Remember how I told you last year about a great new restaurant in Ypsi called Beezy’s? Well, it’s still here. And the food is still great. And, now that they’ve done what most new restaurants don’t, and reached their first anniversary, I thought that I’d ask Beezy’s owner, Bee Mayhew, a few questions.
MARK: So, Bee, it’s been a year. Congratulations on making it this far. As you know, it’s a hurdle that most new restaurants don’t clear, even in areas that aren’t so economically depressed. With that said, how do you account for your success here in Ypsi?
BEE: Thanks Mark!
Well, I don’t know that there’s any accounting for it [ask my accountant, ha!] other than a lot of really really hard work. It sounds trite, and I think everybody who runs a small business works very hard, but it’s true.
Some, okay, most days were/are so immensely grueling. Sure there’s only 12 operating hours a day, 6 days a week but I’m here at around 5:00 AM, and most nights I’m not wrapped up until 9:00 PM. I’m kind of a control freak. And a workaholic. And a little bit anti-social. So long days doing a lot of menial work just feels right. And it’s incredibly cathartic, to a point. It also gave me the opportunity to let my staff learn their roles better and be the personality of the place, so it didn’t all fall on my awkward shoulders.
But hard work aside, I have an attitude, mostly a good one, but I’m very aware of my weaknesses. And that I think has been a key to success in Ypsi. I’m fairly certain that Beezy’s could take off anywhere, but I made Ypsi my home with a passion I’ve never felt for the dozens of towns I’ve lived in. Not the kind of passion that drives me to be involved with every organization or committee (though I love to read all the notes) but the kind of passion that belonging and being brings.
That’s why I think Ypsi has been such a good fit for me, for Beezy’s. A year later, my own and my business’s weaknesses are exposed, but I’m honest about it. A lot like Ypsi itself. It screams opportunity to me in every cell of my being- not in an opportunistic way, but in a tough love, growing, spiritual kind of way. I put that energy into the food I create- something as simple as a matchstick carrot carries the same weight as picking up litter on the street. Calling someone (usually myself) out on their bullshit and being or doing better every day drives that energy.
And… my crew. They mask my weaknesses and maximize my strengths and they are a zesty, wonderful, intelligent, creative and caring bunch. They aren’t perfect, and I don’t want them to be because then we wouldn’t continue to grow as a business or as individuals.
And somehow we’ve managed to appeal to a very broad base- any given day there’s just a huge range of people in here- some from EMU (students and professors alike), parents, kids, grandparents, militant lesbians, reluctant antiques shoppers wandering over from Materials Unlimited. The word of mouth and internet presence has been incredible. I’ve done very very little conventional advertising- some with EMYou and a little with Current back when I first opened. And I’d do more but most days I have more business than I can reasonably handle and maintain a good service level. A good problem I guess.
MARK: Given that you’ve been here for a year now, I’m curious to know where you think the future potential lies for Ypsilanti, and how, if at all, it might be different from your first impression. Given the cost of living in Ann Arbor, I’ve always thought, for instance, that Ypsi should position itself as a community welcoming to students, young professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, and makers of things. This, in my opinion, should be a place where people feel free to take big risks. Even encouraged to do so. And, as for immediate potential, I think there’s a need for a gay bar and a practical clothing store like Sam’s in Ann Arbor… So, how about you? Where do you feel our potential lies?
BEE: I think our potential is limitless… I mean, I’ve been poring over this question now and am kinda lost on what potential really means, and what kind of intent we put into our community… potential is such an individual thing yet collectively creates vibrant communities.
From a strictly practical stance, there’s potential downtown for more everyday stuff. I’d like to be able to get more than gifts & beer downtown; a bookstore with art supplies & other practical sundry, a couple more clothing stores, shoes… My fantasy is that the building on Washington across from the Beer Cooler could be a kind of edgy shopping collective- bookstore/records/clothing/crafts/fabric a la the Kerrytown Shops but with a distinctive Ypsi vibe. Within walking distance of the bus station, several great restaurants/cafes, the Library… yeah… I’d never leave Ypsi.
I’m more interested these days in the potential of intent. I like the underdog, salty, working class Midwestern ethics that resonate here, and the commercial potential is huge but I don’t think in any conventional, big box sort of way.
But back to potential… I’m interested in our community using their skills to help those less fortunate- me, I’d love to offer cooking classes through the Corner Health Center for example, to co-ordinate efforts with Growing Hope & Corner Health to teach folks how to buy, and then utilize their market purchases- make it accessible & easy to see results.
I’d love to eventually be a springboard for folks who come work with me to be inspired to go on in their own business, regardless of whether it’s related to food. I’d love putting more people to work in general, from picking up litter and managing compost to working on facades and planters and the general look & feel of downtown & Depot Town.
Ultimately, things aren’t that different from my first impression. I’m less defensive to the outside world about why I’m here. There’s a lot of hard work ahead to stay in business and help the community. It’s definitely a place where anyone can feel needed by their individual contributions- I think there’s the most amazing potential in that regard even if the financial rewards aren’t immediately apparent.
MARK: I think for a long time it was thought that Ypsi’s salvation would come in the form of an Old Navy or Starbucks. Now, thankfully, I get the sense that people in town are starting to see the problems inherent with that kind of scenario. If we’re going to be a city that grows and prospers, we need to nurture our own entrepreneurs and grow our own companies. We don’t want to be in a situation where people on the coasts are deciding our fate, as we saw recently happen in Ann Arbor, when Pfizer decided to close their Global R&D facility.
