Robb Klaty is the owner of Tenacity Brewing, Heyday Coffee, and Flint Crepe Company, all located in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. We spoke to Robb about the importance of community, and how the maker spirit of Flint inspires him to run his businesses and open more.
Square: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Robb Klaty: The opportunity to make a small difference in a place that could use some help. Also, the opportunity that I believe is ahead for those that do the work.
What inspired you to start your businesses?
Ten years ago, I moved my family back to Flint. At the time, I was just struck by the opportunity and the need for businesses that would bring the community together. We got started in 2008 as a mobile food crepe cart, and opened our first brick and mortar, the Flint Crepe Company, in 2011. After that there were a few businesses that led ultimately to Tenacity Brewing and Heyday Coffee.
What brought you back to Flint? Was it passion?
There’s a lot of opportunity here. For me personally, there was a need here for a business like a brewery, which we didn’t have. The people of Michigan have definitely endorsed craft beer, but Flint didn’t have a brewery.
The joy of opening the doors of a brewery that didn’t exist before and hearing people say, “Wow, we’re glad you’re here,” and really appreciating it and creating a space for people to get together in a community that didn’t have one before is really fulfilling.
What do you feel like Flint is known for and what would you like it to be known for?
Flint is known for our auto heritage, number one. I think students of history understand that this is where a lot of the magic happened in the early part of the 20th century. This is also where the auto revolution started, in part. I think nowadays a lot of people consider Flint a poster child for post-industrial America.
What I wish Flint would be known for is our tenacity and grit, and our ability to withstand these challenges that we’ve faced. I hope that there will be some lessons learned in this community that will be able to benefit others. Flint has always been ahead of the curve since the days of the auto industry. I’m hoping that will be a positive thing moving forward.
Tell us about the legacy of makers in Flint.
We’re all kind of geared that way in Flint. My experience opening a business in Flint was on the service end — we started serving coffee and then serving beer. For me, roasting coffee has developed that maker part.
There is a pull toward wanting to make things. It’s fun. It’s where the creativity is. That’s where there’s such a reward. I can only speak for us, but there is definitely a pull toward that. It’s more fun making it than just selling what someone else made.
In Flint, we make art, we make music, we make T-shirts, we make coffee, we make beer. We make almost every type of food that you can imagine, and we grow a lot of it as well.
How are entrepreneurs revitalizing the making spirit of Flint?
When I think of makers in the community, I think about next door at Factory Two. Every time I go there, I see a new group of kids that are learning how to screen print, use the laser cutter. It gives me hope for the future.
I’m personally happy there is a focus on the small businesses and makers, not just because I’m in it, but because I think it is a very healthy way for Flint to look at the future.
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