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Small biz 'Boot Camp' launched for aspiring entrepreneurs in Oakland County

A group of Pontiac and Oakland County business leaders, governments officials, and stakeholders gathered in downtown Pontiac on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 18, to celebrate the launch of a new program designed to better prepare would-be entrepreneurs in the microloan application process.

Called the Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs, the program is free to all Oakland County resdents. The Boot Camp is funded in part by a $50,000 grant from Huntington Bank.

Oakland County's Financial Empowerment Center and JVS have partnered to administer the program.

Though a "Boot Camp" by name, the financial literacy program actually consists of private, one-on-one education and counseling sessions.

"Applying for business loans can be a daunting and overwhelming process," says Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. "We're trying to make it more friendly and welcoming."

Oakland County residents can schedule a session with JVS, who will meet wherever it's convenient, be it the county's Pontiac offices, the JVS offices in Southfield, or a resident's local coffee shop.

"We believe that the best way to help people is to help people help themselves," said Paul Blatt, COO and executive vice president of JVS Detroit. "The boot camp does that."

JVS provides a number of services to those enrolled in the bootcamp. One-on-one financial literacy education and counseling will assist residents in better understanding budgeting, money management, profit and loss statements, expense tracking, cash flow, and other essential business skills.

Counselors will help resolve residents' credit collection or credit score issues. And counselors will provide assistance through the microloan application process. Microloans can range anywhere from $1,000 to $250,000.

James and April Forbes, the couple behind the Menagerie pop-up dinners, kitchen incubator, and forthcoming restaurant, spoke at the press conference. James and April are currently in the process of developing the restaurant Menagerie Lounge, which is scheduled to open in downtown Pontiac in February 2018. The couple was recently awarded a $35,000 Small Business Administration loan from Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.

Like Meisner, James Forbes also used the word daunting when describing the loan application process.

"It's daunting to have to put together business plans, P&Ls, financial projections," said James, who has 32 years of experience in the restaurant industry. "I can't imagine how people with zero experience go about approaching that process. That's why this boot camp is really important."

There are a lot of people in Oakland County that might have a good idea for a small business but just might not have the business know-how to fill out the forms and engage the banks, that might not have all of their personal finances in order. The boot camp was designed for those people in mind.

"We want the people that start the loan application process but don't finish, the people that applied but were rejected," Meisner said.

The press conference was held at 31 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac. The multi-level building is being renovated by owner Matt Russell, though the basement floor is currently occupied by Alley Cat Cafe and Indian Hill Wine Cellar. The building also serves as headquarters for Russell's event management platform LocalHop.

"I hope this program helps Michigan build more of an entrepreneurial mindset," said Russell. "Starting a company is stressful, scary, and hard, but it's worth it."

The Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs is free to all residents of Oakland County. Interested parties should visit the Treasurer office online or call (248) 233-4299 for information about enrollment and services.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Nonprofit performance foundation launched to showcase metro Detroit's underserved populations

A new metro Detroit nonprofit is designed to provide more performance opportunities for underserved populations.

New Generation Fine Arts Foundation (NewGen) is the brainchild of Kendall Owens. The Plymouth native has headquartered NewGen in Canton and plans on serving all of metro Detroit.

The idea started while Owens was traveling in dance competitions, where she noticed minorities weren't well represented. NewGen is her attempt to help change that.
Owens is also creating programming for the developmentally disabled. Dance is a great form of art therapy, she says, and can be beneficial for people of all sorts of backgrounds.

Where she gets the time to start a non-profit foundation is anyone's guess. Owens is an honors college double major--nursing and dance--undergrad at Western Michigan University and is just twenty years old.

"I'm a double major and learning so much about nursing and dance. Both increase quality of life," says Owens. "Finding that connection between the two has really pushed me. It's what motivates me."

Set to graduate in 2019, Owens plans on offering after-school programs and summer camps beginning in 2020. In the meantime, NewGen will launch its inaugural showcase event in 2018. Titled Blaqk Box, registration for the two-day event opens in March, auditions will be held in May, and the event itself will occur in July.

