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Detroit, MI

One of Many - Photo Essay 8 of 12

Story by Wesley Verhoeve October 22nd, 2015


What: One of Many is a monthly series of photo essays about twelve American cities and their creative communities.

Who: Designers, woodworkers, chefs, engineers, illustrators, writers and anyone else making something that moves people.

Why: To inspire and be inspired by the independent creative movement that is reshaping our economy and culture. To encourage others to make the leap. To empower those already there, and let them know they’re not alone.

Why Now: The growing creative independent movement, along with renewed interest in life outside the big cities, is rapidly reshaping our economy and culture.

Read much more at and find below the eighth of twelve One of Many essays. Many thanks to the good folks at Squarespace for helping make this project possible. I highly recommend using Squarespace to build your own website. Use the code “oneofmany” to get a 10% discount, and you’ll be supporting One of Many in a small way.

Do It Yourself

Phil Cooley has his hand in a lot of what’s been going on in Detroit in the last decade. He opened the renowned Slows Bar B Q with various partners, is a general contractor with O’Connor Development, and helped open Ponyride, an incubator for social innovators. Slows’ success in the earlier days of revitalizing the Corktown neighborhood allowed Phil to slowly build up a far reaching circle of DIY influence, from designing public places, to helping others open small businesses, and providing a home for several of the entrepreneurs and creatives that appear throughout this photo essay.

Steve Hughes is a writer, builder, and the editor of Stupor, Detroit’s longest running zine. Originally started in 1995, by Steve and his friend Bill Rohde, the zine has evolved from those cut-and-paste early days, welcoming changes in format but never in spirit or resilience. A recent issue was a collaboration with artist Matthew Barney and successfully brought to life via a Kickstarter campaign. When Steve is not focused on Stupor, he has a family to raise, Hamtramck’s Public Pool Art space to run, his literary series Good Tyme Writers Buffet to host, and a construction-business to run, strengthening the city of Detroit in many unique ways.

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Jeff Risk is a visual artist and part of Detroit’s vibrant DJ/producer community. Jeff was my generous host during my second Detroit trip, and the best part of staying at his place was watching him dig through his vinyl collection with a level of enthusiasm and passion more typically seen in a six year old’s eyes on Christmas morning. Record after record was mixed into the next, smoothly transitioning between various homegrown Detroit sounds and beyond. Jeff is a hard worker, a kind soul, and a creative thinker who’s been a Corktown resident for many years.


It Was Written But Never Told

Jack Cheng is a Shanghai-born writer who was raised in Michigan. He returned after a substantial time in Brooklyn. His path to becoming a writer has been a long and winding road. In a past life, he founded interactive design agency Disrupto, and tea-subscription startup Steepster. In the years that followed, Jack discovered that his heart was most at home in the solitary occupation of a writer. He published his first novel These Days, via a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is currently working on his second novel, to be published by Penguin in 2017.

Desiree Cooper must’ve been royalty in a past life. At least, that’s what it felt like as I observed her graceful and regal presence as she walked into the coffee shop we chose for our conversation. Desiree is a Pulitzer Prize nominated writer of books and newspaper columns. She writes about intimate matters with a level of complexity and nuance that requires a deep understanding and a generous heart. She explores race, class, gender, differences and similarities within communities and the family of humanity. Before she dedicated herself to writing, she was a lawyer. Before she was an adult, she was a child growing up on an air force base in Japan, and various places across the United States. Her latest novel, Know the Mother, is a collection of thirty vignettes that take a look at how migration changed “the fabric of families and particularly motherhood”.

Matthew Lewis is a writer who grew up in the Detroit suburbs. He is the managing editor for Model D, as well as Metromode, both online publications dedicated to spreading Detroit love and generally informing those interested. When I spoke to him last, he was collaborating on a project with Nick Hagen. Together, they set out to walk nearly all of Detroit, a city not known for it’s walkability, and will collect stories along the way. A worthy cause, in a city full of undiscovered, tucked away stories.

