Belle Isle Pizza

by Vivian Henoch

A self-serve dog wash. A yoga studio for kids. A mobile unit for meditation. A Detroit-style pizza shop. A high-end party supply store.

These are just a handful of business start-ups and capital investments made possible with interest-free loans from the Marvin I. Danto Small Business Loan Program through Hebrew Free Loan (HFL). Since the inception of the program in 2012 – with a generous bequest and foundation support from Marvin I. Danto and his family – HFL has provided more than $2.7 million in 95 interest-free loans to Jewish-owned enterprises, headquartered in Michigan  – all of which have repaid or continue to repay to recycle the resources.

HFL no-interest loans are available to Michigan residents who are Jewish, who have access to qualified co-signers and who can demonstrate an ability to repay. Applicants are required to present a business plan with financial statements and other pertinent information about their business to members of the Martin I. Danto Small Business Loan Committee.

“Every applicant comes to us with a fascinating personal story of enterprise, perseverance and a bold business plan coming to fruition” says David Contorer, HFL Executive Director. “Our payback terms generally fall within 36 to 48 months. But in the five years since we’ve started the program, I can proudly say that the payback to the community has been exponential in terms of generating entrepreneurism, business growth and new employment.”

What makes an HFL entrepreneur? 

From foodies to yogis, from admen to attorneys, from tutors to inventors, from product launches to grand openings, from turn-key business operators to franchisees, every loan to every business owner comes with a story worth sharing. Here’s a sampling:

Belle Isle Pizza: Location, location . . . Detroit-style pizza!

Belle Isle Pizza
Belle Isle Pizza is open seven days a week, serving a full menu of hand-tossed round or Detroit-style deep dish pizzas, subs, signature salads and oven-baked wings.

Location: 7869 E. Jefferson, Detroit (at the foot of Belle Isle)

Owners: Leor Barak, 37, David Essig


Established: November 2015

The Concept: “Gourmet but accessible” Detroit-style pizza, made from scratch, locally crafted with love

The Story: A fan of pizza since his student days slinging pies in Ann Arbor, Leor Barak, a West Village resident and attorney with the Detroit Land Bank Authority, always entertained the notion of running his own restaurant. Three years ago, he found his opportunity in a closed-down pizza shop called Garalino’s on Jefferson at the base of Belle Isle –  two minutes from his home. “I passed the place on a walk one day and noticed a “For Sale” sign on an old pizza box in the window. So, I called the guy to inquire . . . and here I am with a business partner, cooks and cashiers. It’s been a wild ride,” says Leor. Today, Belle Isle Pizza is open seven days a week, serving a full menu of hand-tossed round or Detroit-style deep dish pizzas, subs, signature salads and oven-baked wings.

“We’re a show kitchen,” says Leor, describing the format of walk-up window service for orders by the slice, carry out and pick-up. With an eye towards the neighborhood development, market rate housing coming in, a new apartment in development across the street and another pizzeria soon to open in the area, Leor plans to step up the game. “I see the vitality and promise of our location here,” he says, “but I still value the healthy balance and diversity of the neighborhood here and believe in slow, consistent and predictable growth.”

What HFL made possible with the loan of $50,000: “We wouldn’t be here without HFL,” says Leor. “Dave and I came in with very little money. It’s one thing to buy a restaurant, but to operate it is another thing, and it just wouldn’t have happened without HFL. We would have sunk without that loan which was the working capital we needed to make it over the first hump. We’re at a point just now, where we’re staying ahead, getting busier, getting mad recognition and great reviews, staying alive, and growing steadily.”

Extra toppings: Leor first came to HFL in 2014 as a proud home owner with a leaky roof. I had an old house with a big, intricate roof to repair to the tune of $30,000. I applied to HFL for a $7,500 loan, and when I told my parents about it, they were reminded that they too had turned to HFL when they first came to this country in 1975 and needed to borrow $2,000 to buy their first car.

Born Yoga: A little practice is all it takes 

Born Yoga
“Kids and yoga are my two very favorite things in life.”

Location: 2121 Cole Street, Birmingham, MI

Owner: Ashley Goldberg, 33


 Established: September 13, 2015

The Concept: “Where little yogis come to life,” Born Yoga is a boutique children, and family yoga studio offering yoga classes, aerial yoga, birthday parties, summer camps and special events open to beginners and advanced yogis, from babies to teens. 

The Story: “The practice of yoga and teaching children are two of my favorite things in life,” says Ashley Goldberg, “I am grateful to have found the way to blend them in a studio of my own.” A former preschool teacher with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, Ashley started teaching the basic principles of yoga to her students in short sessions, squeezed into “movement time” in the classroom. “I quickly discovered that there was a positive impact on the children I was teaching yoga to in the preschool, so, I decided to take myself to New York for formal training. From the very first day of that training, I made the decision to start my own studio.”

