Finding Resilience in Detroit

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

On August 18th, 2011, I was honored to be a recipient of Champion of Change, “Winning the Future” award and to be invited White House to discuss the role of small businesses in changing America’s future.  

My journey to becoming a small business owner came more from a passion to do what I loved than from any previous business experience or education. In April 2008, I had what I called my “Fight Club moment.” I quit my comfortable job as a French teacher, much to everyone’s disbelief, I cashed out my 401K that I had accumulated from 5 years of teaching and set out to open Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes, a 48 sq foot “crepe stand” in downtown Detroit. Three years later, the crepe stand is now a 2,000 sq foot crepe restaurant, serving 50 varieties of crepes in Midtown Detroit, with a 2,000 sq ft sister Good Girls restaurant in Grosse Pointe Park, MI set to open the first week of September! In September, I’m opening a breakfast/lunch restaurant in Hamtramck, MI called Ootie’s, a vintage clothing store next to the Good Girls locations in Grosse Pointe Park and my most ambitious project, “Rodin” a 3,000 sq foot bar/lounge next to the Good Girls location in Midtown set to open in October.

I’m sure some of you are asking, “how did a former French teacher open up and expand up a series of restaurants at the beginning of a recession that is continuing to this day?” My answer is simple and it lies in the fact that I am from the most resilient place on the planet, Detroit. Only in Detroit.

The past three years have not been particularly kind to Detroit. The recession hit Michigan in the worst way possible. We almost lost our auto industry, our housing market was decimated, a scary apocalyptic media coverage, mass exodus of young professionals from the state.  So what’s next for us? Do we resign ourselves the doom and gloom or do we pick ourselves up and keep going?

Despite all of the doom and gloom, Detroit has turned into a sanctuary for budding entrepreneurs and there is a renaissance that has started in the city. Detroit offers new business owners low entry cost, a lower cost of living to start up and the space to experiment. I encourage anyone with a dream of owning a small business, an art space, a non-profit, even an urban farm to come to Detroit and take part in this revitalization of Detroit.

Although being in Detroit made it easier to start my businesses, owning a small business is not for the faint of heart. To start, all of your money, time and energy will go into making your business successful. You have to be okay with losing it all if your endeavor is not successful. It takes a lot of work and faith- to be successful you have to be committed 100%.

Torya Blanchard is the founder of Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes. 

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