Jay Rayford of Social Sushi catches us up on all of the changes in his social enterprise. He and his bigger team of four have been the champions of proving out your product through pop-ups! You will hear how they really built a large following before even opening their restaurant. And, after our interview, Social Sushi went on to win $150,000 toward their restaurant because the community was so inspired! And, as usual, we have a great song and Detroit artist for you to close out the show.
Welcome to another episode of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy, and we have some good stuff for you today. Jay Rayford of Social Sushi catches us up on all of the changes in his social enterprise. He and his bigger team of four have been the champions of proving out your product through pop-ups! You will hear how they really built a large following before even opening their restaurant. And, after our interview, Social Sushi went on to win $150,000 toward their restaurant because the community was so inspired! And, as usual, we have a great song and Detroit artist for you to close out the show.
We have a really great fun fuel for you today – super interesting.
Our fun fuel today is from Natalie Hazen. What do you have for us, Natalie?
Okay, can I just say that was super interesting! Wow, so good. It is amazing how sometimes dark circumstances can cause great creations to come forth! So, let’s float on that note into my interview with Jay. Now, we were sitting in a busy little café, and the background music might be a little louder than usual, so lean on in here for my interview with Jay...
Jay: Yes so, super excited to be back with you again. So yeah so Social Sushi now, at this point has ... We have our building on Livernois and 7 Mile in a dynamic area that's full of homes from two, three bedroom homes all the way up to mansions all within less than a miles radius around where we're going to open. It's beautiful also because I live a few blocks behind the building as well. It's super exciting to be apart of the community in both ways both from a commercial perspective and residential.
We've been doing house parties in the community as well so it's a way for us to one bring neighbors together that maybe haven't come together before and also for folks that live kind of like downtown or other areas that always like "I want to find out if like these awesome communities in Detroit, I hear about these neighborhoods but I've never had a chance to really explore them", it's an opportunity for them to come together too. By the way, this sushi's great like oh my God where you guys located? Oh actually we're on the corner, we'll be relocating around the corner.
It's been an exciting journey to finally get to a spot where we have a great building. The folks that own the building are amazing people. They show up to all our events and things like that as well, so it's exciting to have that energy. We're hopefully going to be open around August timeframe.
Romy: Of 2017?
Jay: Of 2017 and we're pushing for that, definitely, want to get open this year even if I have to open a little bit later just to make sure everything is right but this year is definitely it for us.
Romy: That's awesome. For the people who might have listened to your first one in season one, you were helping some kids look at the model of a shipping container. What happened with the kids working on the shipping container? How did you transition into this particular place?
Jay: The project with the shipping containers we were supposed to do a ... Hoping to build and design shipping containers that are created, built and designed by college and high school students. We were going to put it in the city park. Our rent was going to help maintain the park. That was the idea that we presented to the city to try and figure out if we could make that happen, but unfortunately, it kind of fell through for that particular project. We ended up moving on and start doing more popups and things like that, but the student project is still going on, so they're going to be doing a project on the west riverfront or possibly in the Dequindre Cut area. It's exciting for the students are still able to get that off the ground. It's going to be an amazing project. They are using more shipping containers I believe, and a lot of the students are getting college credit for being part of the project, and it's exciting for the students and everyone involved with it.
During that time when we were kind of in limbo trying to figure out what's happening with that project we applied for Motor City Match and were able to find a building. Motor City Match is a program that pairs building owners with business owners and provides some technical assistance and also some loan providers at the table as well. We found a good position to be in and a great up and coming community. I think we're going to be calling it uptown pretty soon. It's between Avenue of Fashion and also another project that's happening on Livernois and 6 Mile with a lot of community development happening there University of Detroit and Marygrove being more [inaudible 00:03:50] in the community and developing together.
Romy: You're such a catalyst I've noticed about this since we met some years ago. You get people all fired up and off and spinning and onto the next thing.
Let's talk about pop-ups for a minute. Pop-ups are one of my favorite ways to demonstrate that clients want to buy your product, but in my mind, you've taken it to a whole new level because you pop-up everywhere and you've been popping up for a long time. You've built not just a fan base of repeating customers, but you've gotten in front of a lot of people. I feel like you've mastered the pop-up and I'd love to get anything you want to say about what you've learned about popups because I think it's so beneficial to social entrepreneurs, well any entrepreneurs.
Jay: Absolutely. I like to refer to our popups is our minimal valuable product, our MVP. It's a way for us to test out like is this really what people want? It's been amazing because we've been able to deliver a sustainable product, a simple product. We don't do anything really extravagant with our sushi right now. It's just really basic Cali roll, [inaudible 00:05:05], you know Philly roll. We have two kind of like classics that we've created at this point. One is called the What-up-doe roll that has Better Made barbecue chips where a chip company that's kind of known here in Detroit and made in Detroit as well as Rock and Rye sauce. Rock and Rye is part of the Faygo brand which is also a Detroit brand. We try and do some creative things to kind of like show the ‘Detroitness’ of our sushi right, so Detroit sushi brand is kind of a term we've been using lately.
With the pop-ups, again it's a way to we want to bring people together but also from the viewpoint of the places we pop-up in so it's always been about how do we create exposure for other places while we're also building our brand and things like that. We're always looking for win-win-win situations. Whether it's in a bar we bring in food to their establishment and bring in customers that maybe haven't been to that bar before and they're able to make the money on the bar, we make our money on the food, and our customers and their customers are happy from this experience. It's a win, win, win situation in just about everything that we do. I think that's been ... I think not even the secret sauce but a sauce that I feel like really works well because when you're able to create value for other people that takes the relationship to a whole other level.