Ashley always had the mindset of an entrepreneur in both the concept and physical setting. Born Yoga reflects her creativity and mental energy as well as her natural instincts for design, marketing and community-building. “I’ve always had the mentality for this — probably because I survived cancer as a child, conquered a lot of trauma at a young age and got through it. More than the physical practice of yoga, at Born Yoga we strive to teach the mental practice. I always say to my students that we are constantly working to be the best version of ourselves and every day is a new opportunity to grow, to be more mindful and intentional, more peaceful, more kind, more caring. Yoga teaches all of us, young and old, these lessons for life.

What HFL made possible with the loan of $60,000: Ashley spent about a year refining her business plan before approaching HFL for the loan that funded her startup. Ashley’s family also has given her full support, with her dad on hand to help build and maintain many of the physical elements of the studio and her mom always excited to help at the birthday parties and special events. Additionally, Ashley went through the mentoring program with HFL, where she found her contact with Leora Tapper (of Tapper’s Jewelers) most helpful. At the start, there were a variety of issues and technical questions that Ashley bounced off of Leora and HFL to get the answers she needed.

Extras: For Ashley, giving back to the community is another important aspect of running her business. Every month she holds a charity “Glow-ga Dance Party” for families, with proceeds going to various organizations such as The Bottomless Toy ChestWhip Pediatric Cancer, and Ronald MacDonald House. Ashley also turned Born Yoga’s two-year birthday party into a fundraising event for the benefit of Camp Casey, a non-profit horseback riding program for children with cancer and rare blood disorders. The event raised $1,100.

Paper Goods Plus: From a broom closet to a booming retailer

“I cannot stress enough how valuable HFL’s mentorship program has been. They’ve opened our eyes to the business world.” – Nachy Soloff

Location:  15310 Lincoln Street, Oak Park

Owners: Nachy and Nechama Soloff

Established: 2009

The Concept: Exclusive high-end party supplies and everyday household staples

The Story: Nachy was six courses from a degree in engineering from Wayne State University and working as a teacher at Yeshiva Beth Yehudah; Nechama was 6 months pregnant with their second child when her doctor told her to stop working; together, they were looking for ways to make ends meet, so why not sell paper party products from home? “Literally, we started our business in the basement of our first apartment building in a closet no bigger than 10×10 feet,” says Nachy. “I don’t know what planted the idea in our heads. We didn’t have a penny to start, no business plan, nothing but a connection I had with the manager of a wholesale company in upstate New York who was kind enough to supply us goods to sell on consignment.”

Filling a niche for party supplies – disposable pots, pans, Kiddush cups, plates and cutlery to set beautiful tables – Nachy and Nechama grew their business, and moved it to the basement of the home they purchased in Southfield with the help of an HFL Neighborhood Project loan in 2009. “We jumped when we first heard about the Danto Small Business Loan in 2015; we had three kids at the time, needed more space, and had to move the business out of the house.”

When the couple first came to HFL to expand their business, they quickly learned what they were really missing.“Suddenly we realized that we needed to create a business for real as opposed to what we had been doing, just selling stuff from our house,” Nachy explains. “But HFL worked with us, and we worked with a pro bono accountant at Baker Tilly who helped us formulate our business plan, hashing out the details of cash flow, business index, performance indicators – things I never heard of and now know like the back of my hand.”

What HFL made possible with the loan. “I cannot stress enough how valuable HFL‘s mentorship program has been.“We came in knowing nothing, flying by instinct. They’ve opened our eyes to the business world,” says Nachy. “We’ve had two loans so far, the first as working capital to support our growth and the second loan to move into our store. Yes, the money has been important, but the mentoring and guidance has been invaluable.”

The Plus: For two people with no previous business background, the Soloffs are succeeding in a business built on personal service and the quality of products their customers prefer. “Nechama is the real force and creative eye of the business,” says Nachy. “She runs the company from home, which now includes a line of wholesale janitorial supplies sold online.”

 Scrubbers: Must love dogs!

Walking into Scrubbers feels more like an appointment at a hair salon than a self-serve dog wash.

Three locations: 2713 W Webster Royal Oak, 33022 Northwestern Hwy (at 14 Mile)
and opening soon, 3280 South Rochester Rd. Rochester, MI

Owners: Nikki Budaj, 31, and her husband Jim Chatfield

Established: April 2012

The Concept: Self-Serve Dog Wash & Professional Grooming Salon designed for clean, calm pet care.“You scrub the dog, we scrub the tub.” Additional services include dog training, dog walking and pet sitting.

