Showcasing Detroit’s Revitalization Through Storytelling

When I fell in love with a guy from the east side of Detroit, my world opened up in lots of ways—not least of them was my introduction to a couple of legendary Detroit eateries I had been previously unaware of. Whether it was gobs of meat and cheese in the form of a Big Baby burger or the pizza at Buddy’s and the chicken wings at Sweetwater Express, my fiancé knew where all the good, off-the-beaten-path restaurants were in the Motor City. Most of them, though, paled in comparison to Caper’s.

Caper’s might appear to be an unassuming little hole in the wall at the edge of northeastern Detroit, but don’t let its façade fool you—there’s a reason this place almost always has a line of hungry customers waiting to get in. I’ve never eaten anywhere else you can order filet mignon (and three other cuts of steak) by the ounce—as much or as little as you want—or Long Island iced teas so strong that the last time I was there, I had to ask for a side of Coke. Twice. The prices are excellent, which comes in handy because everything is a la carte. The dressings on the salad bar taste home made, and the towering pieces of cake on offer for dessert are enough to satisfy even the most unrepentant sugar fiend. (Hi.)

But I learned a couple of things I didn’t know about Caper’s—and a whole bunch of other restaurants and stores—from the newly released Detroit Neighborhood Business Directory, the result of a partnership between the city’s government, the Black Chamber of Commerce, and Challenge Detroit. For instance: Caper’s owner Gary Jacobs got the idea to serve steak by the ounce after he threw a Delmonico on the counter once and asked a customer which cut he wanted. Open since 1982, Caper’s has never paid for a single advertisement, relying instead on word of mouth. According to the directory, Jacobs estimates that 75 percent of his customers are regulars, a number even Slow’s Bar-B-Q might envy.

The neighborhood business directory’s first edition, which profiles more than 170 establishments, was published late last month to coincide with Small Business Saturday. For the ambitious project, Challenge Detroit’s 31 fellows split the city into seven districts and spent about four weeks going door-to-door with a district manager, often from a neighborhood organization, to look for small businesses to spotlight. This involved the fellows sitting down and interviewing business owners in order to present quick but compelling portraits along with up-to-date information regarding the establishment’s location, hours, and website, if available.

“It’s an exciting honor to collaborate with city government and use the power of storytelling to elevate local businesses in the neighborhoods,” said Shelley Danner, Challenge Detroit’s program manager. “It’s not only a fantastic list, but a compelling way to share the stories of people who live and work here.”

Challenge Detroit, now in its fourth year, is a professional development program aimed at attracting and retaining millennial talent to the area. Each cohort is expected to “work, live, play, give, and lead” in Detroit, Danner said, and to that end, they work Mondays through Thursdays at jobs with some of the city’s leading companies. On Fridays, the fellows meet to work on five-week community projects—the neighborhood business directory was the current cohort’s first group project—that Danner said are meant to teach the fellows about the city in a well-rounded way while also helping local nonprofits. Along the way, fellows are expected to regularly blog about their experiences and maintain a social media presence.

“It’s important to us to share balanced stories about Detroit to amplify the news being generated,” Danner explained. “We want to contribute to the city’s revitalization and have a positive impact through a cross-section of partnerships.”

Danner said the majority of Challenge Detroit fellows, many of whom come from … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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