Profile: Michelle Horovitz
Michelle is a 5’2’’ powerhouse. She’s smart-as-hell and is hard-wired with boss instincts, it seems, because she makes virtually any task look easy, even if it's not. I mean, do you know anyone who's enjoyed success as both an Assistant Public Defender and an Assistant Pastry Chef? Oh, and she’s a mother of two. Michelle is currently best known in the Twin Cities for her work as co-founder and Executive Director of Appetite for Change, which recently won three prestigious awards -- Charlie Award, Bush Prize and Jaffe Award. AFC’s work is coalition-minded and is fundamentally transforming the food landscape in North Minneapolis to bring back healthy options and community ownership with each step.
Michelle and I met for happy hour at Common Roots Cafe. We got to talking about StrengthsFinder, the Jewish value of Tikkun olam and a bonding moment that will change the way you see the First Ave bathroom. Here is an account of our conversation:
How has your role as founder evolved since 2011?
Great question. Unless you’re someone who founded something with an endowment from a foundation or something, you are doing everything as a founder; you’re wearing a million hats. I began, as a founder, writing recipes, grocery shopping, and setting up cooking workshops six years ago and now the types of things that have become my role are fundraising, primarily, managing relationships, dealing with strategic vision and longer-range financial planning.
We have a more shared leadership model than lots of organizations, and because of that I still have a voice in major programmatic or organizational decisions that we make around programming as well. We are a six-person leadership team and I am responsible for finance, fundraising, communications, and evaluation, which is a huge part of it.
Was it natural for you to assume Your roles?
This has just been honestly a kind of take every day, month, quarter, year, and every grant as it comes evolution. My role has evolved along the way into what it needed to be. In some instances, I was able to see that what was needed was the obvious role for me or was what I wanted to be doing. I think I have played the finance, fundraising and vision role from the beginning. Once Princess, Tasha and I came together and asked the community and we got our marching orders, it was like, ‘okay now Michelle, go out and get the money to do this and we’ll make it happen’. Going out and getting the money was one thing, but then there’s all the things that go along with it: evaluating, reporting, communicating, documenting, visually representing, bringing on new people, creating systems and processes -- all of that sort of stuff got built as we went.
Day-to-day which do you draw on more: your experience as a chef or as a public defender?
I correct people on this because chef, as you may know, has a very specific meaning. Until you run your own restaurant, have your own menu or you’re a chef de cuisine or a sous chef, you are not a Chef. I was never any of those things. I was a line cook and I was at the lowest entry-level position on the line and I was more a prep cook than I was a line cook, so just to clarify being in the kitchen there’s so many different titles and Chef is a pretty special one, so I always correct people.
But as a cook or as a lawyer? I think probably as a lawyer in the way I think, but in the day-to-day how I move? My time as a server and as a line cook come into play every second because of the multitasking and the remembering lots of things as a server and a line cook. As a lawyer too, but you’re not moving as quickly. Now as a lawyer in the courtroom as a PD I was, but not when you’re office paper-pushing and doing depos and writing motions and investigating and emailing and all that, but in the courtroom if you’re managing that calendar for the day and litigating or in trial? It's a very similar way to thinking when you’re on the line or serving waiting tables, so I think all those things come together, but the analytical piece that’s all lawyer training.
What on the horizon excites you most right now?
For us at Appetite for Change, that’s the cafe refresh and the training program.
By cafe refresh I mean refreshing the operational piece to have a fast-casual component, doing more contract catering for shelter meals and afterschool meal programs and hosting programs so we can have a more consistent after hours OTJ (on the job training) schedule for people so we have contract gigs and then we know ‘okay we have this many meals these days to get out the door’ as opposed to a wedding or a corporate gig that are one time. Oh, and we’re moving into our new office space upstairs. It’s a total refresh. We’re doing a little ag processing in our one area in our old office space to be able to harvest and bundle and store more produce in order to start seeds. Just a few things.
In terms of training, we’ve been doing job training at Breaking Bread, but it hasn’t been as formal as we’d like it to be, so we’re hoping to have a more Catalyst Kitchens type training: You’re in a training program for 8 weeks. You're making minimum wage. You have this classroom time and you have this on the job training time. You’re paid at the end of it. You take your food manager’s certification. You stay with us for a period of time through your transitional employment and then we’re moving you on to the next thing. We’ll have our core people who don't leave, or leave less often, facilitating the on-the-job, hands on training and then we’ll have more case worker folks and instructors for the classroom time and to build relationships and act as a mini staffing company because our goal is to get more chefs of color, cooks from the Northside, people of diverse backgrounds and people with barriers into the restaurant and food industry.