Anna Leigh Clark is a writer and reporter whose work has appeared in the NY Times, Grantland, The New Republic and many others. She’s currently working on a large scale story about the 11,000 rape kits that were discovered in a Detroit area warehouse in 2009, representing a massive backlog waiting to be tested for criminal trials. Over the course of five years, local authorities worked through the entire set, realizing that many of the rapists in these cases had since moved to many other states. The impact will be national, and hopefully it will inspire the other cities to process their backlogs. Anna is also the founder of Literary Detroit and the director of applications for Write A House. More on the latter below in Sarah F. Cox’ story.

Satori Shakoor is a writer, actor and comedienne. And really, Satori is a storyteller, in all the ways she pleases, and especially as a mainstage storyteller for The Moth, and as executive director of The Society for the Re-Institutionalization of Storytelling. Performing is in her blood, and during our conversation I was exposed to different facets of roles played. At times, I saw a strong soul with firm opinions and a willingness to fight for them. The next moment, the conversation seamlessly segued to a gentle, endearing, and inquisitive kindness. Having a conversation with a dynamic performer of Satori’s ilk and experience was both invigorating and rattling. Like a storm passed through, leaving only inspiring thoughts as debris. I’m still picking up the pieces.

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Airea D. Matthews is a writer, poet, and the assistant director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Her poems have won awards and hearts, and have been published in dozens of publications. Airea has performed her work at the Cannes Lions Festival, PBS’ RoadTrip Nation and on NPR. This mother of four is also the executive editor of The Offing, an online literary magazine publishing creative writing across genres and media.


Gentlemen, At Heart

Gentlemen are a creative collective founded by designer Dave Graw and editor Derek Swanson. Together, they combine into a Voltron-like team that can handle commercial client work, as well as personal collaborations like their cooking show Solid Dudes Kitchen. We drove around parts of Detroit in a gorgeous old Bronco and talked about the start of their creative partnership after meeting at a band rehearsal in the previous century. This story is not an uncommon one during my travels, where I often find former music collaborators all grown up and working in various creative roles while raising young families. The ability to improvise and hustle is a great school to come from for any freelancing creative and small business owner, and if any industry is the perfect breeding ground for that, it’s the music industry.

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A Place TO Gather

Daisuke Hughes and his wife Jessica Hicks opened Astro Coffee on the famed Corktown block that also features the aforementioned early bird Slow’s Bar BQ. It was inspiring to see this husband and wife team operate as one. Jessica cooks all the amazing food offerings, while Daisuke focuses on the coffee program. He was trained at Monmouth Coffee Company, the premiere coffee house in England, and in a previous life also worked at the iconic Zingerman’s Deli. After a stint in Jessica’s homeland of Australia, the two moved to Detroit to be part of the new movement to get this fine city closer to it’s glory days.

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Feeding The City

First, Sandy Levine opened the Oakland Art Novelty Co. craft cocktail bar in Ferndale. Last year, he was able to secure a space in the beautiful Park Shelton building in Midtown Detroit, where he opened Chartreuse Kitchen and Cocktails. When I visited, Sandy was in the middle of the build out, and as he walked me through the open space he painted a beautiful picture of what was to come. After spending his entire life working in food, a three year detour focused on drinks left him aching to get back into the world of feeding people. I can’t wait to see how it turned out.

Nikita Sanches is the chef/owner of Rock City Eatery, and the recently re-opened 1940’s greasy spoon joint Campau Tower, both in Hamtramck. But it all started with pies, which Niki made and sold at the Rust Belt Market, and they‘re still a popular item on his menu. Niki moved to Detroit at the age of 12 and has an immigrant‘s work ethic to show for it. The atmosphere amongst his staff is that of family, with people working hard because they care about each other, and former staff members still coming by to hang out all night. It‘s a pretty special place, with phenomenal food, and I highly recommend making it part of your Detroit experience. As a sign of success, Rock City is moving from Hamtramck to Mid-Town Detroit in early 2016 where it will be neighbors with the Shinola and Willie’s stores.

