Something was calling Jay Rayford back to the city after living in different states for several years. Even with a professional job in electrical engineering, he had to return home.
Social Sushi – a pop-up that brought sushi to various social and networking events – was Rayford’s gift to Detroit. The business went on to serve notable customers and local companies like Hour Detroit, Queen’s Bar and The Social Club. Rayford estimates about 10,000 customers served since 2012.
“It’s not so much that I had a passion for sushi itself, it’s more so the excitement that’s surrounding sushi,” says Rayford, 34. “But also, as old as it is, it’s new to some people. It’s a unique food with a vibe of a whole lot of things.”
A result of its popularity, Rayford’s Social Sushi pop-up will settle into its own location at 18663 Livernois this year. When the business first opened, Rayford confesses, he didn’t know how it would become a permanent restaurant, since its purpose was just to bring people together.
Rayford doesn’t always make the sushi himself – he has three chefs to do it for him – but he learned much about Japanese cuisine from his uncle.
With Social Sushi, Rayford brings a Detroit vibe, in the form of menu items special to the area. For instance, his take on the traditional dragon roll and the “What Up Doe” roll includes Better Made potato chips sprinkled on top. The dragon roll has plain chips, while the “What Up Doe” has spicy-flavored chips and Faygo Rock n’ Rye-flavored eel sauce for a unique Detroit flavor.
For about four and a half years, Rayford lived between Florida, New York and Pennsylvania. He came back to Detroit in 2010 with a totally new perspective.
“I got a viewpoint of Detroit from the outside looking in, for the first time ever,” he says. “I realized how many people from the outside looked at Detroit in this negative light and how the media kind of helped tell that story.”
But not only was his hometown faced with negative perception from outsiders, the pessimism also came from friends. Rayford says he remembers a friend telling him not to come back to the city, but to keep his job out of state because there was nothing available in Detroit.
Still, he felt the need to move back home and dive into the chance to do something creative. Rayford says he’s happy about the planned Livernois opening.
“Part of our goal was to bring people from the neighborhoods downtown,” he says. “… and also for folks downtown to see what’s happening in our neighborhood.”
This Small Shops feature is sponsored by Bank of America.
To learn more about Bank of America’s many programs and resources for small business owners visit: https://www.bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/business-financing.go.