Ivy Kitchen + Cocktails is a new upscale, farm-to-table restaurant on Detroit’s East side. But to one Detroiter, it’s also a dream that took seven years of hard work and much of her own savings to transform into reality. Owner Nya Marshall was working as a project manager for a local automotive company in 2014, when she bought a dilapidated building in her neighborhood. With the goal of bolstering her community, Marshall slowly rehabilitated it, tackling projects one by one as she came up with the funds. Finally, on Dec. 30, Marshall reached her long-awaited destination when she opened the doors to her self-funded eatery. Hour Detroit recently connected with her to talk about the journey of bringing Ivy Kitchen + Cocktails to the neighborhood.
Hour Detroit: What was the inspiration for the menu at Ivy Kitchen + Cocktails?
Nya Marshall: This is an eclectic community, and I wanted to do something representative of that. So, it’s new American cuisine infused with a lot of different cultures — Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, traditional American. My favorite [dish] is the smoky Charred Whole Branzino. I’m a huge fish lover, and ours is fantastic.
What about the atmosphere?
I wanted to create something elegant for the community, because that simply doesn’t exist where we live. But I also wanted people to feel welcome, like this is a space created with them in mind, where they can come and socialize.
Why did you choose this location for your business?
It’s only 10 minutes from the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s where I live, and I’m deeply rooted in community. Six mile and the Davison is where I was born and raised. My memory of it is community, parks, schools, [Detroit children’s advocate] Delores Bennett — a bustling neighborhood, basically. It’s a very different community today.
Are you concerned that the lack of surrounding development will hurt business?
Not at all. There’s aren’t many businesses, but there are a lot of people, and people make community. They’re the reason businesses survive.
What changes do you hope to see in the community?
My goal is for it be the way it was when I was growing up, when local businesses were the foundation, and the owners lived here. When you live here, you care more, and when you care more, you do more. And all that uplifts the people at large. I hope what I’ve done inspires other young entrepreneurs to do the same and to take it way further.
The restaurant industry is a pretty big jump from your previous work— what inspired you to branch out?
It was the community. I wanted to make sure I was adding value and doing something the people wanted. So, [after buying the property], I did a survey, and I kept hearing consistently — from the churches, the neighborhood association, and most of the residents — about bringing food to a very food-insecure space.
Not having a background in food, did you feel prepared for this?
I’m a tenacious person. If I put my mind to it, I can do it. So, no, I didn’t have a background in food, but I prepared by building a business plan, reaching out to the community, and learning everything I could. Luckily, Detroit is a good incubator for entrepreneurs, and that helped me a lot.
Many Detroit business owners have alluded to disparity in funding for local businesses. Has that been your experience?
The funding is the largest bottleneck. I’m not sure where those gaps lie, but obviously there is some institutional racism disadvantaging entrepreneurs of color.
What other barriers did you face as black woman?
Development is a male-dominated field, and it’s not men of color. When you try to penetrate that circle, there a is a lot of push back. They make you feel like you don’t belong there. I feel there should be more encouragement for women to become commercial developers and to have access to capital, learning initiatives, and workshops.
What would you say to other women who are considering entrepreneurship but feel discouraged by those barriers?
I would tell them to call me, because I will assure them that they can do it. I’ll even give them the blueprint I used to do it. It’s not an easy thing to do. But I’d tell them they just need research, ingenuity, and the knowledge that they can do it.