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Setting The Standard

Anna is passionately entrenched in Detroit in many ways. She’s a bartender at the fantastic Selden Standard restaurant, co-owner of vinyl record store Paramita Sound, and in the middle of extending that project into a record label for local Detroit talent. I’ve heard one demo so far, and I’m excited to see how Anna can add yet another notable accomplishment to both her resume, and the city of Detroit’s music community.

Executive chef Andy Hollyday is a partner at the aforementioned Selden Standard. Open kitchens are my favorite, and watching Andy take the best care of every dish before it went out, getting the little details right, was a study in professionalism and the art of hospitality. My first visit was right after the restaurant opened, yet it felt like a fully formed aesthetic presence in the middle of a food renaissance. My second, and third, visit were later that same week, as I sampled more dishes, all equally delicious, and each brought to me by ever-charming staff. My fourth visit was right after Selden’s one year anniversary, and the team have tightened up the operation even more.

Emily Cirocco was raised in Grosse Pointe Farms and played professional rugby for eight years. As one does, she made her way to Detroit where she fell in love with coffee. She worked for Great Lakes Coffee, and later Anthology, where she focused on learning everything there was to learn about roasting and making coffee. After having the “best meal of my life” she decided to apply for a job there and was recently installed as a full time host. When she’s not making people feel taken care of in a food setting, she focuses on doing freelance social media for a variety of other food companies around town.

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Like Minded, Able Bodied

Michael Burdick is an illustrator and art director. He often collaborates with illustrator James Noellert, under their combined middle names Eugene-Carland. James explores the boundaries of what can be communicated visually. He splits his time evenly between personal and client work, which allows for ample inspiration to flow between both. As I made my way through the food and beverage community of Detroit, Michael and James’ name and work popped into frame time and time again. From the Astro Coffee logo, to that of distillery Two James, to Supino Pizzeria, these two are quietly and elegantly making a massive positive impact on their community.

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Pack Up The Van And Go

Erin Gavle was a cog in the wheel of the advertising world in NYC. She quit and, together with her cousin, decided to grab a van and drive from Los Angeles to Detroit. Throughout their trip, treasure hunting slowly filled up the van with all the best vintage clothing and accessories, which eventually allowed for Erin to open up the wonderfully charming Eldorado General Store, named after the lost city of gold and holy grails.


The Fabric Of The City

Mandisa Smith is the co-founder of Detroit Fiber Works, a store that offers beautiful, handmade home goods and clothing. Some of it is made by Mandisa, like the top worn here, some by her co-founder Najma, and some by mostly fellow Detroit artists. Mandisa holds an MBA, used to work in the automotive industry, and like many of her peers, followed a winding path to find her passion at the end of a long piece of string.

Taylor Hayes is a Michigan-born designer and stylist and she’s got next. The neoprene piece was designed and handmade by Taylor, who graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology. In the past, Taylor has styled local Detroit musicians on the come up, including Dej Loaf, and she will make her mark. I can just feel it.

In a past life, Charley Marcuse was known as “The Singing Hot Dog Man”, by many sports fans at the Tigers Stadium and Comerica Park. He took a stand by exclaiming “There is no ketchup in baseball!“ and refusing to sell the red substance which he deemed inferior to mustard, the hot dog’s natural companion in the wild. Eventually this led to a ban, and later a firing. But you can’t keep Charley down. He parlayed the attention into his own line of mustard sauce, Charley’s Ballpark Mustard, which is offered in 65 establishments throughout Michigan. Additionally, as you might infer from his distinguished appearance, Charley has taken an interest in fashion, helping men better themselves sartorially at the renowned Claymore Shop menswear store.

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Eric Yelsma is the founder of Detroit Denim, which operates out of the Ponyride space. As a youngen, he taught himself how to use a sewing machine, and several decades later he found himself obsessing over the relationship between the customer and those who make his clothes. This led to his passion driven quest to make the highest quality American jeans, with an eye on both style and utility. There’s only one U.S. mill left which produced the kind of high end denim Eric swears by, Cone Mills in North Carolina. His team of four ensures that 100% of all other materials used are also sourced from within the United States.

