Detroit is the city that has produced a turnaround for the ages in recent years. But the transition continues to evolve in many colorful ways, thanks in part to a group of influential couples who poised themselves long ago to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and drive the city forward. While having a significant other certainly is no prerequisite for achievement in this town, the duos who are successfully navigating Detroit’s opportunities through their individual and joint efforts are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
These are the couples who have collaborated literally by candle light in the darkness of abandoned Detroit, turning forgotten spaces into beautiful meeting places. These are the trailblazers who have joined forces on everything from creating artistic environments; to driving employment opportunities; to delighting our palates; to getting us up off our couches for some good old fashioned let-your-hair-down, dance-your-ass-off fun. They’re in our restaurants, our art spaces, our night life and our community, working hard to make a name for themselves and the city. These are the trendsetters, the entrepreneurs and the very pulse of Detroit. They are hip, cultured and spirited; pumping away to forge a life together while simultaneously juggling the successes and stresses of creating an experience that will keep changing people’s minds, one-by-one, about just who and what Detroit really is.
Who they are:
Marc might be best known around Detroit as executive chef and partner of Wright & Company but he is involved in a whole lot more. He and his business partner Dave Kwiatkowski own The Detroit Optimist Society which is parent company not only to Wright & Company but also to The Sugar House specialty cocktail bar in Corktown, Café 78 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown, and relaxed Midtown eatery, Honest John’s.
Laura previously worked with the Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ youth and with the Skillman Foundation which was organized to help create pathways for Detroit children to graduate from high school, and to be prepared for college, career, and life. Now she works as the vice president of communications and community at Strategic Staffing Solutions.
How they met:
Laura: “We met through mutual friends at St. Cece’s in 2011 when it was open in Corktown. We really hit it off. Marc is a really kind individual.”
Marc: “She asked me at some point what I did. Laura really likes to cook and loves food.”
Laura: “The ravioli you make is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my whole life.”
So, what’s new?
Marc: “We have another project in the works for fall of 2017. There is a letter of intent, but that’s all I can say. Maybe then I will take a break. I’m trying to spend more time traveling.”
Laura: “Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3) works with 3,000 consultants and gives away about $2 million to the communities in which they’re embedded each year. One of the things I feel strongly about and I really care about are the homeless and the nonprofits and corporations that come together to solve those [issues]. Places like S3 have mantras and missions to really help with touching those lives. They are working now with [Mayor Duggan’s] office on workforce development, putting 45,000 Detroiters to work in the next five years.”
“I had applied to the best public health programs in the nation, deciding between California, New York and Michigan, but wanted to go someplace different, so I chose Michigan,” said Laura, who holds her Masters of Public Health from University of Michigan. “I met phenomenal people who have done amazing work and I met some really cool people when times were tough. It was the people that kept me here. And I love the edginess of Detroit. That’s why I stayed.”
Marc, who is originally from the Detroit area but moved away for other opportunities, recalls, “Detroit has a great sense of community, vision and passion. Living on Woodward at Merchant’s Row, I looked out the front window and asked, ‘Where do I go to eat and drink?’ Quicken started moving young professionals into the city and I asked myself, ‘Where do they go?’” Marc noted that the goal in opening Wright & Company was to be that great meeting place where locals could eat and drink, be it a beer before a ball game, a glass of wine after the Detroit Opera House or anything in between.
What were some of the successes and challenges of building a life in Detroit?
Marc: “You’re only as good as your opportunities. [Wright & Company] could have been an incredible failure. We fell in love with the space before we knew what to do with it yet it turned out to be one of our great opportunities. As far as us as a couple, we have to be conscious of each other’s goals and aspirations. I have to be able to make sure Laura has the opportunity to be able to grow and get the opportunities that she deserves.”
Laura: “What is fortunate on so many levels is every day we feel like we touch people’s lives.
Detroit is a small town inside of a large land mass so you see the impact of your actions. There are a lot of fundraisers to get involved with in our communities. At the end of the day you see the direct impact of that. That’s the cool thing about living in a city that is growing up around you. To be part of that is humbling and gratifying and very cool.”
What are your tips for maintaining a relationship while juggling the workload of success?
Marc: “It is very important to understand each other’s goals and aspirations and support each other. Laura got to travel Europe for a couple months. Some couples might not be so encouraged by having your wife gone for so long but that is important to her so it is important to me.”
Laura: “We’re human. Relationships are full of joy and challenges. The only people in your relationship are you and your partner. We always try to find ways to support and say yes to each other. It’s really awesome to have something where you put your talents together to do something you love (Marc and Laura both work with the Humane Society). It is possible to be ships in the night but we work really hard to make sure we aren’t. And Marc spoils me.”
You’ve got 24 hours of no obligation in Detroit. What do you do and where do you eat?
Marc: “Sit around and cook prime rib. She makes popovers. Drink a bottle of Dom. Or go to Selden Standard.”
Laura: “That sounds about right. I’d figure out how to put an app in while Marc watches football, or go to Supino’s [Pizzeria]. Motor City Wine; El Asador [Steakhouse]; Eastern Market.
If you had a magic ball, what would you hope to see for yourselves professionally five years from now?
Laura: “For the next few years you will see a deeper intention on how I can lend my expertise to the work force. With Marc’s help, growing into the person I would like to be; staying in the city. We both want to pay for the opportunities given to us.”
Marc: “If I had my desires, the kitchen would be bigger, the facility will be different. The next [restaurant] will elevate the brand a little bit and redefine dining again in the city. If we have another third full-service restaurant, I can’t be the chef of any particular one but I can elevate people to give them opportunities. I’d like to be able to have the time and the energy to focus on more community-driven things. I want to be thought of as a restaurateur and a community activist. My motivation is not to get the press. I’m not walking around patting myself on the back. I’m only relevant for a certain period of time. I’m focused on getting better and doing great things in the community. “