Detroit People’s Food Co-op General Manager Akil Talley, Food Co-op board member Angela Lugo-Thomas and interim general manager Chris Dilley. The Detroit People’s Food Co-op, 8324 Woodward Ave., opens May 1. Credit: Quinn Banks

The doors of the Black-led and community-owned Detroit People’s Food Co-op grocery store in the North End will open on May 1, providing much-needed groceries and local jobs. 

The store is cooperatively owned by members who pay a one-time fee of $200. To date, the co-op has approximately 2,300 members and plans to hire at least 27 full-time and part-time employees.

“We’re really trying to create a model of what a non-extractive food economy might look like…particularly in Detroit’s Black community,” said Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network and board member of the co-op. Yakini took city officials and project leads on a tour of the building Wednesday. 

“While we are specifically and unapologetically focused on the Black community, we also realize this helps everyone who lives and works in Detroit,” said Yakini. “Everybody benefits when we focus on uplifting people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.”

Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network and board member of the co-op, took city officials and project leaders on a tour of the building on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Credit: Quinn Banks

The grocery store will offer fresh produce, bulk foods, a prepared deli section with limited seating, beverages and other items commonly found at grocery stores. It is part of a larger 34,000-square-foot building called the Detroit Food Commons, an approximately $20 million dollar project also opening in May. 

On the second floor, the Detroit Food Commons features office space, a banquet hall/community room with a capacity of around 350 people, a shower for employees and four shared commercial kitchens for rent. Rental terms and rates have not been released yet. 

kitchen
The Detroit Food Commons has four shared, commercial kitchens with equipment for traditional cooking and baking. Credit: Quinn Banks

The project’s developers, the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network and Develop Detroit, broke ground in April 2022 and, in 2023, won a $100,000 Motor City Match grant for the project. 

Detroit has lost a number of grocery stores over the last decade, leaving gaps in food access. Of approximately 64 stores in the majority-Black city, just a few are Black-owned

It’s estimated that Detroiters spend $300 to $500 million on groceries in the suburbs each year. Spending locally, specifically on food, has substantial potential benefits for the local economy and environment.

Localizing just one-fifth of food spending in Detroit would result in 4,700 more jobs, reducing unemployment by 6.5%, according to a 10-year-old study from the nonprofit Fair Food Network. The study found that it would also result in $125 million more in earnings and $155 million more in business taxes. 

While Detroit gained two new Black-owned grocery stores – Neighborhood Grocery and Linwood Fresh Market – in 2023, Yakini noted they’re much smaller than the food co-op. 

Both grocery stores are under 5,000-square-feet

“Both of them are relatively small stores, and that’s not to diminish them in any way,” Yakini said. “But for the size of the population in Detroit, we have very few options where Black people have ownership within the food system.”

Detroit natives will lead the grocery store, and the walls will feature the work of local muralists to express Detroit’s history. Local products will also be prioritized.

“This will be the most Detroit-centric grocery store in the history of the city,” said Akil Talley, the food co-op’s general manager, who brings more than 20 years of experience in the food industry. “We want to carry as much local product as possible.”

The co-op hopes to reach 3,000 members, which will improve cash flow for the operation, Yakini said. Members receive discounts and help shape the co-op’s future. They can also run for the board of directors. 

It’s likely an unfamiliar model for many residents of Detroit, which hasn’t had a cooperatively-owned grocery store since the early 2000s when Cass Corridor Food Co-op closed. 

The Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network has been working since 2010 to make the grocery store a reality. Yakini said the hope is to create a model that shifts the paradigm and could be replicated in other cities nationwide. 

“We’ve created a model where community members can actually own the business and we can circulate the profits within our community,” he said.

If you’re interested in becoming a member, join here. A hiring fair will be held in mid-March.