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Empower Others/Yourself

The Empowerment Plan is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the homeless community, by breaking the cycle of homelessness. They manufacture coats that transform into sleeping bags for those in need, and are almost entirely staffed by homeless parents from local shelters. Many move on to become full time seamstresses, gaining financial stability, help to find secure housing, and a sense of pride knowing they are helping others stay safe and warm.

Julie Boissonneault-Benac (pictured first) is the production manager of The Empowerment Plan, and explained how coats are handed out to homeless people in need, and sponsored by donations from local and regional companies looking to help.

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Music In Our Heart

Dennis Coffey recorded and performed with Funkadelic, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and many more. He was one of the Funk Brothers, discovered Rodriguez of Sugar Man fame, released a solo song by the name of Scorpio that sold over a million copies and was foundational in Hip Hop, and at 74 years old continues to tour and play a regular gig at Northern Lights Lounge. He met his wife Millie when she worked at Motown.

During the 1980’s, Dennis moved to New York and Los Angeles looking for session work, but found himself aged out and working on the assembly line at General Motors in between gigs. He worked his way into being an in-demand consultant for various automotive companies, eventually landing at Ford as a training coach all over the U.S., Mexico and Germany.

After more than two decades in the world of cars, a new generation of musicians started sampling Coffey’s songs, including LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, and others. Since then, Coffey has transitioned back to being a full time musician, still touring and recording regularly.


Monty Luke is DJ, producer, and the owner of boutique label Black Catalogue. Originally from San Francisco, Monty moved to Detroit in 2008 to work with the legendary DJ Carl Craig and his Planet E Communications label. Monty exudes a work ethic that focuses on strengthening the creative community around him. Rather than coasting on Detroit’s iconic past, he seeks to push the boundaries of current electronic music. He works in service of this overarching goal, and in the process creates opportunities for new artists from Detroit and beyond to make a true impact. This all is in addition to his own remix and production work. Balancing the business and the creation of music can be very challenging, and it’s clear Monty is respected for both.

Zachary Saginaw is a DJ and producer better known under his middle name, Shigeto. He is signed to Ann Arbor’s very own Ghostly International and makes electronic music of the dreamy kind, both rich in texture and clean in execution. His influences are distinctly big city, ranging from Motown and jazz, to Hip Hop and ambient. Listening to his music with my eyes closed inspires little movie vignettes projected on the inside of my eyelids. Sometimes moody, sometimes driving, always interesting, always moving.


Wade Kergan is the owner of local vinyl store Hello Records, which he opened in 2009 with his business partner Ben Hall. The store is small yet eclectic, filled with customers that care enough about quality records to spend hours tracking them down. I thumbed through soul, funk and jazz classics, while others found gems in the bins filled with dance singles or 45s. More than a store, it’s really a place for the local vinyl and music community to gather, shoot the shit, learn, all while picking up some new tunes carefully curated by Wade.

Gerard Thierde is a visual artist and a tattoo apprentice at Detroit Ink Spot. Taking inspiration from his favorite independent music artists, Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y, Gerard has been organizing art tours in much the same way music artists tour. This year he got to meet both of his heroes, tell them how much they have meant to him, and even gift them artwork. Gerard represents the epitome of hustle and hunger, yet carries himself modestly and quietly. It’s a great juxtaposition to be around and to cheer for.

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Write A House

Sarah F. Cox is the co-founder and director of Write A House, a 501c3 nonprofit that combines community building with support for the literary arts. Those in need of vocational training are taught how to build houses, and the finished house is awarded to an author who relocates to Detroit.

Leveraging the large pool of available housing in creative ways is just what Detroit needs, and what a wonderful way to blow life into the stale concept of traditional writer-in-residence programs. It’s a perfect combination of Sarah’s interests and professional past as a writer and editor in the world of real estate. After six years of living in NYC and working in the magazine world, Sarah felt it was time to find a new place where she could truly build something of substance. In the years since, she’s quietly building an empire, helping others find sustainable ways to pursue their passion, and single handedly bringing fresh new creatives to town from elsewhere. Not bad Sarah, not bad.


