You Are What You Eat: Raphael Wright

If you follow enough people from the city then you’ve probably heard about Raphael Wright and his attempts to open a Black-owned grocery store on Detroit’s Eastside. In case you haven’t, this entrepreneur, author, and founder of Urban Plug L3C has a passion for rejuvenating our community by tackling social issues and incorporating group investment models that you’ll definitely want to take notice of!

I decided to reach out and learn a bit more about his drive for this project and the change he hopes to bring.

Can you tell us a bit about Urban Plug L3C?

“We founded Urban Plug in July 2016. Our first project was a youth entrepreneurship program called Boss Academy, in which we went over entrepreneurial principles with a group of teenagers. We’ve also provided information on stocks, investing, and real estate to smaller groups. This is the biggest project we’ve worked on so far.”

Can you give us an outline of your current project?

“The plan is to start with one store, learn the game, learn the perfect model to run a successful market and, once that’s covered, introduce the platform for people to pool their money and buy into the enterprise. We’d sell half the store to the community and use the profits from that to start again in another place.”

Does that mean you’re seeking to expand this business model to cities other than Detroit?

“I would love to, but I can’t really say ‘yeah.’ We want to focus on Detroit because that’s where we’re from. We do want to serve as an example that this model can work and for every inner city community to take it on, but right now we’re keeping it in the city.”

The primary site for the potential market is 17455 East Warren. Why did you choose this space?

“I’m from the Eastside, born and raised. There’s a particular group of neighborhoods in that area: Morningside, East English Village, Cornerstone, and Chandler Park. These are tight-knit communities and they’ve always been interested in growth and development. There’s another spot on the Westside that’s apart of Motor City Match, on Wyoming. That’s my second choice.”
17455 East Warren, Detroit MI

You mentioned Motor City Match right now. I know you received a plan award from them last year, but you also have consultancy relationships with FoodLab Detroit and Fair Food Network. What are some of the resources that you’ve gained from them?

“Going deeper into the financial aspects of my business plan, Fair Food Network has been the go-to consultancy that I’ve used. I’m new to the grocery game and they’ve been excellent in pointing me in the direction of my start-up requirements. FoodLab has provided an outline of coursework that an entrepreneur would definitely want to take part of to learn the food business. These are things like management classes, marketing classes, and ServSafe certification.”

Dope! So, you wrote a book titled How 2 Hustle. Being from the city, how would you say that hustle mentality plays a part in the way you’re tackling this current project?

“I wouldn’t be able to navigate if it weren’t for my “hustle” experiences. Things I learned from the street have just been indispensable at this point. You learn how to be tough, and you have to exercise that toughness when you go into legitimate markets. This here is way more dangerous than the streets. These contracts and handshakes can be more deadly than a bullet! I learned not to accept every handshake as a friendly one, especially in the work my partner and I are trying to do. You know? This is for the people! We’re a people coming from behind and there’s really no time to play. We just not for that.”

Since we’re behind, how do you see this project helping our community catch up and accrue generational wealth?

“We’re starting with a grocery store but we want our model to serve as a general example of how other businesses can be started. The goal is to buy land in the community and start other business as well. Once we do that, we hire the community and keep the money flowing like a closed room. If you’ve got 10 people in a room and each has a different product that you need then the money stays there. Once you have to leave the room for something, the money goes with it. The problem isn’t that we’re not starting businesses, it’s that we’re not starting enough of the businesses we need.”

I know community wellness is also an issue you’re passionate about. Can you tell us why we need community owned grocery stores?

“So much goes through our stomach, not just internally, but externally as well. The culture that we breed and love is built, the arts are preserved and created; Love of a community and love of a people all come through what we eat. We become chemically imbalanced and aggressive from what we eat, and the hands that prepare our food won’t even eat the stuff they give us. Grocery stores are selling us produce 1 day away from being expired and telling us it’s good food. We don’t have any hands that care about us in our communities, so we have to create that ourselves. It’s imperative that we do.”

That’s really real. Thanks for that! Do you have any other words for the community that might convey the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish?

“Group economics is the way that we have to go. We have to let go of the need for profit and build a base first so we can survive long-term.”
Raphael Wright

To donate to the Grocery Store Project click HERE.

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