The first day of Blaqk Box will feature master classes and showcases from national talent, with workshops and storytelling sessions. A painting class will also be offered.

The second day will feature performances from those that registered in March.

"I want to try and bring opportunities to the underserved," says Owens. "If I had something like this, I would have been better prepared."

Visit New Generation Fine Arts Foundation online for registration information and more.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

April Wagner's epiphany studios opens downtown Detroit pop-up, plans Pontiac headquarters expansion

April Wagner's epiphany studios, the Pontiac-based hot glass studio and gallery is growing.

Since Sept. 15, Wagner has been selling pieces from her line of functional and decorative glasswork art at the historic Guardian Building in downtown Detroit. It's a perfect fit for a company that's in the business of art and craftsmanship; the Guardian Building is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Art Deco skyscraper architecture in the world.

"Being in the Guardian has been inspirational. I feel like the role of the craftsperson hasn't changed over the years, even with technology," says Wagner. "Well-crafted things will always be important."

For now, the epiphany studios gallery at the Guardian is a pop-up, though Wagner says that if things go well enough, she'll consider keeping a permanent space there. She'll stay open at least through next year's North American International Auto Show in January.

She currently occupies a 300 sq. ft. gallery-type space in the building's promenade level. The downtown Detroit epiphany studios offer a good representation of Wagner's pieces, from the functional bowls and cups to the more decorative and artistic sculptures. Holiday pieces, too, are a theme, including glass pumpkins for the fall and planned Christmas ornaments for later in the season.

In addition to Wagner's newfound presence in downtown Detroit, the artist is also preparing to expand her Pontiac studio, nearly doubling its size. Wagner's 4,000 sq. ft. Pontiac headquarters serves mainly as a studio, with 3,000 sq. ft. dedicated to machinery, workspace, and shipping. She's planning on building a 3,000 sq. ft. addition on the building, and expects to complete it within the next three years.

One of the things that spurred on the expansion is a current project, a chandelier that is 9.5 ft. tall. Constricted by space, Wagner has to work on the chandelier in pieces. The new expansion will feature a two-story open space that will allow the artist to work on such large projects as one piece.

The epiphany studios gallery at the Guardian Building is open Thursday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and also by appointment.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Former Plymouth middle school woodshop to be converted into art gallery, classroom, and more

Plymouth's old Central Middle School ceased operations in 2015, the city having moved its 7th and 8th graders to another facility in town. But the historic school building in downtown Plymouth is set to educate children once more, this time in the form of art education.

While rest of the 100-year old building has been converted into the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex, the corner of the old middle school that once housed a wood shop classroom is now becoming home to Warehouse Studio and the headquarters and classroom of Art Foundation. Warehouse Studio amenities will include a modern art gallery, production studio, and retail space.

The second part of the project, Art Foundation, is a non-profit designed to foster and nurture the creative minds of young people. According to artist Tony RoKo, founder of both Warehouse and Art Foundation, he wasn't supported in his creative endeavors as a kid, and this is his chance to give what he never received. The Plymouth location will serve as the headquarters for his non-profit, as well as a classroom.

To raise the money required to launch both Warehouse Studio and the Art Foundation space, RoKo has partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on a crowdfunding campaign. Should Art Foundation successfully raise $40,000 by Nov. 7, MEDC will contribute a $40,000 matching grant as part of their Public Spaces Community Places placemaking initiative.

The crowdfunding campaign is being hosted by the Michigan-based Patronicity platform, which is online here.

According to officials, the money raised from the crowdfunding campaign will go towards renovating the old wood shop into a studio, furnish the classroom, and install modern technologies befitting a gallery and retail store. Funds will also go towards the development of curricula and public programs to be carried out at the main Plymouth location as well as Art Foundation's satellite location at the DEN non-profit accelerator in Detroit.

The Plymouth Arts and Recreation Complex, the future home of Warehouse Studio and Art Foundation, is located at 650 Church St. in downtown Plymouth.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Restaurant veterans to open southern-inspired Menagerie Lounge in Pontiac

A new restaurant is being planned for downtown Pontiac, and it comes from a few familiar faces in the city's dining scene.

