Ponyride started in an abandoned building but today the building and initiative is teeming with life. It is located in a previously abandoned building in Corktown, Detroit. On one exterior wall, volunteer graffiti artists have decorated it with color. The main entrance right off the street is rather unassuming but the stories within are everything but, and so I thought to share some of the efforts that are taking place. I think it brings a new perspective to constrast with the story told in the media. There is no denying that Detroit has had a hard time. There are telltale signs everywhere. But I think success is really measured in their resilience. I think Ponyride is one such success story that I hope investors notice. It is creating new fortunes out of misfortune.

ponyride graffitiPonyride is the brainchild of Phil Cooley, Kate Bordine and my sister Kaija E. Wuollet. It basically is an effort to provide a place for socially conscious entrepreneurs to practice their craft and give back to the community. Their mission:

Ponyride nurtures collaboration using shared resources, knowledge, and ideas to cultivate opportunities created by the strengths and crises of Detroit. Participants serve Detroit communities by sharing their craft and expertise.

Each business offers six hours of education or classes to the community per month. In return their rents are kept at a very low rate. To me it seems like they are finding the rough diamonds and and making them shine.

ponyride studioOn the second floor above the dance and yoga studio is an open area with a kitchen off to the side. The Empowerment Plan resides here. They hire homeless women from shelters to sew coats that turn into self-heating and waterproof sleeping bags. These coats have been handed out to the homeless and also delivered internationally in places of crisis. It started with one woman, Veronika Scott and at the time of my visit the initiative employed fourteen women, giving them an opportunity to work and regain their independence after living on the streets. It made me stop to think what it would be like to live on the streets. It might feel like an imprisonment of sorts. I would not be able to buy French lentils, espresso or dark 85% chocolate, Nike shoes or a Rose bike.  Really it is not at all about those specific ingredients or things but rather the option to choose to buy for our families the things they need and provide a home or the option to be without.  The women I met were so positive and I wish them all well. I hope they all regain their independence to choose.

empowerment plan collageOn the same floor, down through a narrow hallway opens up to another larger space. It is a co-working space that can be shared by different businesses and initiatives. There were a couple that sparked my interest. One such organization is edibleWOW. They produce a quarterly magazine highlighting local food. I met Robb Harper who is one of the publishers of the magazine and so very friendly. EdibleWOW has been coordinating a hydroponic education program at elementary schools to teach students how to grow herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers year round in soil-less conditions. Perhaps these children will continue the tradition of urban gardening.

Co-working space and Robb Harper, publisher of EdibleWOW
Co-working space and Robb Harper, publisher of EdibleWOW

Another initiative that uses the Co-working space is Detroit Soup which is a non-profit organization that provides micro-grants for local creative projects. It works in the following manner. Soup dinners are hosted around the city. For five dollars participants receive soup, salad, bread and a vote. During the dinner participants hear four, four minute long presentations about possible initiatives. Each presenter may answer four questions from the audience. In the end, the audience votes and the initiative to receive the most votes goes home with the money to carry out their project.

Anthology Coffee, the science of making perfect coffee
Anthology Coffee, the science of making perfect coffee

It is not so uncommon to hear of disagreements in a work place. I am not disillusioned to believe that there are no bumps in the road at Ponyride but there is a sense of collaboration. Perhaps it is because of the hardships that almost everyone has experienced in some way that petty things are put aside.

Detroit Denim, creating custom made denim jeans and products from delvedge denim
Detroit Denim, creating custom made denim jeans and products from selvedge denim
The Dirt Label
The Dirt Label

What an inspiring day it was. If I was to go again, it would be nice to bring a cake to share. I would set it down on the stone counter in the kitchen right next to the Empowerment Plan. If there are lots of people there on that particular day we would just cut the cake in slightly thinner slices so everyone could have a taste. If only a few are there we could slice it into slightly thicker pieces.