In A Pickle

Some 10 years ago, the McClure family started a pickle company based on their great grandma’s recipe. This after many years of making pickles in their home kitchen, perfecting the process. Every overnight success is ten years in the making, after all. The company is run by brothers Bob, from Brooklyn, and Joe (pictured below, in Detroit). Joe’s team handles all manufacturing, and maintains relationships with local and regional farms ensuring the freshest and best ingredients. All the jars are then hand packed in the factory, after which Bob’s team handles marketing and sales.

Outside of pickles, Joe also holds a doctoral degree in physiology, and is a fervent classical musician. Bob comes at pickles from the angle of being an actor and comedy writer with a bunch of big brand commercials and various tv and movie work to his name. Working in the background in other key roles are their parents Jennifer and Mike, making this a true family company, and it shows. Walking around the factory the thing that struck me was that while pickling is serious work that requires focus and safety measure, everybody there was having a good time working together, taking pride in making something special as a team. Nice work, McClure’s Pickles.

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Building a Life

Kaija Wuollet is the principal of Laavu Studio, an architectural design practice. Laavu is dedicated to city-building, and I couldn’t think of a better place for them to exist. So much potential, so much to work with. Kaija’s family roots are Finnish but her heart is that of an urbanist. Living amongst so many underutilized structures, inside of challenging socio-economic conditions, requires a lot of imagination, grit, and optimism. Luckily, Kaija has those in ample amounts, which was clear within the first minutes of our conversation. We looked at building plans and models, enthusiastically explained by Kaija who may very well, by way of her imagination, already live in the Detroit of tomorrow. It’ll be wonderful to see her continuing to make an impact.

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Picture This

Nick Hagen is a Michigan-born photographer who returned to Detroit after stints in Paris and Nigeria. He’s currently collaborating with Matthew Lewis, on the previously unnamed project that takes them around Detroit by foot, collecting stories along the way. Nick is all about the story, and finding original ways to capture and share. He will travel far for the right unexpected story, like when he went to investigate the gaming world in Lagos, Nigeria, and came out with a fascinating look.

Gabriella Santiago Romero is a visual creative who was born in Mexico and raised in Detroit since the age of two. Being surrounded by poverty, violence, and other systematic issues plaguing the city, motivated Gabriella to take on an active role in improving Detroit, whether it’s by focusing on telling stories through photography, or by putting to use her business degree to assist others in finding their path.

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Against the grain

It’s better to fix something old, than buy something new. And if it’s new, it better be special. Those notions seem to be at the core of what makes Metropolis Cycles tick. This newly opened full service bicycle repair and retail shop focuses on bike commuters in a city known for its cars. Owners Ted Sliwinski (pictured below, right) and Shayne O‘Keefe have worked around the city in various roles for many years. (Also pictured, Brad and Lauren)



|| More To Read and See ||
|| Visit for the story behind this project, and information on upcoming cities and essays.
|| Find more photos on Instagram and by searching the hashtag #oneofmanyDetroit
|| Find outtakes on Tumblr, published on a regular basis.
|| A list of my favorite restaurants and shops in Detroit (MI) is available on Foursquare.

NEXT ESSAY: Seattle, WA - To be published late November, 2015.

Follow along in real time via Instagram.

Many thanks to the good folks at Squarespace for helping make this project possible. I highly recommend using Squarespace to build your own website. Use the code “oneofmany” to get a 10% discount, and you’ll be supporting One of Many in a small way.

Footnote: Many thanks to Jose Mejia, J. Cheng, S.J. Cox, K. Wuollet, D. Eiser, Brandon Mastrangelo, Irvi, and Sam Valenti IV. Also thank you to my friends at Shinola for hosting the launch party for this essay.
Detroit, MI, United States