Two Million-dollar Success Story

Detroit has had several dozen new restaurants and businesses open in the past year, with most of the attention in midtown and downtown.

However, what about new businesses in the neighborhoods and how are they doing?

A year ago, Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles opened in NW Detroit on the Avenue of Fashion, aka, Livernois by Detroit-native Ron Bartell.

Bartell, who grew up in Northwest Detroit, attended Renaissance High School before attending Central Michigan University on a football scholarship. Ultimately, he transferred to Howard University and in 2005, Bartell was the second round draft pick by the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. After playing nine years in league, including the hometown Lions, Bartell retired in 2013 and opened Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles in January, 2015.

It’s been well-documented new businesses generally have a relatively short lifespan. In Detroit, a city where there are still economic challenges, one might question how a newly-launched business can sustain itself outside of the spotlight and bright lights of midtown and downtown. So far, Bartell is redirecting the spotlight and investment back to the neighborhoods.

When we talked a year ago, his goal was to achieve $1 million in sales and hire 25 employees. The reality, Kuzzo’s has exceeded $2 million and now has nearly 50 employees with nearly all of them from nearby areas of the city.

I asked Bartell to share his thoughts about his first year in business and keys to success.

Lee: Congratulations! You are celebrating your first anniversary. How has the first year been for Kuzzo’s and how has the community support been?

Bartell: The first year has been amazing. We’ve done over $2 million is sales which for a neighborhood restaurant in the city is unheard of. The community has welcomed us with open arms as we’ve been able to pretty much become a staple in the city overnight.

Lee: What have you learned over the last twelve months? Anything you would have done differently?

Bartell: I’ve learned that the restaurant business is a micromanaging business. You have to find the right team and right group of people to help make your dream a reality. There’s really not much I’d change as every situation has been a learning experience whether good or bad.

Lee: For those starting a business and concerned about getting through the first year, what have been your keys to success and what advice would you give to those looking to start and business?

Bartell: Planning and patience are two of the biggest keys when operating your business in the first year. You have to plan for the unseen which can be difficult. Your finances must be in order and you must have the patience to realize that all money isn’t good money–meaning don’t sacrifice your standards, beliefs etc–to make a quick buck.

Lee: Any plans to expand to other locations across the city?

Bartell: We have plans for other locations in the future but not necessarily in Detroit. We’ve tossed around the idea of eventually going to Midtown/Downtown Detroit one day but we’d like to focus entirely on the first location at the moment. We don’t wanna grow too fast.

Lee: It’s my understanding you and family members own several other buildings on Livernois. What are your plans and the vision for properties and the 7 mile and Livernois area?

Bartell: I own several other properties along Livernois. I am currently renovating many of them now. The goal is to provide retail space for other “small” businesses that fit in with the vision that we have for The Avenue of Fashion. I’d like to attract businesses that aren’t common in the “neighborhoods”. Businesses that provide access that sometimes overlook urban consumers.

Lee: Thinking ahead, what’s your vision for Kuzzo’s 2016 and beyond?

Bartell: My vision for Kuzzo’s is to keep improving. We want to continue to get better and stick to our roots which is great food, great service and better people.