She was working at a Detroit bar in West Village as a general manager where she oversaw its bar program. The establishment catered to a mostly white clientele, so in February of 2022, she was compelled to do something impactful before the final days of Black History Month.
“I wanted to create a space for us,” said Ellie Sandiego, artist and mixologist. “I put together an event to highlight, Black chefs, DJs, mixologists, bartenders and highlighted all Black spirits.”
It was a “really good vibe” which eventually gained traction as she continued to highlight other Black individuals in the restaurant and bar space, even after her employment at the West Village bar.
“When I started in this industry, there was always your one token Black person but we weren’t really represented as much.”
This reality is what has motivated Sandiego to pursue the “Black Card” brand, a celebration of Blackness in the bar and hospitality space within Detroit.
“What you can come to expect is love, fellowship, creativity, good food and amazing drinks,” she said. “You can socialize, network and really just let your hair down and be yourself.”
Sandiego is adamant about providing elevated service while being down-to-earth as well, and it’s mostly Black clientele who show up. Ellie’s background as a mixologist, bar manager and artist, all come together in the creativity and service offered at her branded “Black Card” events.
Showcasing Black people in a space not often recognized in upscale bar and restaurant establishment such as in downtown, is part of Ellie’s motivation for curated “Black Card “gatherings. But being in the industry for several Detroit establishments as a mixologist has also inspired her ambition to create another brand.
“Detroit is growing, and a lot of people come here being tourists, reviewing different spaces. I feel like these spaces are more than a one-star, two-star or five-star review. These are places where people go to enjoy.”
This new endeavor and brand is titled, “Detroit as Told by Ellie.” Outside of the food and beverage industry, Sandiego has been an activist, one who has been in the music scene and has children who attend school in the city. She touts herself as being an authentic Detroiter.
“This is very personal to me,” she said. “’Detroit as Told’ from my eyes – I really feel like we all have variations of [what] we feel like Detroit is, especially as natives.”
It’s her mission to talk about the wonderful things about Detroit, from the city’s music to its people, to businesses. “Detroit as Told by Ellie” is meant to be a hub for highlighting Detroiters making an impact while giving space to the love of Detroit.
Sandiego has taken the leap of curating both the “Black Card” and “Detroit as Told by Ellie” brands because it derives her personal witness and experience of seeing a culture change in Detroit.
“I think Detroiters both native and new can have a love for Detroit, but our voices need to be amplified as natives as well.” She speaks to the importance of respect needed for the art, music and the heartbeat of the city.
She makes note of watching gentrification happen before her very eyes while also having the privilege to be in certain spaces – these experiences shape her view into remembering to love all of Detroit, including the spaces “we have always had and amplifying them more.”
Sandiego wants people she encounters to know that she speaks from a space of love and authenticity and a genuine appreciation for all things Detroit, not just downtown or just the glitz and glamour.
“Seeing a change in Detroit is energizing, disappointing; sometimes it can be scary or just awesome,” she said. “We all should be using our platforms and voices to tell our story.”
The feedback she receives from Black clientele who patronize have been one of “joy” and the feeling of “going someplace where you not only belong, but where you can contribute.”
It’s the kind of feedback from people, those who have shown appreciation and hope, for Sandiego to continue what’s she’s doing – providing Black space and platforms to tell her authentic Detroit story.
“I want to keep what I do as organic and authentic as possible and I want for our energy to be recognized as unmatched and pure.”