I took some shit from someone recently for trying to keep VG Kids here. This reader of my site was arguing that, as VG doesn’t employ a bunch of people, and pay incredibly high wages, we’d be better served to expend our effort elsewhere. There seems to be this thought that we can lure high-tech companies here, if we were to just focus. And I think that’s misguided. I don’t think we can afford to lose a single entrepreneur who understands marketing, the importance of consistent quality and customer service. I don’t care if they’re in food service or automotive repair. We need to foster that kind of culture across the board. And, I think the high-tech companies will follow, as will the young families and everyone else.
To change subjects somewhat, I know a guy who owns a successful high-tech R&D company in Ann Arbor. He’s in a soulless office park now, and he’d love to be in Ypsi, for a whole host of reasons – not the least of which is his belief that Ann Arbor is changing for the worse, becoming less authentic, etc. At any rate, I suggested that he look at a building here in Ypsi, and early one Sunday morning, he came out to look at it. As luck would have it, though, in the short time that he was here, he was witness to a bloody fist fight on Michigan Avenue. I assured him that it was an isolated event, but he said that he wouldn’t feel comfortable moving his 20-some people into a place where they didn’t feel safe. And, he chose to stay in his bleak industrial park.
I’m curious, now that you’ve been a block off of Michigan Avenue, in the heart of downtown, for a year, how you might respond to someone like that… Any thoughts?
BEE: Well, I’m with you on the VG Kids energy. That kind of energy and flexibility is invaluable in any community.
I’ve always felt that those who talk the loudest are generally the most wrong, but so much seems to boil down to pride- which isn’t always a bad thing, if everyone gets involved in the discussion anyway.
As for the fistfight scene- I immediately thought of when I was first getting ready to hire and one young woman’s parents were VERY concerned for her safety. Now the parents are looking for houses here. Just like before I opened and was posting in the perceptions of crime thread way back when, I don’t think Ypsi is any more or less dangerous than anywhere else. I think the more sheltered one’s lifestyle is, the less likely someone is going to be willing to set up shop here when crimes are so much better masked in surrounding communities. Regardless, it’s real. For a response to someone seeing a fist fight, same story. I mean, it’s real. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real and like you said, not the norm.
It’s exciting for lots of reasons:
-Mittenfest is an amazing showcase of Michigan talent and its happening right down the street.
- A trial open Sunday for Beezy’s is kind of a big deal- I’ve been toying with a seasonal Sunday for a few months and this feels like a perfect fit- great people, music, food, community- it’s why I do what I do. I hate the abuse of the word ‘synergy’ but this is my ideal example.
- The other really cool part is of course that 826 Michigan is an amazing organization and my daughter is a blossoming writer and passionate reader, so I get to set a positive example for her AND score much needed cool points with a 10 year old!
MARK: And 8.26% of your receipts are going to be donated?
MARK: OK, let’s talk future plans, and that mysterious third room… What’s up?
BEE: Future plans…mostly involve that mysterious room! It’s about 30 more seats worth of space. which will about double our capacity. There’s a ton of outlets and I envision that room being more of the hang out room, places for people to spread out a bit, right now we’re so cramped on Saturdays and at lunch time.
I’m planning to line things up for the room to be ready by March. Technically all that needs to be done is cosmetic work- installing the floor, changing the overhead light fixtures, but there’s also bracing for the reality that 30 more seats means more food to order, make, serve; more tables to buy, more trash generated, more refrigerator space required, more staff, etc. I’m kind of glad we haven’t gotten to it sooner, it seems we’ve gotten a good handle on the space we’re using and have mostly figured out the service rhythms.
Long term, I have lots of exciting ideas for that room and for Beezy’s in general. I’m in the process of writing the vision for the next 5 years, and I’d like to springboard a few micro-businesses within the walls- some food/market type retail, expanded carry out are main goals, but I also aim to have some like minded consignment type retail- books, records, crafts, etc produced by local artists. I’d love to provide a venue for someone to claim a little nook of the store to gain their footing in business.
It’s become way more important to me to slow down. It’s been a drastic reality check to see how quickly time goes by and how much “real life” gets in the way- be it financial issues, working out kinks, spreading out the actual work, and for someone like me who has 8 million ideas to not get burned out when I can only maybe execute a dozen. And I also haven’t quite grasped how differently the business is running and what the demands are from what I had initially planned- the vision is there, but the actions have taken a different route.
I just reached a point where I’m taking a little time off. And the more time my brain is getting to rest, the more my ideas are morphing. Basically though, plans are to stay small, intimate and to get more involved outside our walls.
MARK: I’m sure you get asked questions all the time by people thinking about starting businesses here in Ypsi. I’m wondering what advice you give them.
BEE: My advice? Don’t let a lover be your contractor, everything else will work out eventually.
And also, it’s pretty simple, but pay attention to what matters most to you in business and concentrate on that. Watch what others do and emulate the stuff you like, and pay extra attention to what’s lacking because that’s where you can fill the gap. Be attentive to your shortcomings and find/hire people who can minimize those.
MARK: Let’s talk about employees. Have you had any problem finding good people here in Ypsi?
BEE: Not at all. I mean, it feels kind of magical some days that the people I get to work with are so amazing. A few people haven’t been a good fit or have moved on to other things [and that's true everywhere, especially in the food business] but I still have 4 of my original 8, plus brought a couple more in the mix; I have 11 on staff now, with 4 full time and 7 part time.
It’s way easier now to find people who are a good fit since the place has developed it’s personality along with systems. It was so ambiguous on so many levels in the early months and things I thought would work just totally didn’t but that’s all normal anyway.