Oh, and taking over the farmers market as well. The West Broadway Coalition asked us to take it over. We’d been the anchor vendor for many years, but it had been in four different locations in seven years and a farmer’s market kinda needs to be in the same place in order for customers to find it, so they asked us to take it over. There’s even another farmers market on the Northside further north, closer to North Market that’s having trouble and the neighborhood association that runs it doesn’t want it anymore and they were going to close it and this woman wants to take it over and she’s asking us to be the fiscal sponsor.
It’s a lot, but owning the market, managing the market and being the managers of that destiny would allow us to do more for the food businesses we’re trying to support in getting their products to market. This way, we wouldn’t have to go to another agency or entity in order to get that for them.
How do you keep tight relationships with your co-founders?
Well, we just took our first social trip that did not involve any training, conference or work-related activity in the fall of last year and it was awesome. We went to my parent’s place in Naples. We stayed the long weekend. It was awesome. That was fun and I think those sorts of non-work-related things are a big piece.
And then I think constantly evaluating and looking at our communication, our model, how were trying to share leadership, what things are truly shared and what aren’t, what business practices we can bring in to help us do shared leadership in the way we want do to shared leadership.
I think the deep respect and mutual admiration for our shared passion in the mission is what keeps us coming back together. At the end of the day Princess will say, “my people gotta eat”, the line from the Grow Food video (Minneapolis City Pages name it best viral video of 2017!). So, it hits at a very visceral level for her and Tasha. This is their community and even though it's not my community, they know at the end of the day, I care most about the community thriving and moving forward. I think that brings us to common understandings even when we disagree on things. It is very much a family relationship; you love your family and you can’t stand your family at certain times, in a certain context or certain interaction. There’s tears sometimes and there is ‘wow, we really learned from that’ and ‘how can we move further and higher and grow from that?’ I’m the Godmother of Tasha’s baby, so in one moment this week, I’m really frustrated with her and I’m crying and we’re talking it out. And the next I’m like, ‘I have to remember on my to-do list to set up a savings bond account for her daughter.’ That’s something a Godmother is supposed to do, right? It was just her birthday and I didn’t get her a present and I was like I’m the worst godmother ever so I’m like, “I’m going to set up this savings bond.” I’m online researching how to do it. When we were younger that’s what people would do. They’d give you a treasury bond or whatever.
We created this (Appetite for Change) sitting around a table talking about sex and tampons and birth and breastfeeding at the planning stage for Community Cooks and all the sessions thereafter. We somehow kept coming back to the table together. I think at the beginning it was something I cared about but wasn’t really sure if it would work or if it would even be useful in community, so it was kind of an experiment for all of us and we just kept coming back and coming back together and it grew into something. So that’s the secret sauce! I don’t know if it's ever replicable [laughs].
Also, it has been important for us to identify cultural differences and worldview differences. It’s harder for a more homogenous workplace to identify worldview differences because there’s such a narrow bell curve, but when you have such vastly different worldviews, you’re forced to address those differences. It helps us have a more honest and open and trustworthy workplace, but it also creates a TON of friction. Someone is like, “I want to get from point A to point B this way”. And the other person is like, “I want to get from point A to point B this way. And you’re like, “that way is terrible” and they go, “your way sucks” and then you’re like, “well, we’re going to get there, so does it really matter?” You spend a lot of time arguing about how to get there, but we’ve done a good job saying, “okay fine, you go your way and I’ll go mine, and we’ll get there together.” We’ve had to bend a lot to each other’s ways of doing things.
Ella: My mother calls that love through friction.
Michelle: Yes, for sure! That could be our motto. That should be the AFC motto.
What’s a powerful value your family modeled for you?
I think it’s the value of equity, but I wouldn’t use that word. Just justice in its most broad sense. I think because of my Jewish values and being told all the stories of all the thousands of years from Egypt to the Holocaust of being a persecuted people for really very little reason -- unless you think that the Jesus thing is the end all be all of the world, but I don’t know if that that’s worth 2,000 years of persecution. I was raised with the sense that, just because you have an immutable characteristic or a belief or a circumstance that you didn’t chose or can’t change or even if you can change, everyone should be treated - not the same - but fair.
