Then Story: Attorney/Mom
Now Story: Attorney/Mom+Entrepreneur/Founder of Detroit Sip
Curb Moment: Having someone invest in my dream
The city of Detroit is emerging from bankruptcy with a renewed sense of purpose attracting both corporate giants and solo entrepreneurs anxious to play a role in The Motor City’s regeneration. No one is more emblematic of the latter than Detroit native Jevona Watson whose curb moment included acting on a long held dream to serve up inspiration one sip at a time.
What do you do? Tell us about it.
Well in addition to my work as a full time attorney and a mom, I’m now the founder and owner of Detroit Sip which is a coffee shop and gathering place in the neighborhood where I live in Detroit.
Why did you make the shift to start Detroit Sip and what would you say was your “curb moment?”
I think I’ve actually had more than one curb moment!
I grew up being taught that you go to school to get a good education. Then, you work hard, and enter a profession. So that’s the model I followed my whole life with the focus on getting a good job. I never heard that I could create a job for myself or become an entrepreneur, so owning my own business was something I hadn’t really explored.
I went to Michigan State University, graduated with a law degree and became an attorney so I was following the traditional path. However, while I was at Michigan State, instead of studying at the library, some of the students would study at a coffee shop. Every time I studied at the coffee shop I saw people hanging out, drinking coffee, connecting with each other and having meaningful conversations. It was a positive feeling and I loved being a part of it and the relationships I built over a simple cup of coffee.
I think the dream got planted then, that ‘I’d really love to have a coffee shop someday.’ I imagined it was kind of a ‘if I win the lottery, then I’ll do it kind of dream!’ That’s how I framed it in my mind; as something I thought about long term, but was not actually going to happen unless I got the winning ticket. Then, something unexpected happened. Someone I shared my vision with, and who deeply cares about me, bought a building in the neighborhood not far from where I live and said, ‘here you go Jevona, now go make that dream happen!’
That’s incredible. So be careful what you wish for!
What kind of challenges have you had and how have you overcome them?
What challenges haven’t I had! Well it’s been a three year process. I still work full time as an attorney and have two kids, 16 and 11, so balancing my life with the business is a big challenge. (Note: during our interview, Jevona is multi-tasking; walking through a superstore on her lunch hour shopping for supplies needed for the shop’s upcoming weekend!)
We are opened Thursday through Sunday and I’m very hands on with everything. For a long time we were only an empty space and were letting the people in the community use the space for events, performances, and neighborhood gatherings until we opened as a coffee shop. Now college students, young families, retired couples all come in and I get to know them all but I had a huge learning curve in getting the shop off the ground.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know! For example, I didn’t know what questions needed to be asked or what documents needed to be filed. I also envisioned using local vendors and supporting other Detroit owned businesses in the process but wasn’t sure how to go about it initially. I didn’t know how to start a business or how to run a business. But my daddy calls them ‘bought lessons’ because I’ll never have to pay for the same lessons twice! So I obtained knowledge that I’ll never forget because I learned by doing or by researching. I also I think my training as a lawyer helped me navigate the system.
What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start a business?
I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who support your dream and what you are trying to do. There are enough people out there who will tell you something can’t be done and why you shouldn’t do it.
Another thing is to be humble and realize you probably know less than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to find others who have started businesses and ask them: ‘what mistakes did you make? what did you learn? what advice would you give?’ I love a quote by Bishop T.D. Jakes who said something years ago that defines my life as a business owner. He said, ‘If you think you are the smartest person in the room, you’ve outgrown the room.’ I have not been the smartest person in the room by far! It’s healthy to stretch yourself and to learn from others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you are. So you need to take the lead from others who have already done what you want to do or who are currently doing it.
Your building is one of only a handful of occupied buildings on your street with the rest of the buildings being vacant boarded storefronts. This must be difficult. It seems you are a trailblazer in transitioning the neighborhood…
Well I’m very shy so I wouldn’t say that but others have said it, which is humbling. The surrounding area is not very appealing to the eye and in great need of redevelopment but seeing the residents in the neighborhood come in and visit with each other and the gratification I receive from them is very satisfying. It’s nice seeing all the pieces I’ve worked on come together. I also like having my children see that you can create a job for yourself and have impact on those around you and I think they are proud of me for that.
What keeps you going?
In addition to my kids, I love the energy of the shop and the camaraderie and connection but I also have a bigger vision and that is I hope my shop and what I’ve done leads others to start their own businesses in Detroit. It’s a vibrant city and I want others to see the potential for the future that I do.
Another interviewer asked me if I thought now that big companies are investing in Detroit whether their actions have paved the way for entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed? I actually think it’s exactly the opposite. I think big businesses are investing in Detroit because they’ve seen entrepreneurs and small businesses succeeding despite the city’s circumstances and challenges. It’s a hopeful message. I think that if they see that we are pulling it off and making a difference with limited capital and resources then they can too!
Visit Jevona and Detroit Sip at 7420 W. McNichols, Detroit, MI 48221
To learn more visit www.detroitsip.com