Amy Kaherl of Detroit Soup!
Romy interviews Amy Kaherl of the now famous Detroit Soup! Amy shares about how she started Detroit Soup, some of the barriers to success and grand plans for the people of Detroit. Amy is a visionary catalyst and passionate about people. Great song at the end by Tim Schumack of Assemble Sound.
Romy: Welcome to the Bonfires of Social Enterprise, This is Romy and I am your host for this episode on Detroit Soup! You will meet Amy Kaherl, Executive Director of Detroit Soup. Amy shares her very intimate thoughts and strong opinions about the kind of help Detroit entrepreneurs need. At the end, of course, you will hear a full song by an artist curated by Detroit’s Assemble Sound.
Romy: Okay, before you meet Amy, I want to welcome Jentzen back. He has been away for about 3 months and I have certainly missed his fun facts. I think he has a little something about Soup…
Jentzen: Hey Guys, here with this episode’s fun fuel!
1) In 2014, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup celebrated its 80th anniversary.
2) It is believed that the first-ever soup was created around 6,000 B.C. and was made of hippopotamus.
3) Soup isn’t always hot! For those who live in warmer climates like Spain, cold soup alternatives, like tomato-based gazpacho, are popular.
4) Many soups that seem suitable for vegetarians actually aren’t. French onion soup, for example, is commonly made with a beef-broth base.
5) Though it has been linked to several origin stories, there are suggestions that the word “soup” can be traced back to the sixth-century Latin word “suppa,” meaning a piece of bread eaten in broth.
Romy: Thanks Jentzen! So good to have you back on the podcast. I love fun facts.
Now let me set up the conversation I had with Amy. First of all, you will hear a bit of an echo as we were sitting sort of an industrial maker space called Pony Ride. Pony Ride is a maker space with, I think, about 50 manufacturing entrepreneurs. Many of our social enterprise clients have spaces in Pony Ride. That was just a little plug for Pony Ride.
I was drawn to Amy as a guest for the show because she is a social entrepreneur. Her organization has been the catalyst for many of the businesses that exist today in Detroit. As you will hear, she is very brave about expressing herself and is passionate about helping others grow and succeed. Let’s drop in on my conversation with Amy…
Romy: Welcome Amy! I’ve been excited to interview you. You’re all over the news, a lot of people know about you at Detroit SOUP, but I want to give our listeners a chance to hear about it. Let’s talk about what Detroit SOUP is.
Amy: Sure. The simplest way to describe it is Detroit SOUP is a micro-granting dinner that is funding projects that are looking to make the city better. The ideas can come from any sector at any place of ideation. You don’t have to have a business; you don’t have to have a nonprofit around it. It can just be in the idea phase. You submit your idea through our website, DetroitSOUP.com and then all past winners and any volunteer then have the opportunity to vote on what project gets pitched at the dinner. Four ideas have four minutes to share, four questions back from the diners, and then the diners have a chance to eat then, share, connect, and vote on what project should win the $5 suggested donation from the door. The money’s the least interesting thing that gets exchanged. It’s about community connection, neighborhood engagement, people sharing resources, volunteering, giving maybe more money, but then also challenging each other as voters and diners on what project they think should win the money from the door.
Hopefully, through good conversations around dinner tables or waiting in line to either vote or grab food, you’ll come away with maybe being challenged the way that your values or ethos or ideas are of what makes something better, which is so subjective. It’s about you and where you come from and your family story and your family history. We’ve been doing that for about six and a half years and have raised over $125,000 from Detroiters back to Detroiters. We’re in about nine neighborhood geographies throughout the city plus a monthly city-wide soup starting in September that runs until June.
Amy: I just love this that it’s way more than business plans. It’s about all these ideas. How did you come up with that element of it? How did you come up with the idea to let it be so free?
Amy: Well, one, it came from an art idea. It was a bunch of women who were celebrating an event in Pontiac called “Women: A Celebration of Art and Culture.” We loved working together. Our friend, Katie, had experienced a dinner like this in Chicago where you’re only voting on art ideas, so we pitched it that way in Detroit, but Detroiters came back and said, “Hey, I have this idea about land use.” “I have this idea about technology,” and what I found over time, is that when you put something around a silo, guess who you’re only attracting? People who are attracted to that silo. If you’re not interested in a topic, like I always say if this would have started with urban farming I would not be sitting across from you. I’m grateful that urban farming exists and because of SOUP I’ve learned so much about it, but it wasn’t something where I wake up in the morning, and I think about gardening and farming. A lot of people do, but I’m not one of them. I think about art where other people wouldn’t.