This showed up at the dinner table. I would ask my mom, “Why did that happen, Mommy?” You know, MLK kind of stuff, the things that are hard for kids to understand from a social justice standpoint she’d begin by going back to the Holocaust and asking, “Well, why did they not like our people? They were jealous or they were fearful or we were different or they were told something by their ancestors that they believed wasn’t true”. I remember it coming up in that way. I also remember it coming up a lot in the Jewish value of Tikkun olam, which means repairing the world. They’d say, “It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing. We’re going to do the right thing and help the person next to us because someone helped us -- even Germans helped our people escape.” I mean, my dad didn’t buy German products for a long time, but when he found that old 1960’s Mercedes he had to have when he turned 45, he was like, “Well, there were some Germans that helped us along the way.” [Laughs].
What’s something friends come to you for advice on?
More and more they’re coming to me for advice on nonprofits and social enterprise or entrepreneurial stuff, which I find amusing because I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur or a business person. Let’s see. Probably how to get out of trouble? A lot of people come to me with: “Do you know how to deal with this legal issue?” To which I’m like “Look, if you have a DUI, an armed robbery or a hand-to-hand narcotics transaction, I’ll probably be able to help you out, but other than that, you’re on your own”. I’d say legal advice probably. It didn’t come to mind at first because I never have the answer. I’m like, “Well, who do I know who’s an estate lawyer?” And then I’m usually asking Adam “Who does landlord tenant stuff? Or can we find someone who is doing divorce law these days?” That kinda stuff.
Describe your last best girls night.
Earlier this year I went to an Ani DiFranco concert with my best friend from high school and her colleague and really close friend. It was two years from the time we last went to the Ani concert where my friend went into labor that night when she got home and had the baby at 7 A.M. the next morning -- her first. So this time we’re in the bathroom at First Ave and she was like, “Last time I was here I think I was in labor?!” So that was fun. That or meeting a friend for cocktails and food at happy hour or a later night after the kids are in bed. Just good food, good drinks.
What’s the best meal in the Cities?
Martina is AMAZING. It’s unreal. It’s in the old Upton 43 spot in my neighborhood. It’s just ridiculous. We had two pastas that were delicious. They had these potato churros they make by putting these mashed potatoes in a pastry bag, essentially. It was piped and fried with aioli. It was just sick, wrong. So good it's wrong. And then I really like Pizzeria Lola, a good neighborhood spot. Easy. I still haven’t been to Young Joni, so I really want to go there. I actually had an amazing meeting today with Paul Berglund who used to be the Chef at Bachelor Farmer but now he’s the Culinary Director for the Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza. I’ve heard Young Joni is off the chain so I want to try that. I want to try another place called Tenant that’s all prefix or a very limited tasting menu. And I’ve heard it’s really good. I don’t go out often.
Power of 100 is big on learning and growing. What’s something you’d love to learn more about if you could?
So many things because I’m a lover of learning. I think that’s why I’ve been able to thrive in my role. If I don’t know something, I’ll just go out and learn it. It’s dangerous because I won’t learn it enough to be good at it, but I’ll learn it just enough to figure something out [laughs]. I think it’s worked out okay.
I guess if I had to say today, it would be historical, more like, sociological relationships between persecuted communities or peoples over time and specifically the Black and Jewish community over time and the evolution of that relationship over the last 250 years as Ashkenazi Jews were assimilating and slavery and Jim Crow and all that was going the way it was going. Super lighthearted [laughs]. Beach reading.
One of my strengths in StrengthsFinder is context, which bugs the hell out of most people because I need it and I am good at giving it, but not everybody wants it [laughs]. Mine are Analytical, Context, Communication and one very close to analytical [laughs] oh ahhh driven or whatever that one is called, achievement? If you look at it they’re all one quadrant, so I’m not well rounded.
What’s something you do for yourself to prevent burnout?
