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Hot Spokes

Detroit, Michigan

Shayne O'Keefe

by Tunde Wey
August 3, 2012

In a city of wide traffic lanes and automobiles, Shayne O’Keefe rides a contrarian vehicle to realize Detroit’s promise -- and his own. The promise that you can do just what you love and make a decent living of it. The promise that the distinction between management and employees can be removed with little consequence other than strengthened camaraderie. And the promise that profit is possible when obvious needs are fulfilled diligently.
O'Keefe is owner of Hot Spokes, a lunch delivery service operating in the greater downtown Detroit area. Started in 2008, Hot Spokes makes deliveries by bicycle from seven local restaurants (at latest count). To use the service, customers call the restaurants directly and place their delivery order. Hot Spokes delivers to the customer, collecting payment for the meal plus a $3 delivery fee. Tips are also encouraged.
For a small and relatively informal operation, Hot Spokes has a smart multi-tiered revenue model. Along with customer fees and tips, they charge each of their client restaurants a monthly service fee. This services fee varies, anywhere from $100 to $200, depending on the size of the restaurant and forecasted sales volume.
Hot Spokes also incorporates progressive worker compensation practices. O’Keefe is experimenting with what he describes as a "profit-sharing cooperative system," where all revenues received during a shift are split equally between all of the workers on that shift. 

Hot Spokes currently employs seven independent contractors, with three employees working a five-hour day shift. During a shift, one employee acts as dispatch, while the other two make deliveries. Operating 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the work week, making a dozen or so delivery runs a day, the hourly wage works out to around $10. While small, Hot Spokes offers its employees a chance to make money while doing what they enjoy -- biking.

With little expense, mostly cell phone bills, O’Keefe says Hot Spokes generates around $38,000 in annual revenue.
O’Keefe, who turns 30 in October, is an unlikely micro-entrepreneur. He is laid back, projecting an air of unruffled ease. While he seems enviously unperturbed and placid, O’Keefe tells a story of a past affected with depression and drug use.
Born in Virginia to a military family, O’Keefe moved around often before settling briefly in Harrison Township, an outer ring suburb of Detroit. After high school, he went on to study business at Oakland University, where he had a difficult time. Maintaining a full-time course load while working full-time as a bar back and cook to pay his tuition began to weigh on him. O’Keefe dropped out of school, quit his job and battled with addiction. Not able to find a job, he moved to Detroit to live cheaply, crashing on the couch of someone who had previously sold him drugs.
O’Keefe says by the time he moved to Detroit he was ready to take charge of his life, and the transition away from his past was possible because of the city. He credits Detroit for disarticulating him from his hard lifestyle by presenting creative and immersive experiences.
In Detroit, he began pursuing more constructive activities to occupy his time. He started by volunteering at Back Alley Bikes, a nonprofit community bicycle training program. Here, O’Keefe fell in love with bicycles and met friends who helped rekindle his youthful passion for drumming when he joined their band. Between volunteering and band practice, he gradually kicked his drug habit, later finding more steady employment at The Hub of Detroit, where he is currently shop manager. Since moving to Detroit, O'Keefe has also served as co-chair for Dally in the Alley, a local street festival in the Cass Corridor. Currently, along with running Hot Spokes, he is part owner of Woodbridge Records, a local record label, and drummer for the popular local indie music group NOMAN.

For all of these achievements, O'Keefe displays a striking modesty -- one that recognizes good fortune while acknowledging the work still to come. The sense of happiness and purpose he now feels and confidently articulates demonstrates the power of getting paid to do what you love.

Portrait by Marvin Shaouni.

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