There’s permission with a sector-less-ness of it that folks feel welcome to participate, and they don’t have to be an expert in anything. They don’t even have to live in the neighborhood or the community. They just want to know what’s happening and what voices are being shared and what ideas are being shared. For me, if you don’t have user interaction, how do you know your idea’s good or bad? I know a lot of people who get in their little hole, they work night and day, the believe in their idea, and they start pitching it to folks, and they get negative feedback. They can’t change because they’re so grounded because they’ve worked tirelessly on this idea, that it doesn’t work this way then it shouldn’t work at all, where when you pitch at something like SOUP you’re getting people’s feedback. You’re getting peoples’ questions. I’ve heard more times than not, “I’ve never thought of it this way.” Or people will say, “I’m not looking to win the money, I’m looking to get the feedback,” because it’s people outside of your natural network. No one owes you anything who’s at this dinner, but generally care and generally want to see the community succeed, so they want to hear or find out the people who are willing to genuinely do something within the community.
Maybe it is a one-time project, like a clean-up or a garden project, but sometimes it’s something like the Empowerment Plan or Rebel Now or Detroit Food Academy that make long-lasting, broad systematic changes to the way that we think about engaging with the problems and the folks that are in need within the community. For me, it’s just a couple of hours, and you walk away feeling enlightened about how people are creative around solving problems within the community.
Romy: We had met so many people had told me about you. So many. One common theme, though, I remember thinking, “Man, I’ve got to meet her,” because you leave a trail of inspiration with these events. People end up going, “Man, I heard this idea, and it was a simple idea, and as I listened to that person talk about it, allowing me to lift my idea up a little further.” It’s giving people courage to get up and say, “You know what? I have an idea too,” and as I kept hearing this over and over again all I could think about was in society today we as humans can feel so undervalued, and I see this human valuation of their heart coming and, like, “Wow. Maybe my idea isn’t so kooky. Maybe I’m uniquely made for something.”
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I lived in LA for three years and the big thing that I learned about coming back to Michigan after my time in LA is LA, and New York people the creators of culture. Midwesterners are consumers of said culture. We rarely make the culture, so we always feel like there’s already one rung down where this isn’t for me or we didn’t make it, or I’m not good enough for this or I don’t have those access to resources. Well, most of those people either worked really hard, move cross country, left everything. That was the one thing about LA that I loved was everyone was there for the hustle. Everyone had a story. Your sob story didn’t matter because everyone’s sob story was the same. Everyone left a family. Everyone left something behind. Even listening to the Olympics, if anyone knew what I went through. Life is hard. All of us have a story. Let’s think about the people who had it “easy,” are the ones who often struggle the most because it got hard. Child actors are all hot messes right now as they become adults because so much was given that you didn’t have to work for it.
For me, you’ve got to work. None of this business just got off the ground. Donald Trump is showing what happens. You don’t have the work ethic, really in my opinion. He got inherited money and then failed at hundreds of companies and if he becomes president will fail at that too because he’s not a good leader. Being a business owner and leader in this community means it’s equitable, it’s sustainable, it cares about others, that you feel empowered. I look around a lot of people, and I hear so many people who don’t feel like their idea’s good, they don’t feel like they’re good, they don’t feel like they’re worthy, they don’t feel like they have anything to give, and I cry bull.
Amy: You do have things to give, and you are really smart. I have zero business background. I am a theologian. I went to seminary. Guess what classes I never took? Business, banking. We didn’t have those in seminary. For me all of this, that’s hard. The financial piece is hard because I came from a culture of giving to a culture where I think we want to give we just don’t know how to give, and I think we’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid that we might lose money. We’re afraid that they’ll be a failure. But we need to lose money. We need to fail. We need to try harder. Things are not okay in Detroit, so if we keep thinking that, “Oh, I’m a business person whose figured it all out,” you might be making money on money, but you’re only creating a larger gap in the system for more and more people to become impoverished. We need better access to resources.
Amy: Already, because this, that and the other, and we put up gigantic hoops. I keep jumping through them myself. As successful as this dinner has been, I don’t take a cut from the door because $5 needs to be accessible so that you feel welcome and ready to come. The risk is low, and the experience and the outcome are high. You know? We do our best, and there are some days we get donations and most days we don’t. I’m on a podcast because I stood up and I did something. I’m really good at telling my story; I’m really bad for asking for money.
Romy: I understand that.
Amy: Anyone who’s listening, it’s just like, I don’t have it all together, I don’t have it all figured out. I haven’t climbed the holy grail, and things aren’t mapped perfectly for me. This isn’t easy, but I’m willing to wake up everyday and go to the grind. Willing, for the last five years, to some months have a paycheck and most months not. I’m willing to forego my own physical health, which I’m not as much anymore, but things that I’ve chosen to do for the sake of this idea, and the sake of the other. Which I think is really unhealthy. I will say I’m learning how to grow from that, but-
Me too. Commentary, me too.