James and April Forbes, the couple responsible for the pop-up kitchen and incubator Menagerie, are planning on opening a restaurant of their own. Dubbed Menagerie Lounge, the restaurant will feature southern-inspired fare, live entertainment, and design work and art from local Pontiac artists. The couple, who won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars in 2012, will also carry their own award-winning desserts.

Scheduled for a February 2018 opening, Menagerie Lounge will be located at 155 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac.

"When we go out to eat, we've been in the service industry for so long that we have a different lens that we view the experience through. We're more forgiving, but we also know how we want our staff to treat our customers," April says. "The customer service will be top notch because people work hard for their money."

The build-out of the restaurant is being funded, in part, by a recently announced $25,000 grant from Flagstar Bank and a $35,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan from Center for Empowerment and Economic Development (CEED). The grant is part of $2.5 million that Flagstar is scheduled to invest in small business development in Pontiac.

"We're super excited about the loan and grant opportunity. It's not often that a small restaurant gets this type of opportunity at all," says James. "We're excited about the direction the city is heading in."

April recommends that businesses interested in applying for the loans and grants be prepared and have their business plans ready. Oakland County's One Stop Shop Business Center, she says, was a big help in preparing Menagerie's business plan.

Menagerie, which got its start as a pop-up kitchen in 2015, moved to Lafayette Market earlier this year, where they facilitate the pop-up kitchen and restaurant incubator programs. The couple says that they will continue to work on the incubator program, even after their own restaurant opens.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Ferndale restaurateur and DDA chief not content to rest on laurels: Dean Bach of Dino's, M-Brew

They told him that it couldn't be done. They said he was crazy for building a nice bar in turn-of-the-century downtown Ferndale. And to the naysayers' credit, when Dean Bach opened Dino's Lounge in August 2002, Ferndale didn't anywhere nearly resemble the trendy hub that it's become today. Bach says that downtown was more known for empty storefronts than it was condos, more for busted "massage parlors" than hip nightspots.

But with Dino's, Bach took an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. A patron of the nearby Post Bar, he was starting to age out of the "plastic cups and sweaty bodies bumping into each other" phase of his nightlife. As he transitioned out of his early 30s, Bach wanted to build a bar where you could feel like a grown-up but still young, too; a place that was upscale but not uptight.

It's fifteen years later and Bach has been proven right on his gamble on the old Rialto Cafe building on Woodward Avenue. His enthusiasm for the community early on, like appearing on local TV spots and acting as a booster for the city as much as for his restaurant, helped establish Ferndale's downtown as a destination. So it's no wonder he's since become chairperson of the Ferndale Downtown Development Association. 
Today, development in Ferndale is going both up and out, with taller buildings being built and downtown's fashionable footprint beginning to stretch east of Woodward and down Nine Mile Road toward I-75.

"There's nothing wrong with putting a nice place somewhere that doesn't have many nice places. I thought, It'll catch up to me. And the next thing you know, people were passing me by and now there's a lot nicer places all around me," says Bach. "That's why we've done all these renovations. Because now I have to go back and catch up to the people that have passed me up while I sat here for fifteen years enjoying the fruits of the original labor."

Bach recently shut down his restaurant for a two-week-long renovation blitza risky move for any business owner. Most of the work was performed by Bach, his wife, family, friends, and employees, determined to re-open as soon as possible.

Garage doors open up to the city sidewalk. The mustard yellow walls have been painted over in shades of grey and white, with most of the posters and knick knacks removed for a cleaner, modern look. Reclaimed wood covers many of the walls and pillars. Bach hired a former employee with her own furniture business to build tables and chairs out of reclaimed wood from a 300 year old Grosse Ile building. The giant mirror has been refurbished, and Edison bulbs punctuate the room.

Rebuilt bathrooms, new kitchen equipment, and more gives Dino's a fresh feel, one Bach contends is necessary after fifteen years in businesswhich is 50 years in restaurant years, he says. Bach even got rid of three of the five TVs and, he says proudly, not a single person has complained.

