DETROIT – As downtown workers return back to their offices and as apartments fill up nearby, a summertime favorite returns: Downtown Street Eats. Every weekday, a handful of food trucks make their way to Cadillac Square to feed hungry employees who flock to the park for sunshine and sustenance.
While the number of lunchtime restaurants may be limited downtown, Street Eats provides much-needed variety with several spots filled from a rotating list of 80 vendors. Curating the trucks that get a coveted spot in heart of Detroit this year with Downtown Detroit Partnership is Jennyfer Crawford, also known as AskJennyfer. Crawford, who has been a vocal advocate for small businesses, is not only managing Street Eats, but plenty of other events this summer.
We chat with Crawford about her new lunchtime gig and why small businesses are so important for Detroit.
Downtown Street Eats just kicked off this week for another great season, is there anything you’re excited for this year?
This will actually be my first year curating the Downtown Street Eats program with the Downtown Detroit Partnership. I’ve been working with DDP for five years. I already curate the night market at Beacon Park and Market Fridays at Cadillac Square. When Downtown Street Eats was returning this year, they asked me to curate it. So I’m really excited to see a huge variety of all these new food trucks that are coming out. Actually, a lot of people have started food trucks during the pandemic. I didn’t know there were so many food trucks out there and not just in Detroit, but in Michigan. The response has been overwhelming: there’s a Halal food truck, a lobster truck, just a whole variety of things. I’m all about supporting small businesses.
Why do you think it’s so important for Detroit to have these events?
Events like these help people see Detroit in a different light. We’re growing. A lot of people have moved here in the last five and six years. For so many years, I think Detroit had a bad name of nothing being there and with the whole bankruptcy thing. But I think programs like Detroit Street Eats, which people don’t realize that it’s been around for 10 years, highlights the great things and people that have been in Detroit for years. They’re seeing these great things happening in their city. So when you talk about Downtown Street Eats, it helps you see Detroit in a different light because you’re discovering new things and it brings people to the city for that experience.
How did you get started building these events for local entrepreneurs?
I started my event All Things Detroit in my one-bedroom apartment eight years ago. In 2014, I quit my job and stepped out on faith to pursue my business full-time. I took my rent money to put it down in Eastern Market. Through growing All Things Detroit, DDP reached out to me and told me they wanted to create a night market. They wanted a fun place for people to hang out in the city on summer nights. So in 2017, I curated the first market for DDP and it has just been a really great relationship. Every time they come up with new concepts, I’m part of the team. We work together because they stand for the same thing I stand for which is creating opportunities for small businesses.
What is it like building these relationships with both the community and all of these Detroit entrepreneurs?
I love a good story and building relationships is a part of business. Your business is building relationships. You can’t have a successful business if you don’t have those strong relationships. So curating these events is so important to me because I’m building relationships with people who are in the community who have these amazing stories. When you fall in love with the person, you fall in love with the product. Being a person who was born and raised in Detroit, I want to be able to expand and grow that. And not just in Downtown Detroit, but in the neighborhoods as well.
Rent in Downtown Detroit can be pretty expensive but through these programs, we’re able to give businesses their own pop-up space, their own restaurant or anything in Downtown. They’re not committed to having this expensive rent and we’re bringing the customers to them. That is the key to the sauce and the added touch of curating these markets.
I’m sure you get a ton of requests from all types of businesses. What happens if your list is full and you have to reject someone?
The night market series starts June 4th and is completely sold out. If we have to reject a business then we add them to our waiting list. If someone cancels or if any other opportunity becomes available, we reach out to that waitlist first. We also look at applications from some businesses that are just starting out that may not be completely ready or need help with their website, photos or any of those things. What we do is guide them step-by-step to get them ready. We offer consultations and the resources they need.
You said you know a lot of people with really inspiring stories, do you have one that stands out to you?
There’s Karen Guilmette. She’s a single mother of five and one day her husband said he did not want to be married anymore. She had three babies under the age of 10 at the time. She started her own business in her kitchen because she was concerned about the products that her kids were putting in their bodies. So she did the research and now she has a brand called Natural Red. She’s now in 15 to 20 stores, traveling, doing a lot of events, and she has her kids working in the business with her. She’s teaching them the brand. A lot of people say they can’t do it or can’t follow their dreams because they have children or all these obligations. My hat’s off to Karen because she is a single mother of five and she’s able to make it happen.
What should Detroiters be on the lookout for this summer?
Detroit should be on the lookout for the night market at Beacon Park. We’re celebrating five years. There’s going to be a lot of pop-ups and not just pop-ups that I curate, but other businesses or curators in the city. I want people to get out and support not just the events I curate, but other events because they’re all to support small business. We definitely need that right now more than anything. But the night market at Beacon Park is a great place to sit, enjoy, go on a Saturday night where you can have a cocktail. You can enjoy great food, entertainment and shop with some of the best small businesses.
What message do you have for future Detroit entrepreneurs?
Consistency is key. Don’t get discouraged. Keep your head up. But consistency is key. If you do the work, the outcome will be amazing. So if you can believe it, you can achieve it. And remember that chances make champions.
Downtown Street Eats happens every weekday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. now through October 14, 2022. For a schedule of food trucks, click here.