Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes met rather “serendipitously.” After a decade of serving in critically acclaimed restaurants, coffee shops, and nonprofits around the country and the world, the two found themselves in Detroit independently working toward the same goal of opening their own locally sourced grocery store.
Through mutual friends and shared ideals, the two were soon collaborating on The Farmer’s Hand, a gourmet grocery store committed to “ethical, sustainable, humane food practices” which opened in Corktown in 2015. Three years later, the pair opened Folk — a corner café and coffee shop largely devoted to the same ideals and a place they both deem was a natural extension of The Farmer’s Hand.
Louya, 35, is a Rosedale Park native who has been working in the hospitality industry since she was a young teenager. She holds degrees from both University of Michigan and Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and has made her way from bartending, to barista-ing, to cooking in the kitchens of esteemed Chicago-based chefs like Paul Kahan of Blackbird and Chris Pandel of The Bristol.
Foulkes, 39, hails from Cairns, Australia and like Louya, boasts a long career in a roster of reputed kitchens, hotels, and resorts along the eastern coast of Australia. She also holds a master’s in International Education from University of Sydney which led to work in nonprofits across the U.S. and Australia.
As much as their professional backgrounds lead them to this point, the food philosophy at Folk is shaped largely by Louya and Foulkes’ respective upbringings. Louya’s father is from the Congo and her mother is from the South, while Foulkes is indigenous Australian. Both grew up eating locally sourced, seasonal food where rice was central and meat was ceremonial.
“The Warm Rice Bowl we serve here is one of my favorites,” Louya says. “It was something we wanted to bring to the breakfast world here in Detroit and introduce them to a dish that feels really comforting to us.”
For Foulkes it’s the Basic Brekkie — a breakfast plate of soft scrambled eggs, hash, toast, and greens. “I know a lot of people have looked at me a little crazy when I do salads for breakfast, but they’re so good, and carry through that philosophy of healthy, wholesome, nurturing-the-body food that is Folk is all about,” Foulkes says.
To work in a place of powerful women in uplifting powerful women is a great culture.
Folk is about a lot of things, really. People, provisions, place, and the planet are the four pillars of what these two co-founders emphatically refer to as a “quadruple-bottom line business.” While each holds its place in Folk, their focus on the people feels especially pertinent in an industry that has historically drawn clear battle lines on who, where, and how things operate.
Louya says she and Foulkes have worked in culinary environments where they have witnessed the income disparity between front and back of the house employees. They also became keenly aware of how everything from seasonality to discrimination affect a tipped employee’s ability to earn a living wage, and they have been steadfast in correcting that at Folk. They advocate for a tip-free model, and have structured the business to ensure that all employees are paid an equitable wage at all times.
That collaborative spirit extends to how they define themselves not as managers, but as part of an all-female team, which includes front of house manager, Jessica Kindle, 28, and front of house chef, Heidi McPherson, 26. For Kindle and McPherson, Folk has been a rejuvenating break from the stuffy boys clubs that preside over most restaurants. “My previous experience is back of the house so that really is like an old man’s club,”
McPherson laughs. “So, to work in a place of powerful women uplifting powerful women is a great culture.”
Folk, 1701 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-290-5849. B & L Wed.-Mon. Closed Tues.