The menu, too, has been updated. It's smaller with more focus, centering on foods that don't require a fork but lend themselves to creative and easily modifiable recipes, including sandwiches, loaded fries and poutine, mini-shish kabobs, and chicken wings. One thing that has remained, of course, is the famous Dino's brunch.

In 2014, Bach partnered on another bar in town, M-Brew. It's a Michigan-themed bar in an old VFW hall converted to feel like a northern Michigan lake house, complete with a fireplace and wrap-around porch. Bach personally drives around northern Michigan, happily searching out hard-to-find small batch beers to bring back to Ferndale.

Bach's enjoyed that last pursuit so much that he's ready to announce yet another restaurant: the Belle Iron Grill in the northern Michigan town of Gaylord, tentatively scheduled to open in July 2018. Bach is bringing the Dino's "Funday" Brunch concept to Gaylord, a trend they've yet to catch on to, he says. If M-Brew is his chance to bring northern Michigan to Ferndale, than the Belle Iron Grill will be his chance to bring Ferndale to northern Michigan.

"This has become a kind of utopia of friendliness," says Bach. "Ferndale is a very special city. It's become this bright and shiny piece of Woodward where everybody says hello to you when you're walking down the street."

"This is a special town."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Farmington Hills dance, yoga, and Bharat Natyam instructor builds a 40-year legacy of community

Chaula Thacker started both her business, Chauladevi Institute of Dance and Yoga, and non-profit organization, Nadanta, in 1977, just a year after her arrival in the United States in 1976. 
She came to study ballet, but her teacher soon asked Thacker to start teaching, too, a request that would affect the rest of her life. She knows numerous styles of dance, but her specialty is Bharat Natyam, a classical Indian dance known for its colorful costumes and exuberance.

"I came to this country and started studying ballet in Dayton, but they had me start teaching Bharat Natyam right away," says Thacker. "I said, I came here to learn ballet, and you're telling me to teach my dance style. They said, 'you can do both.' So I did."

Both her business and non-profit still exist today, 40 years later. And 40 years later, she is still at it. 
In her dance and yoga studio, she teaches school children, university students, senior citizens, and more, both Indians and non-Indians alike. She also volunteers classes for people with special needs, offering wheelchair dance classes and more.

Thacker also operates the non-profit Nadanta out of her Farmington Hills home, dedicating the entirety of her basement to the organization, as well as a couple of bedrooms-turned-offices upstairs. While the business allows her to teach, Nadanta allows Thacker the ability to promote and preserve the Indian tradition of Bharat Natyam.

When Thacker first arrived in the United States, she says that not many people were interested in Bharat Natyam, even Indians themselves. Nadanta has helped change that. Over its 40-year existence, Thacker's group has been invited to perform all over the world, from the then-Soviet Union to Disneyworld.

"The very first year we were invited to Russia and Europe as cultural ambassadors," says Thacker. "Three different continents: Indians born and raised in the United States, except me, presenting Indian art from America in the Soviet Union."

Metro Detroiters might recognize Nadanta from any number of their many performances; Thacker says they're busy just about every single weekend of the year. Public performances, private parties, birthdays, weddings, competitions; here or abroad, the group is in high demand. 
They're regular performers at events held in downtown Detroit and have performed at the Arts Beats and Eats festival for 19 years straight. They sell out local theaters and have been taped for television, including PBS. Nadanta is so busy that they don't bother advertising for gigs. There's simply no need.

"It's all by how we've established ourselves," Thacker says. "We don't really advertise too much; we don't have fifteen different YouTube channels. We don't have any of those. Now, sometimes we should, but we don't have the hours to work on that. Whatever time we do have is spent on the production itself. And people keep coming back."

That hard work has paid off for the group. And Thacker says that audiences can see the discipline and effort put into their performances. They've performed in numerous countries. They've won hundreds of awards and competitions. They've earned financial support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts every year since 1988.

