Errol Service understands humble beginnings, hard work and high achievement. That’ s why the restaurateur says he’s working hard to help rebuild Detroit, one community project at a time.
Service started his McDonald’s career by mopping floors and cleaning toilets. He was promoted to dropping fries and flipping burgers. During the process, he managed to save and invest his earnings. When the opportunity came, he purchased his first McDonald’s franchise in 1994. Today, he owns 15 McDonald’s stores in Metro Detroit, where he manages about 1,300 employees.
The Jamaican immigrant grew up fetching water for his house and doing without the essentials most Americans can’t imagine. That’s why he says he knows opportunities when he sees them. His life’s mission has become showing Detroiters how to take advantage of resources and small beginnings, even when they don’ t look promising at first glance.
So he’s made a commitment to youth job training programs, economic and development ventures as well as financial-education initiatives for Detroiters.
The Jamaican immigrant grew up fetching water for his house and doing without the essentials most Americans can’t imagine.
“I don’t think anyone should be born in this great country of America and suffer,” he says. “Everyone should get an opportunity. I’m in a position to use my business skills and personal skills to be able to show all the people how to go fishing, catch the fish, eat the fish and still catch more fish.
“That’s why I do what I do. I feel that people who do well for themselves have the responsibility to give back to others who don’t have the same opportunities. I do that whenever I see the need. If I can fit it into my calendar, I’m going to fit in the person who has a need.”
His company hires dozens of young people through the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program, which provides summer jobs to teens ages 14 to 18, giving them first-time work experience.
Last year, he celebrated the grand opening of a newly remodeled store on Gratiot Avenue near French Road. Within days, he planned grand re-openings at two other Detroit locations. The Gratiot location includes Project Green Light Detroit, the first public-private-community partnership of its kind. Project Green Light is a blend of real-time crime-fighting and community policing. Its aim is to improve neighborhood safety, promoting the revitalization and growth of local businesses and strengthening Detroit Police Department’s efforts to deter, identify and solve crime.
“The Services invested, despite the challenges,” Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson said at the grand re-opening ceremony. “They could have gone anywhere, but they chose to stay here and invest in this neighborhood.”
At the event, Service also presented the African American 490 Challenge with a $500 check. The donation will pay to test one of 1,340 remaining rape kits, out of 11,341 found untested in a vacated Detroit Police Department evidence storage unit in 2009.
Just before he cut the ribbon flanked by his wife, Savarior, community leaders and elected officials, he said, “Detroit is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people.”
Ken L. Harris, president and CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, says Service actually is one of them.
“That guy has staying power,” he says. “During the economic downturn, he has been a focus of hope for the city. When Detroit went through the recession, a lot of people packed up their bags and moved, and lot of businesses went out of business. Errol Service was one who continued to grow, develop and hire our young people. When we think about a model Black business owner, Errol Service is one of them.”
Service also is passionate about improving Detroit neighborhoods, particularly with a project he’s leading in the city’s Brightmoor neighborhood, a four-square-mile pocket on the city’s northwest side. Since the 1980s, Brightmoor changed from a bastion for working-class white residents to a neighborhood struggling with crime, poverty and blight. Several community-based groups, corporations and nonprofit organizations have worked to clean it up, board up abandoned houses and assist its remaining residents. But the neighborhood still needs a makeover.
Through work with the African Caribbean Chamber of Commerce, of which Service is chairman, and building collaborations around the state, he’s helping to renovate houses purchased from the Detroit Landbank to create new homes for immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.
Just as the original Brightmoor residents were immigrants from Germany and other European countries who came to work in plants such as Ford Motor Company, Service has forged a relationship with Detroit officials and hopes to develop the neighborhood into an immigrant-friendly community. Plans for community’s redevelopment include a sports complex for neighborhood youth that will feature soccer, football and other athletic activities. With the assistance of a group which helped with the strategic plan and is working to implement it, he also plans to develop homes for McDonald’ s employees who want a home of their own.
He expects home purchase prices to range from about $27,000 to $30,000. “So many people complain about how rough it is in Brightmoor. Compared to where I’m from in Jamaica, Brightmoor is golden,” he says.
Brightmoor is not the only community where he’s working to make progress. Service also is committed to Highland Park, where he supports the schools with financial education programming in schools. He also is developing the Highland Park Woodward Dream Cruise, which features classic cars and runs on Woodward Avenue simultaneously with the Dream Cruise that begins at 8 Mile Road in August.
Proceeds from the event will benefit youth programs through Highland Park’ s My Brother’ s Keeper chapter, the initiative President Barack Obama started to bolster the lives of young, African-American men.
Additionally, among his many community initiatives, Service developed a financial education program for his employees, who often are in their first jobs and don’ t understand the basics of owning checking or savings accounts, credit cards, taxes and insurance. He invites bankers to give presentations at his stores to offer staff fundamental financial information, and he pays employees to attend the workshops.
“In some cases, this might be their first job. Others are trying to make more money for their families,” he says. “But if you don’ t have a basic financial understanding, you’ll make the money and spend it. They are going from paycheck-to-paycheck, but are not making any future investments because they don’ t know how.
“That’s why I’ m so committed to educating my employees about the McDonald’ s brand. If you save your money and learn the business, you can accomplish great things over time. A lot of the employees are into ‘How much are you going to pay me now?’ They don’t think about how much they can make in five or 10 years.”
Editor’s note. Read more about Errol Service and his commitment to the Brightmoore Community here.
All photos by Paul Engstrom