(Hint: He’d already said ‘yes’ to Akron)
words by Chris Horne; photos by Shane Wynn
During a commercial break, Brent Wesley came over and said he wanted to do a wrap-up, debriefing kind of thing after the show. “I want to explain why,” he said then darted off to his seat at a table he shared with his mom. I was confused.
This was at the packed-house watch party for his episode of “Cleveland Hustles,” the LeBron James-produced reality TV show about helping rebuild a struggling neighborhood in Cleveland. Akron Honey Co. had been picked as one of the handful to compete. Going by Wesley Bright, which is also the stage name for his justifiably popular Northern Soul act, he was pitted against a leathercraft couple who call the CLE home. I’d figured he wouldn’t have invited us to all come out if he hadn’t won, right? What did “I want to explain why” mean?
As I’d expected, Akron Honey kicked ass. The sales target set by his entrepreneur mentor, Greenhouse Tavern/Noodlecat restaurateur Jonathon Sawyer, was $800, which is a lot of honey to move during a 7-hour pop-up, especially in a place where Wesley doesn’t have roots like he does in the AK. Well, he nearly doubled the target and added a skin care product line in the process. No surprise Sawyer wanted to invest $100,000 with our dude, right?
Before the show, we had a short interview with Wesley about the show. He said the point of the show was to get a big investment and start a flagship store in Gordon Square in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland. I jokingly asked if that meant he’d be changing the name of his company.
“No, it would be Akron Honey Co. North. It’ll always be Akron,” he said.
Sawyer and show host Bonin Bough sat down, and before they could get a word out, Wesley started talking about how, even though he’s happy with the sales they did, he thinks they left a bunch on the table. Sawyer lit up like a cash register at Christmas. That’s exactly the kind of thing he wanted to hear.
Then Wesley said no to the investment. #Stunner
“The whole set went silent. It was awkward,” he told the watch party crowd afterwards. Clearly, they weren’t expecting that.
On the show, Wesley explained that his family had a lot to do with it. He missed his two little girls and his wife, who he called on the way up to Cleveland to shoot that final scene. Even though she was saying she’d support whatever he wanted to do, he could hear something in her voice saying “don’t.”
It matched what he felt in his gut. This would be the wrong decision. On the show, he told Sawyer and Bough that he wasn’t ready. That had something to do it with, certainly, but he explained to the rest of us that he couldn’t just open a store in Cleveland. So much of what he does — what Akron Honey Co. is — depends on community involvement. This is a guy who got into beekeeping because he wanted to turn an abandoned lot into something good for his neighborhood. When he opened up other apiaries, he had the same goal: bring more life to Middlebury and work with the kids at St. V’s. That wasn’t part of the deal in Cleveland.
“I don’t think Cleveland is going through a renaissance right now,” Wesley said after the show. “It’s already had its renaissance, and I could jump on that train, but Akron’s renaissance is just starting.”
He pointed around the room at all his fellow small business owners and entrepreneurs, shouting them out one by one — Sweet Mary’s, St. Augustine’s Soaps and Suds, Not Yo Daddy’s, NOTO, Akron Coffee, and on and on — and calling on them to keep this thing going. You could practically hear the strings section swell.
Wesley is not from Akron, but last night, he did the most Akron thing possible. He said no to the easy way.
“If I’d said yes, I would have had two to four investors,” he said. “But if I do this in Akron, a whole city has my back.”
There’s more he can’t tell us. He has plans. He always has plans. And surprises. The one thing you can be sure of now is that he wants you to be part of it, Akron.
PS — I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge somehow all the work McKenzie Beynon did to help Wesley create new products and get his pop-up store going. She was there at the watch party in her trademark hat, being awesome as usual.