Thacker herself is tireless, either teaching at CIDY, Nadanta, or both, every single day of the week. In addition to being the founder and artistic director at Nadanta, Thacker has been a faculty member at College for Creative Studies and has taught dance classes at Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Marygrove College. 
And not only has she a degree in dance, Thacker also earned a degree in microbiology. While she never pursued a career in microbiology, Thacker says that elements like anatomy and the movement of the DNA strand have informed her work. She's also written a book, "An Introduction to Bharat Natyam," among her many, many other accomplishments.

For Thacker, all that effort has been worth it. After 40 years of teaching and choreographing, Thacker is now working with the sons and daughters of previous students. She's watched other students form lifelong bonds, and she's watched them pair off into couples. This December, she'll be traveling to Chicago to watch a performance by a new Bharat Natyam dance company started by one of her former students.

"That is what I need to see, as a future legacy. Not if Nadanta is still doing something or not, but that they the students are doing something on their own," says Thacker. "As long as there is dance, yoga, and a good sense of Bharat Natyam, then Nadanta survives."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Local community theaters among those to receive state arts and culture grants

Nearly 500 community arts groups and cultural institutions throughout the state have been named recipients of Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) grants, and a large number of them located within the greater Detroit metropolitan region.

Over the course of the 2017 and '18 fiscal year, 474 organizations will split $10.6 million in grants. 56 of the state's 83 counties are represented, with Wayne County benefitting quite heavily. Oakland and Macomb counties are represented as well. Organizations include schools, festivals, museums, historical societies, and much more.

Represented well in each of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties are community theaters. Tipping Point Theatre, located in downtown Northville, is the recipient of two grants, one listed at $53,091 and the other at $15,000. Dan Ferrara, the theater's Director of Development, says that the money will go toward operational costs as well as updated and energy efficient lighting equipment.

"As a non-profit arts organization, the MCACA support is critical to our success and our impact on the community. We employ over 90 Michigan artists each year and our ticket-holders spend nearly a half-million dollars each season at surrounding businesses before and after performances," says Ferrara. "By helping us succeed, MCACA is supporting not only local arts, but the local economy."

This is the first year that Open Book Theatre Company was eligible for an operational grant from MCACA, and the Trenton theater successfully secured $11,250 for the upcoming fiscal year. Krista Schafer Ewbank, Artistic Director at Open Book, says she's thrilled.

"A grant from MCACA helps more than just financially; it's a recognition of the importance of the work we do bringing professional theatre to our community Downriver and lends credibility to our organization as we seek support from other avenues," says Schafer Ewbank. "The grant will help us pay both artistic and administrative staff, as well as the expenses that come with running a theatre, everything from paying the electric bill to buying toilet paper."

Click here for a full list of this year's MCACA grant recipients.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Pontiac in the news: Non-profit medical center opens, historic downtown theater offers hurricane aid

Wellness Plan: The Wellness Plan has opened a new medical center in Pontiac. It's the second location in the city for the non-profit organization, and its fifth overall.

The newest Wellness Plan Medical Center takes over the former site of Oakland Primary Health Services at 46156 Woodward Ave. Patients can expect the same medical and dental services as offered by other Wellness Plan locations, as well as expanded services. Additional offerings include women's health services, an on-site pharmacy, and integrated behavioral health and social services.

A Federally Qualified Health Center, the Wellness Plan is a non-profit that caters to uninsured and underinsured populations. There is a Sliding Fee Discount Program for those eligible, taking factors like family size and household income into account.

"We are thrilled to build on our sustained growth and more than 40-year history in Metro Detroit with our newest location in Pontiac," The Wellness Plan CEO Anthony King says in a statement. "Reinforcing our deep ties to the Pontiac community, we will continue to provide quality medical care to those who need it most."

The Wellness Plan opened its first medical center in Pontiac three years ago, at the Henderson Health Center at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital.

Hurricane Relief: Following the devastation recently wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, downtown Pontiac's Flagstar Strand Theatre has announced that it will donate a portion of ticket sales to help in recovery and relief efforts.