Massage. When I’m in a well-balanced enough state, yoga and spinning are the two things I really like to do. Biking, cooking is a huge outlet for me. Again, I’m not always in a well-balanced enough state and they fall to the bottom. I’ll ebb and flow. I did a boot camp and that got me working out six days a week; doing yoga one day a week and spinning and interval training two days a week and strength and weight training 3 days a week. So I’m very extreme. Acupuncture would be a luxury, I would love to do that, but it's just been a crazy time. Summer was a little bit more balanced and we had the block party and I had a few major grant projects, but we’re at this critical point now, we’ve got this Bush Prize and we’ve got resources and there’s more pressure. We’re adding team members to the bus, which is great, but that adds a layer to management.
If I don’t have 40-minutes free? Okay, so listen. I watch the Voice. Adam won’t watch it with me. I put it on as background as I’m writing and emailing. I don’t care so much about the backstory, but I like the the performances and the banter and the buttons. Last night I finished my work at about 1:25 A.M. and I’m like, “I really want to finish this episode of the Voice”. Watching without doing work is a luxury. It recharges me. The story of the gay Latino guy that just got a 4-chair turn?! I love that.
The show we can watch together? I’m going to admit this on the record: The Challenge. It started out being called MTV Road Rules Real World Challenge. People from Road Rules and Real World competed and they make money off doing these shows. We’re obsessed and it’s in like the 30th season and they have contestants from shows we’ve never even heard of. We’re like, “Oh, we’re old”.
What is the thing you love most about MSP?
I love the balance that it has in so many different areas. The outdoorsy stuff even though its cold and you spend a lot of time indoors. The balance of the city-feel, even though nature’s so close. The balance of really, really great food, but not so great that it is pretentious. Diversity even though it’s pretty segregated, so there’s the balance of what you want living in a place like LA mixed with what you want with a place like the Berkshires. Its partially the proximity of the Cities to other things, but even in the cities, I love Lake Harriet and the parks and all the green spaces.
What would you change if you were in a position to do so?
The segregation that we find geographically. It is not just Minneapolis, its every city. I just think we have more of it.
The cliques that keeps Minnesotans in their bubbles or their comfort zones. Whether you are living in an all-white neighborhood because of the historical way that the city was designed and societal factors versus I’m going to choose to stay in a bubble of the people you grew up with or your religious circle or your work sphere and there’s not a lot of venturing out across boundaries, which again is human nature, but in other cities you are somewhat more forced to mix and everyone who moves here who is not from here is like, “It’s so cliquey!”
How does your work at AFC inform the causes you choose to personally support?
My work allows me to see a lot of nonprofits in the community. It also helps me say, “I don’t get to invest my time in these things I care about anymore, so I’m going to invest my dollars to those issues.” I’m on the Board of for JCA (Jewish Community Action) and I really care about the work they’re doing on issues and I like that we’re organizing our own people and not trying to go out into other communities and try to organize other communities. We partner with Isaiah MN and the Black community and the Muslim community, but we’re organizing our own and educating our own. And then I love We Are All Criminals, Headwaters Foundation, other places I see doing good work that I don't get to spend my time on. It informs how I give money; I don’t put restrictions on it or anything like that. And I’ll give $50 to a campaign if it’s something that I’m moved to but we’re trying to do larger dollar amounts for fewer organizations as opposed to just spreading things around.
And then with my family’s foundation there’s the dynamic with my family of moving away from only doing Jewish causes like Jewish Family and Children’s Service, they actually serve more non-Jews than Jews, but instead maybe looking at another social service agency or organization that isn’t a Jewish-based organization. They’re always going to give to Herzl Camp, the Day School, the Synagogue and things, but we’re looking at other secular organizations that are not housed out of the Jewish community nucleus.
Who else should we profile?
Dana Mortenson - I think she’s really interesting. She’s the founder of World Savvy.
Danielle Mkali at Nexus Community Partners.
Leah Hébert Welles, the Executive Director of Open Arms would be a good one.
Favorite Restaurant: Pizzeria Lola, Martina + Common Roots Cafe
Favorite Show: The Voice + The Challenge
Favorite Lake: Lake Harriet
Favorite NonProfit: Appetite for Change, Headwaters Foundation, We Are All Criminals + Jewish Community Action
Appetite for Change is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit using food as a tool for building health, wealth, and social change in North Minneapolis. AFC is community-led and strengthens families, creates economic prosperity, and encourages healthy living. Find AFC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @afcmn.
Images by Gwen Cox of G. Photographie for Power of 100 MSP.