Entrepreneur YOU!

Grandmother: Grand Matriarch and Depression Era Entrepreneur in Detroit

Posted in Uncategorized by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 22, 2011

Selling pies out of a wagon

Not my grandmother, but it is representational

My Grandmother was abandoned by her husband during the depression with two daughters in Detroit, Michigan.

Other than collecting scraps of rubber and metal, she got by by selling pies out of the back of a wagon to factory workers. Eventually, she bought a piece of land and literally built (brick by brick) a restaurant that catered to the nearby automotive industry on 8 mile road. It was opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It never closed. Eventually they even lost the key to the front door.

My Great grandmother baked, my grandmother ran things, my mother waitressed and I hung out; occasionally providing entertainment/nuisances by twisting to the tunes of Chubby Checker or asking too many questions of the adults. Although my grandmother only had an 8th grade education, she was an astute business women. She expanded the restaurant into a catering service. She handled all the big three auto makers; Ford, Chrysler & GM. Further, she invested her earnings in real estate, buying, fixing-up and renting out houses.

Although she ultimately sold her restaurant, she continued catering to a choice clientele well into her 80’s. She kept her mind sharp by working crossword puzzles. She was the grand matriarch our family and a profound example of entrepreneurship. First born out of a necessity to survive and provide for her loved ones, her determination, iron will, and resourcefulness forged a business that was able to thrive during hard times.

I grew up in Motown in the 50's


Again, not my grandmothers restaurant, but representational

Perhaps what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur is different in the information age, than it was during the industrial age. Maybe the capacity to innovate, adapt quickly, be tech savvy, stay “connected” are the most important things now. But I wonder.

I meet many people who seem to think that just because they have a “good idea” that that somehow automatically entitles them to entrepreneurial success! After I built a $25 million dollar motion picture studio and pioneered an entire region north of L.A. for the entertainment industry, I would meet (or hear about) many people who would boast, “I thought of that!” As if the credit for my venture, wrought by an incredible amount of hard work and risk, should somehow be accrued to them.

It’s a long, long way from idea… or even talent… to entrepreneurial success. Even in the information age, i would pick tenacity before talent, a hard worker over a narcissistic “genius”, a street smart veteran over an MBA educated neophyte any day. Although, maybe, some people are just plain lucky. Even so, I’ll go with Thomas Jefferson who said, “the harder I work, the luckier i get.”

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  1. selfhelphamster said, on January 23, 2011 at 8:29 am

    My grandmother had a similiar experience. After her husband died leaving her destitute, she turned her home into a boarding house. She also founded and ran a summer camp on the Eastern Shore of MD. I never thought of her as an entrepreneur, and I doubt if either of them thought of themselves that way. Tenacity really describes the quality they both had, and I love honoring that in my grandmother and yours. Thanks.

    • zentoast said, on January 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      Cool. Ya, they represented the true spirit of entrepreneurism before it became too popular of a word. The backbone of the best of business that business represents. Necessity is the mother of invention. If you want to write a blog entry on your grandmother, I’d be happy to publish it. Thanks.


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