A portion of every ticket sold to the following seven shows will be donated to the American Red Cross and MusiCares:
  • Sunday, Oct. 1 -- Boz Scaggs
  • Tuesday, Oct. 10 -- An Evening with Travis Tritt, solo acoustic
  • Wednesday, Oct. 11 -- Tango Buenos Aires
  • Thursday, Oct. 19 -- Chris Isaak
  • Saturday, Oct. -- The Artimus Pyle Band Honoring the Music of Ronnie Van Zant’s Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Saturday, Oct. 28 -- Festival of South African Dance
  • Wednesday, Nov. 1 -- Martial Artists Acrobats of the Tianjin
The Flagstar Strand Theatre is located at 12 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

M Cantina restaurants offers modern tastes of Mexico

When you dine at East Dearborn’s new M Cantina along Michigan Avenue, operator and chef Junior Merino wants you to experience the Mexico he knows.

He and his wife Heidi, who have been married for 15 years, are the faces behind the “Nuevo Latino” eatery with made-to-order foods and housemade sauces, including 21 different kinds of salsa.

“This is about showcasing my passion for food, the way I grew up and the real Mexico,” he says.


The menu features tortas (panini-pressed Mexican-style sandwiches), tacos, homemade sorbets and a variety of exotic fresh juice blends and coffee products. It’s mostly based on his hometown of Puebla in Central Mexico.

“Until this day my parents make everything from scratch, including cheese and creams,” he says. “That’s the kind of food I grew up with and when I came here one of the things I missed the most was the food. I never really adapted to packaged food. The personal touch and the quality and freshness gets lost. You can’t compare it to nature.”

Junior and Heidi have lived in the Aviation subdivision of Dearborn for nearly two years, in a home they fell in love with after looking at more than 600 houses when they were deciding to move from New York to somewhere more quiet and community-focused.

Junior has been cooking his whole life, starting as a child in Mexico working with his uncles at a bakery and steakhouse in New York, and eventually becoming the youngest and first Latino certified as a sommelier in the United States. He went on to become a mixologist and found his company, the Liquid Chef, Inc.

“I started from the bottom,” he says. “I didn’t speak one word of English; I had to learn a language and all the cuisines. I worked every position available in the restaurant business.”

While Junior is largely self-taught, Heidi is formally trained with lots of experience interning in New York kitchens. Her foundation, however, was learning from her husband's love of cooking.

“Before him, it was pretty much eat-to-survive; the typical American upbringing,” she says. “You cooked because you had to, not because it was a passion.”

That changed for her when Junior taught her a precious lesson, challenging her to make the same meal as him and compare one day.

“You need to love what you do because that personal touch is really important and he showed me that,” Heidi says. “We made the exact same dish but his was completely different because of the human factor.”

M Cantina’s backdrop is a Rustic brick wall with a reclaimed wood bar and marble countertops. Sparkling lights and exposed Edison bulbs give the place a glimmer, with fresh flowers and cacti along the counters.

Drinks are served in copper cups and dishes come on a slab of fresh Cedarwood to absorb the aroma. There’s a glass wall to see where Junior and Heidi are preparing the food.

The most popular item on the menu is the marinated shrimp, inspired by the Puerto Vallarta region of Mexico, where Junior says tastes are elegant and sophisticated.

The chicken tinga is a staple in Central Mexican cuisine, where it is boiled, shredded and mixed with a chipotle aioli and cooked with onions and tomatoes.

The meat in the duck carnitas is cooked French-style to pay tribute to Cinco de Mayo and the battle between the French and Mexican in Junior’s town of Puebla.

What makes their food stand out among any other Mexican restaurant are the fresh ingredients and exotic spice blends, he adds.

M Cantina is their vision for what the new wave Mexican food experience should encapsulate.


“Food is about an experience,” Junior says. “It’s about sharing. It’s about discovery.”

M Cantina is located at 13214 Michigan Ave. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.


Downtown Pontiac's newest business boasts 100 percent American-made outdoor sports apparel

Bill Ludwig and his business partners, a group of avid fishers, boaters, and golfers, noticed something as they were walking around ICAST, an annual fishing trade show. In terms of apparel, the fishing and resort apparel industry had grown complacent. While there was plenty to choose from, the offerings were leaving the group unimpressed.

