Fresh Perspectives for Us (Food Market)

Open Road — Week 1 by Team ACAI

Week 1 of our Open Road journey felt a little more familiar as we prepared to work with Detroit entrepreneur, Raphael Wright. Raphael, who plans to open Us Food Market, Detroit’s first black-owned grocery store since 2014, had participated in Ross’s Impact Challenge in September. Since then, Raphael has brought on a business partner, Meg Burritt, who has 20 years of grocery expertise; they have also found a promising location in the East Side of Detroit where he grew up.

Exploring Detroit

For Raphael, this mission is extremely personal. Detroit has a variety of food options but few accessible and quality grocery stores. Raphael has diabetes as a result of growing up with unhealthy foods like fast foods, chips, and sugary drinks because there are few stores offering healthy groceries near him. Additionally, the stores that do exist are often owned by people not local to the community who reinvest very little back into the Detroit economy and create an unwelcoming environment for Detroiters who shop in their stores. Meg is the perfect complement to Raphael, having spent her whole career working within food systems — literally from farm to fork. She is passionate about creating a more sustainable food system, specifically, addressing where Americans have a hard time feeding good food — high quality, fairly priced, delicious fresh food — to their families every day. Meg and Raphael believe that community markets are a key factor to closing those gaps.

This drives Raphael and Meg’s vision for Us Food Market, which will be an inclusive and conveniently-located grocery store providing fresh, quality products at everyday, fair prices. While Raphael and Meg had put in significant effort scoping out a location, developing a grocery strategy, and building relationships with potential investors, they needed a way to understand financial implications and communicate a compelling story to potential investors. Jean Chorazyczewski from the Fair Food Network realized this was a perfect challenge for Team ACAI and made a connection.

Janie Fonda

Our favorite part of the week was working with Raphael, Meg, and Janie Fonda (Meg’s dog) to define Us Food Market’s story and communicate its value proposition. This meant peeling back the layers of how Us Food Market would be a community-driven grocery store. How do you balance fresh, quality food offerings with familiar comfort foods that people want in a grocery store? What size store allows Us Food Market to be a full-service and operationally profitable? What does inclusiveness look like in a grocery store? While some of these conversations were difficult — like understanding what representation means for Raphael as a black Millennial and Meg as a queer woman — they helped us translate Raphael and Meg’s incredible vision into an investor-focused pitch deck. We also created a flexible financial model that Meg and Raphael could use to model various revenue and cost scenarios to support the pitch deck.

Our experience this past week piqued our interest — we recognized the potential for impact that Us Food Market could have on the community while also remaining cognizant that we had only scratched the surface in understanding Detroit’s food challenges. We are confident in Meg and Raphael’s vision and hope that the deliverables we provided can help to make Us Food Market a reality. This work was only possible with the support of Peter Allen, Jean Chorazyczewski, Charles Walker, Daniel Tellalian and many other Ross Open Road support faculty. We left Detroit feeling inspired and grateful to be a part of Meg and Raphael’s vision for Us Food Market. Us Food Market promises to help address the issue of access to fresh, quality food at fair prices in a neighborhood that currently lacks it, which will play a key role in the continued revitalization of Detroit.