Former NFL Player Invests in Northwest Detroit’s Growth

There’s been much discussion around significant investments Downtown and Midtown. However, questions continue to surface about investing in and providing jobs in neighborhoods.

Meet Ron Bartell, an ex-NFL player, has come home and invested in the neighborhood where he was raised. Bartell, who played for both the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions, has just opened a Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles in Northwest Detroit, and now employs 20 employees with hopes of hiring more longer-term.

Bartell was raised in Northwest Detroit and attended Detroit Renaissance High School where he graduated in 2000. After college, where he attended Central Michigan University and before transferring to Howard University. He was drafted 50th overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2nd round of the 2005 NFL draft. He also played for the Oakland Raiders and retired after after playing his final year with the Detroit Lions in 2013.

Since that time, Bartell has ventured into entrepreneurship full throttle. He now owns and operates multiple businesses focused on developing residential and commercial properties. Part of his strategic approach has been to buy multiple commercial buildings along Livernois – the Avenue of Fashion – with the intentions of developing properties to lease to other small businesses.

His hope is the restaurant, Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles,which opened this week will help spark more development and similar ideas in the area.

I recently interviewed Bartell for his thoughts on his restaurant and the importance of investing in the neighborhood where he was raised.

Lee: You’re opening a restaurant, Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles, in the Northwest Detroit neighborhood where you grew up–specifically, on Livernois, aka, the Avenue of Fashion. Why?

Bartell: Livernois Avenue, specifically, the Avenue of Fashion is a hidden gem in the city. I felt the area had long been overlooked and under-served. So much of the revitalization talk regarding the city centers on Downtown, Midtown, Corktown but often neglects the “neighborhoods”. The Avenue of Fashion is surrounded by some of the strongest communities Detroit has to offer such as Sherwood, Palmer Woods, Green Acres and University District. These neighborhoods are filled with affluent people who deserve a great dining experience without having to go downtown or to Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Birmingham. We wanted to give that upscale feel that you get in those other areas without leaving the neighborhood.

Lee: Kuzzo’s is a unique name. How did you come up with it and what does it mean?

Bartell: Kuzzo was a “slang” we used growing up to describe a family member, friend or acquaintance. We want the restaurant to represent that same idea. Everyone is a “Kuzzo”, no matter race, age, gender, sex, religion. Everyone is welcome!!!

Lee: And what’s the cuisine and what makes the dining experience unique? In other words, what can customers expect from Kuzzo’s?

Bartell: We specialize in chicken & waffles. Our batters are made fresh in house daily. All of our items are made from scratch with a southern influence. We serve breakfast all day but also offer lunch and dinner selections. We have a full bar and will be introducing our signature craft cocktails shortly after opening.

Lee: You played in the NFL for both the St. Louis Rams and the hometown Detroit Lions. Was opening your own restaurant just as nerve wracking?

Bartell: Believe it or not opening my own restaurant was more nerve wrecking. I had been presented opportunities with franchises before but wanted to make my own brand. The work has been tedious, from logo design, menu selection, interior design, hiring etc… I’ve had a hand in each and every step of the process. The work ethic, business acumen, and attention to detail that helped me be successful in the NFL, I take with me in this same endeavor.

Lee: How long has it taken you from planning to developing to actually opening the restaurant?

Bartell: The idea originated in 2012. So I would say roughly 2 1/2yrs of planning and development.

Lee: And what has been the most significant challenge to date?

Bartell: The most significant challenge has been myself. I’m very meticulous and anal about a lot of things. I feel like if you want people to patronize and spend their hard earned dollar with you, they deserve your best. I’ve changed things such as logos, colors, menu options countless times. My drive to be the best can wear on people.