Romy: Let's talk about maybe the relationships especially I'd love to hear feedback of when you've been at a place, and you brought them business and how you continue to foster those relationships with not just I guess potential vendors or potential locations, but you also foster the relationships between some of the customers too right?
Jay: Absolutely. With the building owners, it's been everything from like say a local bars to art galleries to nonprofits doing fundraisers, things of that nature. Like I said the awareness for those spaces always continue so even beyond what we do with our popup, own relationship with them is always figuring out ways that we could plug them into other opportunities as well where folks are just like "Hey I'm looking for space to do an event, like you do events all over the place like can you connect me to some folks?" Like, absolutely. Because of that relationship that we have with the spaces sometimes we're able to see some amazing things happen that are independent of us but that's part of the magic I think of building a community around what we do.
Even with the folks that come together, so when we first started the whole concept was around the problem that we were hoping to solve is there's some amazing people doing amazing things in their own circles all around the city and so what my goal was to pluck some people out from all these different circles and bring them together. I think naturally now we have just a really diverse group that comes together and when those people converge and meet it's just whatever happens right at that point, and I try to do it in a way that's not programmed. It's like hey come together [inaudible 00:08:16] you know there are folks talking and asking what type of sushi they had, and it sparked a conversation and things like that. Just really trying to bring some just real authentic, just natural way of networking without calling it networking. A lot of people have this kind of like detachment from networking like "ew I don't like being in a space with strangers and figuring out how to like what do I start talking about?" We enter food into the equation it changes things. It's been really great.
Romy: Do you have any tips for someone else who's trying to curate that experience? I mean I don't like the word curate because it sounds controlling but I feel like you've got a lot subtle tips on how you've done that, like small things, maybe things you've put at tables or messaging that you do? I don't know what they are I threw that out but-
Jay: I think for me I think I'm in a kind of unique position to where I love networking. I'm always present in a lot of different spaces so like the relationship sometimes starts there like oh yeah I saw you at this place, you know I like oh you're doing an event? That kind of is a theme there.
Even with at the popups that we were doing at Our Detroit we introduced a program called the Social [inaudible 00:09:30] Program. The whole idea behind that was it was because I wanted to test it out again MVP. I use an actually physical punch card which the top line was what I call the selfie line, so if you come in by yourself, we can give you a punch for coming in and think you for the support. At different levels, for example, every third punch there is some type of offer, and then for the groupie one, it was kind of similar but maybe like after five people you get something free or something like that. We wanted to create a way to get people excited about one, bringing their friends together but also if they [inaudible 00:10:11] maybe has this kind of detachment to sushi like "I don't know how sushi's raw" no it's not. Come check it out. Even if you want to just come have a drink or come for the networking piece you can. It's just some ways like that that we can incentivize kind of this social behavior through food.
Romy: And being inviting. You're really inviting and encouraging to people. I feel like you speak life into people all the time like oh you can do it. I think that doesn't hurt in any way.
Jay: Oh absolutely. I think a lot of times what I've always wanted to do is be approachable, be someone that someone wouldn't mind like "Hey I got this idea I just run it by you" and being open to "yeah, I have 10 minutes sure let's talk about it." Being able to connect some dots and share some resources because the other hashtag I use a lot if hashtag better together. I feel like if we do, with the climate of things that are happening here in Detroit, the best way to go about doing it is doing it together. Sharing resources, collaborations.
So for our last pop-up, we had a Canadian deejay there which is awesome supporting that cross-border relationship. Also, a young entrepreneur that does t-shirts, a brand called Cool Club Clothing. He made these shirts that said Detroit Loves Sushi for us and sell them there at the event as well. It's like these okay you're doing a t-shirt brand in what way do I think I need t-shirts so what way can we work this together and expose you to our audience as well? And vice versa because he has a younger audience than I have and so it's like maybe we can introduce them to sushi as well you know, make it a cool thing. I think we need to just step back and kind of just look at networking as a way to build authentic relationships with people versus like what can I get from this person?
It's just like who are you as a person? One of the biggest things I used to ask at networking events that threw people of was like "Hey, how you doing? What's your passion?" And quickly they want to say what they do for work, and it's like wait, my passion wow no one ever asked me that. I think it really is boiled down to getting beyond what someone does for a living or what can I get from this person but who are you as a human being? I just want to know about that. I think once you get to that point [inaudible 00:12:47] you have support system that's long lasting and they're going continue to share with their friends like "Hey you have to meet this guy" or "You have to go to this thing and get this experience because they're really great people".
Everything from folks that have been part of our personal networks but also it's gotten to the point now where we attract people that we don't know ourselves. There's actually been times where I've been in the space where people will talk about Social Sushi and not know that it's me. [inaudible 00:13:16] that feels so great to be able to get to that point because it's become bigger than us. For some people, it's about the food but other people it's about the entire experience. If I can bring every level of the person together whether you come because you want to network with some folks and you already ate, or you don't like sushi or things like that you can still have fun in an environment where just people are coming together just to have fun, and maybe you know what? If I meet somebody great and we have start a friendship or start a business together or just support each other. Just to know where the things are happening in the city and being able to be in the know I think is a huge thing.
Romy: I do too. I feel ... Have you noticed people feel encouraged to team up and collaborate more once they've tried it? I found that to be true and I completely associate you with collaboration at all levels from promoting Detroit in general on social media to you're willing to go and speak at all kinds of things and teach people, and I just wonder, I'd love to get your thoughts on what you see from your perspective. Are you noticing more Detroiters coming together from all different, because I notice different ages, different neighborhoods, different backgrounds, economic, some are native, some moved here, but there is, in my opinion, a collaborative nature and I think in a large part it has to do with you?...