"We walked through and started discussing starting our own brand," says Ludwig. "One of my partners lamented that there was no need for another performance brand. But I said, yeah, but look at the labels. There isn't one manufacturer here with a label that says Made in USA."

So they started one.

American Made Performance is a fishing and resort apparel company based in downtown Pontiac. Ludwig, the CEO of the company, says that all of its products are 100 percent made in the United States. The cotton is grown here, and the fabrics are woven and sewn here. He contends that they're the only ones in the fishing and resort apparel industry to be able to make that claim.

The notion that people want 100 percent American-made products seems to have so far worked out for AMP. The company employs two dozen people at its downtown Pontiac manufacturing facility, an old bank at the corner of Saginaw and Huron streets. And Ludwig says that current revenue projections indicate that AMP will double that number within the next twelve months.

The company has partnered with Ryan Keene as its exclusive artist, which is another selling point for the brand, says Ludwig. Absent are the muted browns and greens one might expect to find in fishing apparel, instead replaced with bright colors and lively illustrations.

"It's rare for a company to have unique selling propositions," says Ludwig. "We have two. The United States and Ryan Keene."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

New report documents more than a decade of placemaking in Michigan

Since the early 2000s, the Michigan Municipal League has been working to introduce placemaking concepts and policies throughout the state. On Tuesday, Sept. 12, MML held a press conference to celebrate the release of A Decade of Placemaking in Michigan, a 20-page report highlighting MML's efforts and successes in placemaking, and also its plans for the future.

More than a decade ago, Michigan faced an uncertain economic future as its manufacturing base declined. MML identified placemaking as a key strategy in retaining residents and businesses. Make the state's towns and cities more desirable to live in, and people would choose to live in them, rather than move out of state. It's as much about competition as it is anything else.

Outreach has been a big part of MML's efforts, as they informed people and communities about the practice of placemaking. Presentations, training, books, and a radio show have all played a key role in their spreading the word. They also created an award-winning Michigan Placemaking Curriculum at Michigan State University.

In their work, MML identified eight assets in making Michigan communities more desirable: physical design and walkability, green initiatives, cultural economic development, entrepreneurship, welcoming diversity, messaging and technology, multimodal transportation, and education. And programs like PlacePlan and PlacePOP helped implement like-minded projects.

In its report, MML identifies financing as a major issue heading forward, contending that the state of Michigan has a broken municipal finance system and that communities need more money to be able to invest in improved infrastructure and services.

Click here to read the full report.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Barn for sale: Oakland County seeks buyer for historic Ernst Barn

A barn that dates back to the 1850s -- and possibly even older -- is for sale in Oakland County.

The Ernst Barn, so named because of its location on the former Ernst Greenhouse property at Waterford Oaks County Park, is the subject of a Request for Proposals put out by Oakland County Parks and Recreation. 
No longer equipped to continue caring for the historic building, OCPR is looking for someone that can give the barn the attention that it deserves.

In considering proposals, OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil says that his department wants to find a buyer committed to restoring the barn and, ideally, one that could keep it in Waterford, or at least in Oakland County.

"The barn is part of our agrarian history," says Stencil. "Historically, there have been a lot of farms in Oakland County, and it's important to have assets like these preserved."

The RFP has already received several inquiries, he says, and could result in the barn being repurposed for commercial uses, restored as a storage facility, or something else entirely.

"The sky's the limit on how an asset like this can be re-purposed."

The barn is in relatively good shape, considering its age, and holds up structurally. It's a two-story barn believed to be built in the Antebellum period, in the year 1850 or even earlier. It mixes two early barn architectural styles, the English barn style, the first type of barn to be built in the United States, and the Bank barn style, a Midwestern offshoot of the English style.

"It's important that Oakland County residents understand where we came from so we can better understand where we are going," Stencil says.

Interested parties can email Andy J. Krumwiede at for more information on the Ernst Barn. RFPs are due mid-September.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Rochester College social entrepreneurship program helps boost jobs at local non-profits

Just a year into its Social Entrepreneurship program and Rochester College and its students have already made a difference in a local nonprofit. And with the start of the semester Wednesday, Aug. 30, the program seeks to repeat its successes once more.