The recipe below I found on NancyCreative’s blog. The sweet potatoe pound cake turned out to be deliciously soft and with a dollop of whipped cream it reminded me of Thanksgiving, thankfulness and sharing with our close ones. Really the perfect cake to take to Ponyride.


Sweet Potato Pound Cake by NancyCreative

adapted from Taste of Home

225 g/8 oz/1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3.5 dl/1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 dl/1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, well-packed
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 dl/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
7 dl/3 cups cold mashed sweet potatoes (if using canned, you’ll need a 40-ounce can)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)

Orange Glaze

3.5 dl/1 1/2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
3 tbsp orange juice
1 heaping tbsp of chopped pecans, for garnish
sweet potato poundcake batterBake the sweet potato in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until it is soft. Set aside to cool. Once cool remove the skin and mash with a fork.

Cream the softened butter and sugars until it is light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Alternately fold in the dry ingredients and mashed sweet potato. Pour into a greased 10 inch/25 cm bundt pan and bake at 175 C/350 F for about 55-60 minutes or until a test skewer comes out clean.

Once the cake has cooled make the glaze by mixing the ingredients together and drizzling it over the cake. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

sweet potato pound cake


smith shop detroit
Smith Shop

Detroit Series: A Bankrupt City, Corktown



  1. I love your Detroit series of posts. Amazing and I love the Ponyride idea. We have something similar here in Brooklyn and it’s a huge success. Your sister and her team is amazing. That cake also is amazing, looks delicious,

    1. Thank you Suzanne. I found the Ponyride and the city to be quite inspiring. I would love to visit similar initiatives in the future, perhaps some day I will make it to New York!

  2. What a thoughtful, sweet (in both senses of the word) post. I wish your sister and the Ponyride group much success. Thank you for sharing. The cake and cream look luscious!

  3. What a fabulous idea Ponyride is. I checked out your sister’s site as well. Beautiful. I’d seen that cake on Nancy’s Creative and bookmarked it as well. It looks perfect with that dollop of cream!

    1. I really enjoyed all of the web sites…I thought that they were quite inspirational. 🙂 I read on the Detroit Denim page that some of their machines were 100 years old! Quite amazing!

  4. Wonderful post! Even as a Detroiter, I’m learning a little something new through your eyes. Thank you for sharing the positives about our healing city.

      1. It sounds as if you and your sister were able to fit a lot of things in during your short stay. I’m happy you enjoyed your trip. I regret not speaking up before you left, if just for a small chance, we could have met. 🙂 Hopefully next time!
        What do I like in the city? So much! We venture to Detroit almost weekly. The sport teams are a big draw for us, especially hockey and baseball. The restaurants are plentiful, from fine dining to little diners. I enjoy going to the DIA, our art institute, and of course, there is Eastern Market for all of our fresh produce, meats and flowers. I love venturing there on summer weekends, with a wagon in tow to purchase many of the goods offered. So much to love there!

      2. We didn’t have time to visit the DIA, had to leave something for next time! And if I have a new opportunity to visit your city we will have to be in touch! 🙂

  5. Wonderful initiatives. I particularly like the Detroit soup fundraiser. And, of course, your delicious cake would be most welcome there, and here. 🙂

  6. What an inspiring place Ponyride must be! Your sister and her partners are to be commended. I didn’t know about the coat/sleeping bag before – brilliant idea to make many people’s lives just a little bit better.

  7. I am thoroughly enjoying your Detroit posts – so much love and inspiration!
    Your cake sounds delicious and perfect for sharing.
    Have a beautiful weekend.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  8. I loved reading your story about “Ponyride”, it’s nice to read something so positive. AND, I love the poundcake as well! This post was full of a lot of good stuff!

    1. Thank you Mama! It was such a wonderful experience to see so many at the grass-roots level being quite involved in the community. So glad I had the chance to go visit, photograph and share.

  9. This post made me smile, it was such a positive and vibrant post 😀
    Your cake was literally the icing on the…. ok now I got that wrong 😛

    Choc Chip Uru

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