Eat Well. Do Good Cafe

Photo by Ashley Atkinson, The Greening of Detroit

"Grown in Detroit" is our Purple Cow

by Jackie Victor, co-founder, Avalon International Breads
Detroit Lover, food enthusiast

Detroit's not on the map as a "food town". Not yet. We'll probably never have the throngs of new restaurants springing up like weeds in Brooklyn, Chicago or Portland. But with the frenzied enthusiasm about local foods (there's even a term for it: locavores!), coupled with Detroit's powerful urban agriculture movement, we might have a way in yet. We don't have to be massive to be mighty. Here's why:

Way back in the dark ages, before Facebook and 4 Square, marketing guru Seth Godin introduced the term "viral marketing" in his seminal work "The Purple Cow". His theory was that most businesses can't compete with the Targets and McDonalds of the world through traditional branding, throwing millions of dollars at marketing to the masses. Cute as it is, for example, Avalon's wheat-spoked sun will never compete with the "Golden Arches" or the Target "red dot" or even the name "Panera Bread". Neither will 99.99% of businesses. Nor should we try.

Instead, Godin offered the revolutionary idea that the best marketing is free: word of mouth. In the 90s, he meant one person at a time. The way to get people to talk about a business (or post-industrial city?) is by providing something that they love: a product or service that is so exceptional that it stands our like a "purple cow in a field" (you've got to read the book for the full story...)Those who can't shut up about things they love are called "sneezers" (including yours truly and many of you who market Avalon!), because they "sneeze" the "virus" to more people and it becomes "contagious". You get the idea...

He makes an important point. People don't talk about things they like (although I did see a Facebook entry on someone's preference for brussel sprouts yesterday). But they are passionate and convincing about things they love. I would argue that with the commercialization of "social media," this is even more important today. In order to get people's attention, one needs to provide something about which people are genuinely passionate, in a truly exceptional or unique way, and then give them reasons to talk about it again and again.

What does this have to do with Detroit, food or anything that anyone other than entrepreneurial marketing geek could care about? Stay with me for a minute, we're about to land. There's no point for Detroit to compete with Brooklyn or San Francisco for the number of gourmet restaurants serving food grown "locally" (generally within 100 miles). But what about restaurants that serve food grown, without pesticides or chemicals, in their back yards? Literally?

Like at the 1200 community gardens/farms in the city? Like employing some of the young farmers that are streaming into Detroit to plug into one of the leading urban agriculture movements in the world? Like basing menus not on what is trendy or a fun "concept," but something that is timeless and totally unique: fresh, seasonal food grown in and immediately around a major city, rooted in the tastes and cultures of people who live here?

Once even 3, 6, 12 ,24 of these small restaurants and food producers open throughout the city (not just in Midtown and Corktown friends, think outside the box), adjacent to farms providing an array of fresh ingredients, a buzz will start in the communities of metro Detroit and national food circles that will have a ripple effect. A "virus" will spread that will be disproportionate to the number of businesses that open their doors. And if these businesses not only grow and serve local food, but go out of their way to recruit, hire, train and empower local residents to work and lead in these restaurants, we will create something far more powerful than a cool marketing concept. We will create the seeds of a new economy growing, not by looking somewhere else for what we want to become, but by looking within for what we already have.

Why believe this? Well, I have a notion. In 1997, after all,, who thought that the Cass Corridor would be a thriving retail district by 2010?

I'm just sayin' ...

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