The Story: Nikki loves dogs, learned to professionally groom them, then fell in love with the grooming business.“I had wanted to branch out on my own,” Nikki explains, “but when I got injured in a car accident, I wasn’t able to groom for a period of time. Scrubbers opened its doors in Royal Oak in 2010. Two years later, the owner decided to sell the business. The opportunity to buy Scrubbers fell into my lap and allowed me to get back into the pet industry. With the help of HFL, I bought the turnkey business, the name, the equipment and the rights to everything.”

Apparently, Nikki and Jim – now parents with two young children – are doing everything right. Walking into Scrubbers feels more like an appointment at a hair salon than a self-serve dog wash. Since purchasing Scrubbers five years ago, Nikki and Jim have grown their business by 30% each year. Three years ago, Scrubbers opened their second store in West Bloomfield. Recently, they have extended their lease in the Royal Oak store to accommodate a major renovation and expansion to the space next door.

What HFL made possible with the loan of $35,000: Nikki turned to HFL for half the initial investment and her father helped with the other half. “I’m proud to say we are no longer indebted to HFL,” Nikki said. “The loan from HFL helped us not only to pay off the purchase of the store, but also provided the working capital to purchase all the inventory we needed for startup.”  

And next:Nikki and Jim have partnered with two investors in the venture and now have plans to open their third store in Rochester in October. Four more stores are in still in the offing, for a total of seven Scrubbers locations the next five to 10 years.

 MeditationWorks: A food truck for your brain

Meditation Works
Meditation works. It really does. By the start of 2017, MeditationWorks grew to capacity running its studio from just one trailer. Thanks to HFL, Jake now operates two.

Location: Mobile units based at 3400 11 Mile Road, Berkley, MI

Owners:  Jake Leider,26, Joanne Leider (Co-Founder) and Justin Barnes


Established: November 2015

The Concept: “Stress. Management. Solutions” A meditation studio on wheels

The Story: Fresh out of college with a degree in Finance, Jake was fresh out of luck in his search for a job – until a friend of the family offered him work as a project manager for a construction company specializing in kitchen equipment. “Working there, I learned what stress can do to your brain, your body, your whole sense of well-being,” Jake says. Fortunately, Jake was living at home. Observing the state of his health, Jake’s mother, Joanne, a nurse and practitioner of yoga, suggested that he try meditation.“The idea sounded stupid to me,” says Jake.“And besides, who has time to meditate after a long day at work? But mom persisted and convinced me to start with a meditation app. I didn’t notice at first, but my mother started to see an improvement in my mood and behavior, and introduced me to Justin Barnes, owner of Blue Yoga – a studio in Birmingham where she practiced.”

There are studies that suggest why people have their best ideas in the shower. As it turned out, MeditationWorks started as a flash of inspiration Joanne had in the shower at Blue Yoga. “My mom immediately called me, “I have an idea for a company for you: What if you build rolling meditation rooms that come to people at work and hold short sessions by appointment?”

It didn’t take long before Jake had a business plan, a truck and trailer and Justin Barnes on board to tape a set of customized recordings to run 10-minute guided meditation sessions. “I had the good fortune of parents who supported me to live at home,” Jake observed, “I had no rent to pay and a free car, and with their help, I had the money to launch the business. With 18 years of yoga experience, my mother bought into the business as our Lead Guide and Director of Programming.”

What HFL made possible with the loan of $36,000: Meditation works! By the start of 2017, Jake’s business grew to capacity. With just one trailer, and clients all asking for the same time slots at lunchtime, he knew it was time to roll out MeditationWorks in a second vehicle. “We couldn’t be in two places at one time, and I was starting to turn down business,” said Jake. “I was talking to a few banks to get a loan, when Ashley Goldberg told me about her loan from HFL. An interest-free loan sounded too good to be true. . . but I applied. And here I am today, with two trailers, evaluating next-growth options, new opportunities with investors and the prospect of franchising the business.”

About HFL and the Marvin I. Danto Small Business Loan Program

Hebrew Free Loan is not a bank or a venture capital company. A charitable, social impact organization serving Michigan’s Jewish community since 1895, HFL is a constituent agency of the Jewish Federation and it is supported by the community.

The Marvin I. Danto Small Business Loan Program has funding available for a variety of business models. Interviews and loans are granted on a case-by-case basis and require co-signers, 51 percent Jewish ownership, and payback terms within 36 to 48 months in most cases. Marvin I. Danto Small Business Loan Program applications begin with an email or a phone call to determine eligibility. Please contact Rob Schwartz at or at 248-882-7909.