for its Web properties as well as for its sister publications under the Real Times Media umbrella.
“The Michigan Chronicle has been an integral part of the Detroit community for more than 75 years so it is only natural that we center our operations in the heart of the resurgence of Detroit,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle.
Real Times Media is aggressively expanding into the digital space and creating a greater online presence. With new brands like PraiseConnect.com and The Digital Daily, it will need the extra space to build an in-house studio with which to produce video content and to house a growing staff.
“The move to Paradise Valley marks a new chapter for the Michigan Chronicle,” said Jackson. “As we continue to evolve to fit the needs of new generations, we are expanding our focus to address the digital realities of today. Our move to Paradise Valley embodies this renewed spirit. Even today, the area harkens back to its roots as a bustling African American business and entertainment mecca and it’s exactly where our company needs to be.”
The building’s new owner, Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings, draws its name from the area in which it is located, a historic district known as Paradise Valley which was Detroit’s bustling African American business and entertainment area from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Paradise Valley was a predominantly African American area in downtown Detroit known as a hotbed for entertainment and artistic activity with movie houses, and some of the first jazz clubs to come up in the north during late ’30s and ’40s. While it is not clear how the area came to be known as Paradise Valley, some have speculated that it drew its name form the newly introduced Asian “paradise” trees that grew throughout the area. A vibrant area, the neighborhood has been celebrated in musicals like Bea Buck’s “Paradise Valley Revisited” and “Masquerade Flashback,” and recalled in Elaine Wood’s book, “Untold tales, Unsung Heroes.”
Today’s Paradise Valley is surrounded by nearly a dozen performing arts venues and is within waking distance of the Fox Theatre, the State Theatre, the Detroit Opera House, Music Hall, the Gem & Century Club, Hockeytown, Ford Field, Comerica Park, and a number of restaurants, bars and pubs.
Real Times Media is a multimedia company that consists of Internet properties, newspapers, niche publishing, marketing services, archive licensing and premier events. With offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Memphis and Pittsburgh, Real Times is the leading provider of original print content for African American related news, entertainment and lifestyle information.
Dedicated to distributing top quality news, lifestyle information and entertainment relevant to the African American and urban markets, Real Times’ goal is to continually develop non-traditional media that complements its core business, build greater brand loyalty and cultivate new customers for its clients.
The Real Times Media family of companies includes the nation’s largest African-American owned and operated newspaper organizations: the Atlanta Daily World, Chicago Defender, Michigan Chronicle, Michigan FrontPage, Memphis Tri-State Defender and New Pittsburgh Courier.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 13:40
Category: Business - Original Written by Drew Philp
Michael Burton learned the alphabet by repeating the letters stamped on the back of the automobiles he saw driving down street in his native Lansing, Michigan.
Both his parents worked blue-collar jobs at Oldsmobile, his father in the forge. Michael Burton was born, raised and bleeds cars, but he wanted to be in art.
At age 10, he won an art competition and an interest was peaked.
“I won a G.I. Joe doll,” he said. “One of the good ones, the big ones, not those puny little things they have now.”
At 13, he wrote to the Human Resources department at General Motors with some sketches. To his surprise, they wrote back. They liked his sketches and suggested classes, things to read, and a course of study that might one day get him a job at General Motors.
He still has the letter. It sits in his office at GM where he is the global director of interior design for Buick, worldwide.
“Artistic talent and passion for cars make me very focused,” he said.
That’s an understatement. In highschool Burton received a four-year scholarship to the Center for Creative Studies sponsored by Ford Motor company. After school he was hired at Ford and worked for two and a half years before he was laid off due to restructuring.
Sensing a need for change, he then moved to Tulsa, Oaklahoma, where he “busted some suds,” went to Bible college and became an ordained minister And then a friend called.
“Where have you been,” he asked. “Everyone has been wondering where you are.”
Burton was soon back on a plane to Detroit and after interviewing with all of the Big Three, he took a job with Chrysler, becoming their first African American designer.
