By Jon King /

A young entrepreneur, and one of just a few Black business owners in Livingston County, says he remains positive as he tries to make a go of it in Fowlerville.

Daniel Graves purchased The Pizza Box last July and quickly revamped the menu, expanding the offerings and extending the Fowlerville eatery’s hours of operations. The 30-year-old Detroit resident says there were many friends and family members who questioned the wisdom of a Black man purchasing a business in Livingston County, especially during a pandemic, but he was determined to take a shot at being his own boss.

Graves originally worked as a door-to-door salesman and using that money, as well as what he earned from landscaping, he purchased a couple of homes, living in one and renting out the other. Graves got into the pizza business originally delivering for Domino’s, but worked his way up to crew member and then store manager, before becoming a manager at Little Caesar’s in Redford, where he met his fiancée Valerie. When he heard about The Pizza Box becoming available in Fowlerville, he saw it as the next step up for his family.

“It looked nice and it was for a nice price and I saved up for it for a long time and I thought, ‘I’m going for it.’ Everyone was like ‘Are you crazy? It’s a pandemic and why are you buying a business now?’ and I was like ‘Hey, I’m working a hundred hours at Little Caesar’s for someone else, so I might as well work a hundred hours for myself.”

Graves tells WHMI that he really had no idea the area had a reputation for racial bias, and that while he has experienced several awkward or questionable interactions, no one has been openly hostile or racist. He laughingly referred to one customer who asked if he would be serving “soul pizza”, to which he replied, “No, I’m going to be selling normal pizza.” However, he says it is clear that being a Black man in Livingston County remains a rarity for many people and that his brother, who helped to staff the restaurant when he first purchased it, said it best when he mentioned there were times he felt “like an exotic pet.”

Another Fowlerville business owner who sympathizes with Daniel is Rhonda Callahan, the co-founder of Torch 180, which provides food service training for young adults with disabilities. She tells WHMI that he has been a tremendous asset to the community; but that she sees people treat him different because he is Black. “They are nice, and I don't think they realize when they treat him like a novelty, it's kind of demeaning,” says Callahan. “It's like I'm working hard here to show people that people with disabilities have more in common with people who don't have disabilities and shouldn't be treated differently, it's the same with Daniel. I was impressed with him when I met him last fall. He's a smart, hardworking man who makes good food and wants to build a legacy for his family. I'm glad he's here.” In fact, some of the Torch 180 food products are available for sale at The Pizza Box.

Graves says he remains hopeful that as people get to know him, and get used to his presence in the community, the fact that he is a Black man won’t be anything anyone will care about. “It’s not like they are trying to (have) hatred toward you or hurt you, it’s more just that they’re not used to seeing it. You know, it’s new to them.”

Graves also says that he has many customers who have been nothing but welcoming, telling him that having some diversity in the community is a “breath of fresh air.”

Pictured: Daniel Graves and his fiance' Valerie, with their sons, Daniel Graves III and Devin Graves.