Noam worked for a non-profit around fresh food access and became disenchanted around always applying for grants. He saw a disconnection between those providing funds and those being serviced. In graduate school Noam took a class that introduced him to the idea of a business model that addresses a social concern which seemed like an answer to the problem he was seeing working with his non-profit. When he looked at Detroit he noticed few grocery stores, but plenty of food corner stores. He realized that if he made fresh food accessible in corner stores he could replicate and expand this model and bring the café experience to corner stores in the city.
One of his biggest hurdles he’s experienced in these past couple years is typical of any new small business, and that’s maintaining funds. Noam’s company is a L3C, limited low-profit corporation. When I asked him his ideal distribution of making profit and doing good he emphasized supporting full-time salaries and that profit was always good when he was getting people to eat healthy food and creating a sustainable way to keep people employed.
As a non-Detroit native, Noam came to the city in hopes of seeing a positive social change in the city. Coming to the city the little guys were working together to amplify their voice and Noam saw a place that wasn’t like Chicago or Boston. He saw collaboration in a community that was making Detroit the place they wanted to see in the world. I asked him his fears for the city and he worries that Detroit will end up like any other city. The grassroots initiative that he considered himself to be a part of has a chance of being overshadowed by the bigger voices now who want their stake in the city…or maybe just downtown.
And then of course I had to ask him the big question. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Without hesitation he answered Fresh Corner would be in 250 corner stores. Livable wages and full time employment characterize success for Noam. Later down the road he’s interested in providing a small business approach to big business practices. And his model for making it big is to become like a Zingerman’s, a small deli that employs over 600 employees and supports their employees to branch out beyond Zingerman’s.
Talking with Noam and Jen was insightful. They were just two people with an idea and the will to do carry that idea to fruition. I think all the responsibility that they’ve given me this summer has taught me to not let your shortcomings hold you back. If you don’t know how to do something, learn it and ask for help. If you see a need, but you don’t have all the resources to address it, find people who do. Noam isn’t a sappy guy. He’s pretty laid back and at the end of the day I think he’s just trying to do good—not change the world, not “fix” Detroit, but just do his best at what he can do for people. And that’s something I can really respect.