Detroiters aren't content with eating run-of-the-mill cherry and apple pastries -- at least that's what Nikita Santches is banking on with Rock City Pies.
An entrepreneur and experimental baker, Santches sells offbeat pies like sweet potato whiskey at Ferndale's Rust Belt Market, but he's looking to expand and move to the city.
A semifinalist in the Comerica Hatch Detroit contest, he hopes to win the grand prize of $50,000 and open a brick-and-mortar retail space in the city. Santches would plan to sell sweet and savory creations to hungry customers, as well as distribute the pies wholesale.
The Hatch finalists is determined by public voting through Sept. 18, and a final round of judge and public decision-making at the end of the month will determine the winner.
HuffPost Detroit asked the baker a few questions about how being an immigrant prepared him to open a business, what makes Rock City Pies stand out from other sweet shops, and what on earth is in the decadent "White Trash Pie."
Why should Detroit have a pie storefront? Are your ideal customers Detroiters, your repeat customers from Ferndale, or someone else?
Not only is this different than any other dessert place in the city, it is different than any dessert place in the entire Metro area. It will also consist of more than just dessert pie. There will be savory pies, pocket pies and pizza pies as well. Because there will be something for every palette, it will be geared toward suburban crowds who enjoy downtown dining, tourists, business people who need a quick lunch, and anyone else who loves Detroit and the fine food it has to offer.
You emigrated to Michigan from Russia at a young age. What experiences and lessons do you bring from Russian culture, and how did your industriousness at a young age turn you into an entrepreneur?
Because I moved here at such a young age, I experienced seeing my parents work extremely hard to build a life in a brand new place. It is this work ethic and the strong values that they taught me that I put into the things that I do and plan to accomplish.
You said you want to open your storefront in Midtown. Why does that neighborhood appeal to you?
I am still keeping my eyes open to other opportunities for a great location in the city. ] I like the industrial vibe of Midtown, because the vision that I have for my spot is very industrial-chic. I want a building with great structure and history. Detroit is rich with history and great structure. It is just a matter of finding the perfect fit.
Is using locally-sourced ingredients an important part of your business model? Can you keep prices affordable while using quality products?
Using local and quality ingredients is always important to me. Keeping things affordable, however, is also very close to my heart. I will always use local ingredients when they are in season. Like any other locally-sourced restaurant, I will only use ingredients from other locations when I absolutely have to.
How would your store contribute to Detroit's food scene -- and to making the city better, in general, to contribute to what you call the 'REAL Renaissance'?
I'll bring quality food made from scratch with a real, creative spin. I want to go back to uniqueness and the old-fashioned way of making things fresh, by hand. The city needs this, and people will appreciate something truly different for a change.
We have to ask ... what's in a White Trash Pie?
It's a spin on a Southern holiday snack (sometimes known as "Texas Trash") which consists of pretzels, Chex cereal and peanuts covered in white chocolate. I take it a step further and I throw in Cap'n Crunch and peanut M&Ms.
Check out this slideshow of all 10 Hatch Detroit 2012 semifinalists. Vote for Rock City Pies here.
Hatch Detroit 2012: Meet The 10 Semifinalists
They Submitted. They Rocked. They Conquered. Hatch Detroit named <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/comerica-hatch-detroit-contest-2012-semifinalists_n_1843271.html">10 semifinalist entrepreneurs</a> who will compete for the hearts and minds of Detroiters this fall. The winner will take home $50,000 and the support to build the business of their dreams. Find out a little more about the 2012 Hatch Detroit class through the slideshow, featuring quotes from their business proposals. <a href="http://hatchdetroit.com/vote/">Vote for your favorite </a>Hatch Detroit contestant every day, and make sure to explore every budding Detroit entrepreneur through our Hatch Q&As.
"Tashmoo Biergarten is a European style outdoor beer garden that opened in the fall of 2011 as five sequential pop-up events in the West Village neighborhood of Detroit, MI. The next phase of Tashmoo Biergarten is to purchase property with enough space for the beer garden and a building to house a tasting room and the necessary facilities."
Whip Hand Cosmetics
"Whip Hand Cosmetics offers luxury, artisan, professional makeup artist quality cosmetics made in Detroit With Attitude. The brand’s products include more than 100 color cosmetics for the eyes, lips and cheeks, as well as a line of skin care and prep products. Whip Hand Cosmetics: The Art of Control."
"La Feria will be a small authentic Spanish Tapas restaurant in the style of those commonly seen in the south of Spain. The food and menu will follow the Tapas tradition of a number of plates that are small portions of various Spanish dishes, accompanied by wine or beer. "
Detroit River Sports
"Our mission is to create a whole new dynamic on the Detroit River, built around sports and recreation activity. Detroit River Sports will be a hub for all human or nature-powered, sports on the River. By offering rentals, lessons, tours, and retail we will provide amenity to those already familiar with the pleasures of waterfront recreation, and expose the uninitiated, creating new River enthusiasts within the city. By providing new ways to experience the City and its River, interest in the Detroit Riverfront as a whole will grow."
Detroit Vegan Soul
<blockquote></blockquote>"Detroit Vegan Soul is a newly created meal delivery & catering company that with the help of Hatch Detroit will open a café in one of Detroit’s historic neighborhoods. We want good, healthy food to be accessible to everyone. Our mission is to help people live healthier lives by providing great-tasting, high-quality, nutritious vegan food that appeals to everyone, while at the same time doing our part to support a sustainable earth."<blockquote></blockquote>
Vividbraille Studio Boutique
"Vividbraille fuses high end fashion and design with USA manufacturing in a retail setting. The studio boutique offers its customers some of the finest Made in the USA high fashion goods while also allowing its customers to experience the creative process leading up to the completion of any given collection or item of clothing."
Pho Da Nang
"We would like to open a 50-seat Pho House in Midtown, Detroit, to bring the first Vietnamese restaurant to the people. Eating at Da Nang is much more than a dining experience. We treat our customers to authentic Vietnamese cuisine, of course, but we are careful about the setting. We want to share the beauty of Vietnam and its people through our menu, our décor, our staff – basically every touch point."
Motor City Design
"Motor City Design Co. store is a custom denim specialty retail store featuring all made in Michigan products as well as products made directly in the store. People will be able to shop in the store and see seamstresses sewing and making garments behind large glass walls. The store will be the first of it’s kind in Detroit -- or in the world, for that matter. "
Rock City Pies
"Rock City Pie products are NOT like your grandma’s pies. They are as unique and pure and as unexpected as the people who make-up the Detroit urban “hipster” scene, with flavors and sensations unlike anything else. Bizarrely original, they are totally fresh with locally-sourced ingredients and are even a little bad ass…..and DAMN they are good."
The Collective Tap
"The Collective Tap is a community focused beer retailer promoting and cultivating a respect for beer in Detroit. We specialize in the education and selling of Midwestern craft beers, while also selling brews from the US, UK and Belgium. Our goal is to make high‐ quality beer approachable, from the first time craft beer drinker to the seasoned home brewer."
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