Detroit matters to all of us in the Heartland. Fair or not, much of the world sees the Midwest through the Motor City lens. When the recession hit, the media cranked out stories about Detroit’s struggles, turning it into a poster child.
And when the nation’s fortunes began to turn, Detroit was out front once more. Super Bowl commercials celebrated the gritty pride of a town that had been to the brink and back. Assembly lines hummed again. And the city’s small businesses began stacking one economic brick on another, all over again. Meet a few of the folks we all should root for.
Patrick Peteet got burned by the economic firestorm when the housing crash of 2007 took down his family’s Oak Park real estate business. “I knew I had to make something new of myself,” he says.
Friends had always told him he’d missed his calling as a baker, so he walked out of the office and into the kitchen. Six cheesecakes an hour—mixed, baked and boxed up in his family kitchen—helped make ends meet. Word-of-mouth (and his marketing experience) soon had lines stretching out the door of Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes in Oak Park. Today, restaurants throughout the city list his desserts on the menu. “I got a second chance,” he says. “And I’m not going to mess it up.” (248) 545-2253; peteetscheesecakes.com 
Before the hard times hit, Michigan native Phillip Cooley was walking runways around the world as a fashion model. Yet he felt a strong pull to live in a community where he could make a difference, so he came back, settled in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, teamed up with Brian Perrone and opened Slows Bar-B-Q. Its phenomenal success and Phillip’s collaborative ability helped drive the area’s renaissance and attract new residents and businesses, including cocktail bar Sugar House, Astro Coffee and Mercury Burger Bar. “Detroit is the only place I could live right now,” he says. “There’s just so much possibility here.” (313) 962-9828; slowsbarbq.com 
You might say that former Wall Street trader Rifino Valentine’s life changed over a dirty martini. While in the midst of what he considers a dirty martini kick, he noticed that bartenders in New York used only imported vodka. He thought I can make a vodka in Michigan. Tired of the grind in the Big Apple, missing his Midwest roots and determined to help Detroit reinvent itself in the down economy, Rifino launched Valentine Vodka in Ferndale. (First he spent four years perfecting his vodka recipes.) Visitors pack the speakeasy-esque lounge for drinks influenced by Detroit’s Prohibition swagger. Of his extensive cocktail repertoire, Rifino is most proud of Detroit Dirty, the drink that first started those creative juices flowing. (248) 629-9951; valentinevodka.com 
Listen to their stories. Check out a video about these three Detroit-area small-business owners’ efforts at midwestliving.com/detroit .
Here are three more businesses we love for their resilient spirit:
City Bird Eager to help promote their city, this brother-sister team’s hip housewares and gift shop near Wayne State University’s downtown campus brims with city-theme products and gifts. (313) 831-9146; citybirddetroit.com 
Corridor Sausage Tired of the Detroit-bashing, two former chefs joined forces to “bring a dying craft to the city.” Now they create their artisanal sausages and other meats in a new production facility at the Eastern Market. Corridor Sausage on Facebook 
Love’s Custard Pies Loyal customers—and praise from the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern—catapulted a small side business into a thriving Eastern Market attraction. Crowds devour the Southern-style custard and fruit pies. (313) 748-2654
For more information: Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 338-7648; visitdetroit.com