Roland Pott ’95 sells steaks and wine at his Urban Word Café, but what he’s really selling is a vision of how a depressed inner city can create possibilities.
Pott co-founded Trenton Makes, a small company
leading the redevelopment of a gritty downtown section of New Jersey’s
capital city. In just a few years the neighborhood has been transformed
into a hotspot for poets, artists, and assorted hipsters.
The Urban Word opened as a coffeeshop and expanded into a bistro. There followed a bookstore and a nightclub. The businesses together employ up to 60 people.
“I think people can look at us and say, Trenton really is coming back,” Pott says.
The work hasn’t all gone smoothly, and not every new idea has panned out. Pott says he’s virtually earned an M.B.A. just in lessons learned from his mistakes.
“Yes, I need to pay my bills and I want to make money, but this venture is not purely bottom-line oriented,” he says. “What’s gratifying in this world of globalization and corporatization is to have a place like this—locally owned, with a local clientele.”
The neighborhood remains a work in progress, Pott says, but he’s optimistic.
“Whether a community grows and succeeds has a lot to do with how its people and institutions communicate,” he says. “This is a place where connections happen.”