Amy: I think for the most part, though, is I don’t know what else to do because this is what I feel like I need to be doing. I love this community some days, and I hate this community some days. I love what I’ve been able to watch others accomplish, and then I get to accomplish as well.
Romy: Yeah. You know, as you’re talking, I just can’t help but think about some things that I have learned, too. We’ve been on a similar [inaudible [00:11:55] as to Grass Global, and doing this podcast, is the heart to serve has been somehow supernaturally given to me, because when everyone says “gosh, what are you doing?”, You know, no money. It’s like well there’s some other reason why we’re out serving day in and day out. You get caught in the passion of the community, of the people. One important lesson I’ve learned over these last six years is that I put a lot more value on the money when I first started this than I do now. I have less value on the money and more value on what people can do as a community-
Romy: No question. Now, having said that we need money because we don’t live in a trading culture.
Amy: Yeah, right. I wish we did.
Romy: We have to do some of it with money, but I can tell you I’ve put more, I’ve watched people come together that are so under-resourced. Once you activate that inspiration, that brilliance together, oh my gosh, I’ve been amazed and astounded, and so humbled. Coming out of the financial industry, I’m thinking “okay, I learned the best of the best techniques for everything”-
Romy: That’s what moves the market; that’s what I was taught for 25 years. Boy, what really moves the market is people coming together, and then money is just a tool.
Amy: Well, this year I’ve had an immense opportunity to go to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that President Obama puts on, and I was one of 5 Detroit delegates to go and represent. Mark Zuckerberg speak from Facebook, and he goes “you know how many times people said ‘well, no one outside of college will use Facebook.’ You know how many people said ‘This person won’t use it, and this person won’t use it.'” It’s that we’re always looking at today, as how people use things. I get it if you’re only looking at tomorrow’s dollar, I guess that’s fine, but for real lasting change, art that actually matters. Businesses that actually have creative change. Or real change within a culture. It’s not this quick fix; it’s a long-term investment. It’s a long term game. It’s not just about tomorrow; it’s about tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow.
When I moved here, the only grants I’ve received are one year. If we really want to create sustainable solutions for Detroit, we need to think 10 to 20 year. We need to not think 3-year turnaround; we need to think ten-year turnaround. Right now we’re at your 7 of soup, and I just really think it could be a 10-12 year project. It doesn’t need to be around in 45 years. If it should be around in 45 years, then we haven’t fixed the problems, right, of the ecosystem.
We continue to put more barriers of entry in, because for me, if people are coming to soup the way that they have, then they don’t know how to access the door into the ecosystem. They’re coming to us because we’re there, we’re present, we’re not an institution, it’s flexible, it’s fluid, it moves, it changes, the ideas are always different. There’s no one set pattern. It’s all these different ideas, and so because of that, it doesn’t fit in a box, and it doesn’t fit in this one solution. There’s a lot of different solutions, and it’s the people behind those solutions that we should-should hear their voices, and seeing how they’re filling the gaps. Maybe it does need to be around a little bit longer than that, but I think that that’s our own selfish need to root things, rather than letting it grow into an ecosystem that has better doors to enter into.
Romy: You’re going back to the way non-profits were created to be. To get in and solve a solution.
Romy: You’re honoring the original-
Amy: Totally. As un-traditional as I am, this is so traditional. Then thinking about my theology background, of course, I would find a traditional model. Poverty can get solved in our lifetime.
Romy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Amy: If the 3 trillion or 5 trillion dollars are going to fight wars, we can find some of that money to get back into education, find a better loan system for housing for all people. Where they can continue to create equity, so that we’re all reaching at the same level, for the same thing. Now, not all of us have the same drive. That, we can get caught up in trauma and vulnerability to take us away from the things that give us joy, but some of us don’t want to work 10-15 hours a day. That just means you have to work longer at it.
Amy: Maybe you’re healthier about it.
Amy: We live in a culture that doesn’t value the self, doesn’t value the other, that we’re independent human beings that are independent of each other, but really we are wonderful humans, built with so many gifts and talents, that live in a space that are meant to draw on each other as support systems, and create healthy, safe communities, where if we really believe that our children can thrive, then we need to create really communities that our children can thrive, because they’re just mini adults.
Amy: Right? They’re adults longer than they are children, so let’s create safer, healthier communities for these little mini-adults to be better-thriving adult adults.
Romy: Right. You hit on something, too, this term “self-made”, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. People who brag about this, it becomes a prideful statement.
Here in Detroit, it is more community-made, and it’s more of what Detroit’s soup is.
Romy: Are you finding that the people who are now your regular attendees? Do you get a sense that they come back because of the community, they enjoy the community?