In June, colleagues from Northeast Ohio embarked on a mind-expanding trip to Detroit with Forward Cities, a four-city learning collaborative involving more than 100 professionals from foundations, nonprofits, government and business.
The brainchild of Forward Impact and Friends of New Orleans, the two-year collaboration is focused on spurring inclusive entrepreneurship in Detroit, New Orleans, Durham, North Carolina and Cleveland.
One theme that rang true throughout our whirlwind visit to Detroit was the importance of food entrepreneurship as a pathway to urban revival — jams, sweet teas, cheeses and sausages delighted our palettes in the Motor City.
Much of this activity emanates from Detroit’s Eastern Market and FoodLab located in the heart of the city. Creative people with a culinary product cook in a licensed kitchen and secure help in meeting food standards.
The products bring joy to their creators and many times capture family recipes they are anxious to share with the world. These entrepreneurs contribute to a downtown vibrancy at the market and in the community at farmers markets, restaurants and food emporiums. Often, ambitious cooks are drawing upon the resources generated by urban farming activities and bringing the story of renewal full circle.
To emphasize the central role of food in urban revival, Forward Cities organized a panel featuring food entrepreneurs sharing the threads that connect them to neighborhood revitalization. From Cleveland, Mansfield Frazier represented Chateau Hough Winery, an urban farming operation in the Hough neighborhood.
Frazier commented that the fledgling winery is aiming for a triple bottom-line return converting vacant land to productive land, putting something green in the space and providing employment for the formerly incarcerated.
According to Eric Diamond, executive vice president of Economic Community Development Institute, operator of the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, Northeast Ohio is generating many stories of successful food entrepreneurs.
Diamond shared a few examples of the journeys these entrepreneurs have navigated:
Ethan Holmes started his applesauce business while attending Hiram College. He has since grown the operation and is currently selling his product in Heinen’s Grocery Stores, as well as other local vendors. He employs at-risk youth to help prepare his products.
Clark Pope was a high school history teacher when he joined the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, ultimately leaving teaching to follow his love of food. Pope’s products range from hot sauces to strawberry balsamic glazes to bloody mary mix. He is already carried in over 15 stores in Ohio and Michigan.
Jessie Mason and his wife, Helen, moved back to Ohio after spending years in California where they learned the art of ice cream making. The Masons grew to a cult-like following at the Cleveland Flea and local farmers markets. They eventually moved from the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen and opened Mason’s Creamery in Ohio City, just rated one of the top ice creams in Cleveland.
These entrepreneurial chefs are transforming Northeast Ohio into a foodies’ paradise, so get out there, taste test their products and share in the excitement. ●
Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO at the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.