Entrepreneurial spirit rolls on in Detroit

Posted on June 7, 2012

Shayne O’Keefe may not envision himself a businessman, but the 29-year-old drummer for a punk rock band just might be in denial.

That’s because a simple idea a few years ago that would allow O’Keefe to pay his rent on Fourth Street in Midtown Detroit and maybe go on tour here and there with his band, Noman, now supports not only him, but five of his friends as well.

Plus, it fuels his love of biking.

Hot Spokes is a bike delivery lunch service that will pick up your carry-out order in downtown Detroit and deliver it to you for only $3 Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Just order from any one of 10 restaurants from the Cass CafĂ© and Union Street to Slows and the Town Pump Tavern (full list is on www.hotspokesdetroit.com.) And the delivery is quicker than you might think: no circling for parking spots, no traffic tie-ups and O’Keefe sprints upstairs with a hot/cold delivery bag with ease.

The cost is the same no matter the size of the order. “I’ve delivered cookies to a woman who works at the VA hospital and $300 of barbecue to an office both for $3 apiece,” O’Keefe says.

Four years ago, O’Keefe started Hot Spokes with a handful of restaurants and, let’s just say, not an overabundance of ambition.

“We got fired from a few places at first because we just didn’t have our act together,” O’Keefe said on a recent Monday morning over coffee at Avalon (one of his delivery venues) before jumping on his bike for several deliveries. “So, for awhile, it was a cash hustle. But we’ve got a business bank account and the LLC all figured out now.”

Could this be the same guy who in 2008 and 2009 was the co-chairman of Dally in the Ally, the Cass Avenue community’s music festival that prides itself on being noncorporate sponsored? The same guy who promoted the festival saying: “All things weird and different are the norm and are encouraged?”

“So, yeah,” O’Keefe grins at the transformation. “It’s cool. I get to be a grown-up now. But seriously, I think a lot of business people in Detroit might have a similar story: you sort of do something on the sly for awhile and then you get it together and really make it happen.”

O’Keefe moved to Michigan at age 13 after growing up in several states in the South. It was 1995 and his father, who had been in the military, took a job with GM. After graduating from L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township, O’Keefe spent three years pursuing a business degree at Oakland University. But he was working 60 hours a week as a restaurant cook, trying to pay for school and attend it at the same time. When his car was stolen, that was the last straw. He dropped out.

Eight years ago, O’Keefe moved downtown and began waiting tables. He also started volunteering at Back Alley Bikes on Cass Avenue (a nonprofit bike shop that offers cycling education). It was a perfect fit. “It’s filled with a bunch of fabulous and colorful weirdos doing a really good thing.”

When he’d had enough of waiting tables, O’Keefe decided to “create something fun that made decent money” but would also give him the flexibility to remain active in Detroit’s music scene. O’Keefe is a co-founder of Woodbridge Records, a record label company that has nine albums to its credit and was featured in last year’s Discovery Channel’s three-part miniseries “Detroit in Overdrive.”

Compared to other cities, (New York City “is the worst place on Earth” and Chicago “sucks”) he says, Detroit is home for the foreseeable future. “I was fortunate enough to be born a white male in America, so my experience in Detroit is very easy because I can make my rent in like, two days. It’s a piece of cake.”

So if you’re hungry but pressed for time, Hot Spokes will only set you back $3. Or as O’Keefe said, climbing on his bike: “If you want to give me a few extra bucks, that’s cool, too.”
By: Marney Rich Keenan, The Detroit News