Nneka Julia is a storyteller. At the start of her career, her primary vehicle for bringing viewers along on her journeys to far-flung destinations was a camera.
“Being the daughter of two immigrants — my mother hailing from Cambodia, my father from Nigeria — there was an innate sense of wanderlust and exploration and adventure that they passed down to me,” Julia says. “I started off as a photographer and traveled pretty extensively.”
Julia had captured striking photos of school girls crossing the rugged streets of Owerri, a city in Nigeria in the state of Imo, and vivid shots of a conch being pulled out of its shell in the clear waters of Turks and Caicos. Then, she discovered her voice. “I found that some of the photographic work that I was producing wasn’t fully encompassing my experience in these places.” A photo taken of her atop a camel in Marrakesh, Morocco, she says, left out the 20 locals she’d met along the way, as well as the illuminating stories they’d shared and the lessons she’d gleaned from them. So, she turned to a new medium to capture more of her voyages: audio.
In 2018, Julia released the first episode of Passing Through, a podcast that chronicles her travel experiences and the wisdom they impart on her life. Julia’s velvety voice narrates tales of relationship blips in Puerto Rico and lessons of self-forgiveness in Spain. “Travel is so much more than a photograph can convey, and that’s why Passing Through was such a huge turning point in how I document and tell certain stories.” Last May, she invited listeners to share travel stories of their own in a new podcast called The Layover.
Most recently, Julia has taken to a new platform, this time telling the stories of local entrepreneurs as host of Icons of Detroit, a video series presented by web hosting company GoDaddy. “I’m really thankful that they chose Detroit because it’s such a special city powered by really special people,” Julia says.
Julia is a champion of local businesses — local eateries especially — and there’s one hotspot that stands out on her list of culinary haunts in Detroit. “My husband and I love eating at Selden Standard,” she says. “From the staff to the care, it’s just so consistent and everything tastes like it’s made with love.” Though she hasn’t met a dish she doesn’t enjoy, Julia says the Herbed Flatbread is a must. “They have this cheese on the side with a bowl of olives and it’s just really, really delicious.
“Whenever I travel, I come back and eat at Selden Standard.”
More of Nneka Julia’s Favorite Eateries in the Detroit Area
Grey Ghost Detroit
“I think anybody’s impressed when you take them to Grey Ghost to get a drink. It’s got a great Speakeasy vibe.” Grey Ghost Detroit, 47 Watson St., Detroit; 313-262-6534; greyghostdetroit.com
“Same with Kiesling. You can have a nice little date there or bring some friends and kind of just sit at the bar or go out in the back — they have a great back patio.” Kiesling, 449 E. Milwaukee Ave., Detroit; 313-638-2169; kieslingdetroit.com
“I’ve taken way too many people to Standby for drinks. The music is typically on point and the drinks are just amazing. I’m not a big whiskey-drinker but the Middleton Cup is like whiskey and mint — it’s the most refreshing whiskey drink that you’ll ever have.” Standby, 225 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; 313-241-5719; standbydetroit.com
“Takoi hits the spot. My mom is Southeast Asian so I’m always looking for homely flavors and they have incredible dishes. I know some people don’t eat red meat but if you do, the ribs are phenomenal. The fish sauce is heavenly. I love fish sauce and they’re doused in it. They serve them with pickled apples and mint and it’s just so good. It’s also like Tokyo Drift vibes in there. Everybody that I take there is like, ‘OK, this is legit.’” Takoi, 2520 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-855-2864; takoidetroit.com
The Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co.
“I also love the vibes at Great Lakes Coffee. I can walk in and think, ‘Am I craving the mocha or am I craving a lavender latte?’ And then I’ll see their Riesling selection. I like the fact that they have an alcoholic element, which some coffee shops don’t offer.” The Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co., multiple locations; greatlakescoffee.com
Sweet Potato Sensations
“I interviewed Espy [Thomas], the owner of Sweet Potato Sensations for Icons of Detroit. If you really want a good sweet potato pie — or any pie in general — check out their family shop. It’s this neighborhood joint that’s delicious and it’s always popping. It’s a combination of love, soul, and something sweet.” Sweet Potato Sensations, 17337 Lahser Road, Detroit; 313-532-7996; sweetpotatosensations.com