In the fall of 2016, its first semester, Rochester's new Center for Social Entrepreneurship partnered with Detroit's Mariners Inn, a social services program dedicated to helping men battling homelessness and substance abuse. Students spent the first eight weeks studying social enterprises and business planning and then met with Mariners Inn to identify needs.

Jaymes Vettraino, Director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College, teaches the courses. He says the conversations between students and the nonprofit drive the program, not so much the instructor.

What they decided on was a parking lot business. Taking advantage of Mariners Inn's location across from the newly-constructed Little Caesars Arena, land is being re-purposed to accommodate event parking and could be ready in time for the Detroit Lions game on Sept. 10.

The goal, ultimately, was to find a way to increase revenue for Mariners Inn, create jobs for its clients, and supply the men with usable skills.

"Mariners Inn is really taking the concepts we presented to them and running with it," says Vettraino. "They're considering something similar for janitorial jobs and even hired a Social Enterprise employee to manage the mission."

"They're running with it in a meaningful and important way."

With a new school year comes a new partnership. This time, the Center for Social Entrepreneurship has partnered with Dutton Farm of Michigan. The non-profit works with people with physical, mental, or emotional impairments, providing them opportunities to participate in meaningful production activities, like making soaps, bath salts, and lotions. They also offer job placement services.

Learn more about Rochester College's Center for Social Entrepreneurship online.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

ZeeTheCook grows in Dearborn

Now that she has a space to call her own, Dearborn resident Zee Shami has room to grow her business the way she wants it.


This September marks the third year anniversary of ZeeTheCook, but it was this past June when things really started to heat up. That's when Shami opened the doors of her Dearborn Heights studio. Cooking classes, summer camps, arts and crafts, games and activities -- it's all happening at her space on Warren Avenue.


"I saved up every penny to get this building. Now I'm not limited by space or other people's schedules," says Shami. "I have the freedom to run my classes and host my events."


Shami's business, ZeeTheCook, is multifaceted, though ultimately serves as a means for bringing people together through cooking. She runs a Monday-through-Friday summer camp, where she hosts children ages four through sixteen. They make breakfast and lunch together, play games and make arts and crafts, go on adventures in the park and scavenger hunts in local super markets. She not only teaches children how to cook, but also healthy eating habits, customs of etiquette, and life skills.


Now that summer is nearly over, Shami will turn her focus to birthday parties and private events. With the fall and winter holidays, she'll offer classes and parties revolving around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas foods and treats. And with the extra space her studio provides, she'll be offering cooking lessons to adults, too.


ZeeTheCook wasn't always Zee the Cook. She says she didn't find her passion until she was 25 years old when, having purchased her first home with her new husband, a beautiful new kitchen was calling out to her. She began experimenting with recipes and started the food blog ZeeTheCook.


As the blog picked up in popularity, Shami's followers wanted to try the recipes of the meals she posted. Not one for keeping exact measurements, Shami says she figured it would be easier to offer classes instead.


"I wanted to teach cooking classes because I wanted to share my belief in how to cook. It shouldn't have to be by the book, it shouldn't have to be word-for-word from a recipe," she says.


"You should be able to look at the ingredients and, like an art, say how are we going to combine these ingredients and create something beautiful out of it. The result is something from the heart."


With her classes gaining in popularity, Shami discovered that the real opportunity for sharing her passion was in teaching children. She's now fostering that same passion for cooking in those kids. One-time picky eaters now go home to their parents with an excitement for trying new foods. She says she has eight year olds that can prepare whole feasts for their families.


For all the time and energy she puts into running her business -- 14 hour days, phone calls at 10 p.m. -- Shami says it's all worth it. Though it might be considered "work," she certainly doesn't see it that way.


"I love to cook. It's therapeutic for me. So, I've never worked a day in my life."


ZeeThe Cook is located at 24732 W. Warren Ave. in Dearborn Heights. Visit them online [] to learn more about classes and registration.

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