He moved to General Motors in 1999 and has been with them ever since. He has served as a lead exterior designer for the Cadillac SRX and SST, and other Cadillac vehicles and as a design manager for GM’s prestige and performance platforms as well as director of Extended Range Electric Vehicle Interior Design.
“My God given gift is a sense of aesthetics,” he said.
But his passion? His reward? Mentorship.
“My greatest reward is from African American mothers who call me and ask, ‘Can you talk to him?’” he said. “When we see ourselves it encourages us to inspire to another level.”
As a hometown success story, Michael Burton’s work reaches wide outside the design studio. As a minister, a musician and maybe most importantly a mentor, he is not only improving the look of automobiles, but improving today’s youth as well.
“You should be reproducing yourself in someone else,” he said. “Mentorship is the epitome of who I am.”
Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 09:32
Category: Business - Original Written by George Strand and Robin Kinnie
Ruth Bell’s story began when a retired schoolteacher taught her how to bake as a child. What started as a casual side business has grown into a full-time commitment to keep up with demand at Chugga’s Main Street Bakery, which she has owned and operated for more than 10 years.
Customers line up early to grab Chugga’s homemade rolls and jalepeno cheddar corn bread, but it’s the monkey bread that brings them back again and again, according to Herman Wright, a longtime customer.
“Her monkey bread is like a little slice of heaven,” said Wright. “Even though my wife’s an excellent cook, she can’t throw down bread like Ruth Bell can.”
Demand for Bell’s monkey bread earned Chugga’s Bakery coveted shelf space at Foodland Stores, and a spot among the signature baked goods served the Fort Shelby Doubletree Hotel and the Garden Inn in downtown Detroit.
Eastern Market fans can find Chugga’s Bakery items in Shed 5 every Saturday.
Although she’s best known for her monkey bread, Bell’s most popular baked good items also include homemade rolls and jalapeno cheddar corn bread.
The market-tested entrepreneur landed a spot in the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s commercial kitchen pilot program in 2012 and credits the program for her tremendous growth.
Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 12:46
Category: Business - Original Written by Amber Bogins
Let it be known that there is opportunity for the entrepreneurial spirit in Detroit. Black-owned IT firm IC Datacom recently secured a $50,000 small business loan from the First Step Fund. IC Datacom, which houses its office inside of Tech Town, Wayne State University’s business accelerator, is a full service IT company that markets and distributes leading edge technology, software, hardware and services throughout the United States and the world for K-12 schools, non-profit organizations, small businesses and other entities.
Owners Dwayne Carson and Terrence Willis have been operating out of Tech Town since 2005, making them one of the first companies to call Tech Town home.
IC Datacom has had many opportunities operating out of Tech Town. It acquired Tech Town as a client as well as the neighboring Next Energy Corporation and various other companies within the Tech Town facility. In addition to networking possibilities, Tech Town disseminates key information for small businesses through multiple programs. It is through these programs that Carson and Willis heard about the First Step Fund. It is an early stage investment fund in partnership with the Invest Detroit Foundation, Tech Town, Bizdom, Ann Arbor SPARK and Automation Alley. It services emerging and newly-formed high growth businesses in Southeast Michigan, giving preference to women and minority business owners. Carson can attest to First Step Fund and Invest Detroit’s willingness to help minority entrepreneurs as this is the second loan that IC Datacom has been awarded.
Carson said that IC Datacom plans to use the money to take advantage of the new technology on the market to provide better services to their clients as well as expand their staff.
“The best part about being an entrepreneur is providing services to others and developing talent. The hard part is managing the day-to-day responsibilities. It’s the gift and curse of being an entrepreneur.”
While $50,000 is not the end all be all for the IC Datacom and its operations, it will go a long way to helping the company grow as a leading IT firm, capable of not only delivery exceptional service and products to its clientele, but also stimulating the economy with job creation.
For more information about IC Datacom, please visit http://icdatacom.com/services.html.
Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 12:50
Digital Daily Signup
Sign up now for the Michigan Chronicle Digital Daily newsletter!