“It was a bit of a gamble, but we rolled the dice, and we couldn’t be happier with how they landed,” said Abi Liepshutz, Latke Vodka Co-Chair.
For the last four out of eleven years, NEXTGen Detroit’s largest annual event, Latke Vodka, was held at the Royal Oak Music Theater. The venue, just as much as the event itself, had become tradition in Metro Detroit for young Jewish adults the Saturday night after Thanksgiving. But with Federation’s young adult department looking to shake things up, a move downtown was a risk that they were ready to take.
“We heard two distinct sets of opinion while planning Latke Vodka this year,” said Steve Migliore, NEXTGen Detroit President. “One was that moving the event to the city would keep people from coming. The other was that our generation isn’t just open to being in Detroit, we love it. NEXTGen Detroit hosts multiple events in the city throughout the year, all with great attendance, so we followed our gut.”
After a decade of Latke Vodkas, the last several bringing in over 1,000 attendees, NEXTGen Detroit needed to find a venue that could hold the large and growing crowd. One venue was a challenge, but three venues that spanned nearly an entire city block offered the space needed to take the event to the next level.
The historic Majestic Theater along with the Majestic Café and the Garden Bowl each offered a different atmosphere. A live band and dancing in the theater gave event-goers the Latke Vodka experience they’ve come to expect. The addition of a jazz lounge in the café and free glow bowling offered guests options while allowing them to move from one distinct environment to another.
“We listen to what people want, and attendees’ feedback over the years was really taken into account as we worked to reinvent Latke Vodka this year,” said Brittany Karson, NEXTGen Detroit Associate. “While people love the nightclub vibe, they also wanted a space to sit down and catch up with friends who were in town for Thanksgiving. That’s where the jazz lounge came in. And dancing isn’t for everyone. So we included the free bowling to offer a night out activity that everyone would love.”
Latke Vodka began as a Thanksgiving weekend reunion, but has grown into something much greater over the last 11 years. In many ways, it’s a showcase of Detroit’s young Jewish community and the perfect answer for “is there a Jewish future in Detroit?”
“You can’t deny that there is a thriving and vibrant young Jewish community in Detroit when you look into a sea of 1,000 people at Latke Vodka,” said Abi Liepshutz, Latke Vodka Co-Chair. “It’s especially powerful for those who have left Detroit and are back visiting, or those in town who didn’t grow up here. This isn’t what they expect to see. Even some Detroiters are unaware that they are part of such a large community.”
Over 300 out-of-towners and expats attend Latke Vodka every year. And with this year’s event in Midtown, it not only shone a light on the community but also the city’s revival.
“The City of Detroit has transformed in the last several years, and Midtown is a shining example of the growth and revitalization,” said Andrew Luckoff, Latke Vodka Co-Chair. “In the heart of the Museum District and Wayne State University’s Campus, Midtown is both historic and new, a residential neighborhood and a commercial area booming with shops, restaurants and bars.”
So did the move downtown pay off? The answer is a resounding yes. Over 1,000 attended this year’s Latke Vodka. The event also added 350 new donors to the Federation’s Annual Campaign, as $18 of every ticket sold was a donation. Beyond the numbers, the positive reactions shared via emails, phone calls and social media posts affirm that the move down Woodward was a huge success.
Since its launch in 2011, NEXTGen Detroit has become a leader in young adult engagement with the number of participants growing every year. Events like Latke Vodka, EPIC, Blue and White Night, Torah on Tap, Good Shabbos Detroit and NEXTWork have become household names. So why mess with a good thing?
“We’ve got a strong and amazing program that’s become a national model for Federations across North America,” said Stefanie Tuzman, NEXTGen Detroit Director. “But we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re committed to continuing the tradition of producing innovative and quality programs and events, but we’re not afraid to try something new, and we’re all about keeping things interesting.”
A new Latke Vodka is just the beginning. As NEXTGen Detroit enters 2016, they’re creating a re-imagined calendar of events and re-examining staple programs to keep them fresh and relevant. The challenge of attracting and retaining young Jewish adults in Metro Detroit is still real, but it’s a challenge NEXTGen Detroit is helping to tackle, one city block-long mega event at a time.