Mike Sturdivant quickly learned that he doesn’t do quarantine well.
The 2001 McKinley High School graduate is used to be being busy. For six years, he was the regional manager for Hattie Larlham and served as the nonprofit’s representative on the executive boards of several community organizations, including Compassion Delivered Inc., Gigi’s Playhouse, Love the Children’s Ministry and P.A.L. Mission.
Before that, he had spent the previous decade in retail management, working long hours through holidays and weekends.
Even in the six months leading up to the pandemic, Sturdivant was busy learning a new job. He had left the nonprofit sector to work as the corporate sales and marketing manager for Courtyard by Marriott Canton.
“It went really good for six months until COVID hit,” he said.
Sturdivant was laid off in March.
“My quarantine is not sitting home and watching Netflix for three months,” he said. “I thought, ‘This year has been crazy for everybody, why not make the most of it?’ ”
The 37-year-old teamed up with John Weston, a friend and owner of Five Arrows Technology, to put together a business plan for an idea they had been mulling since last winter. They came up with Stark Flavor—starkflavor.com—a website and marketing database to promote locally owned businesses.
“As I was having business travelers coming in and making sure they were happy, they were always looking for local places, something they couldn’t find at home,” Sturdivant recalled. “Being in Belden Village, Google or Yelp was not a great resource (because they show mostly chain restaurants). I realized there is no good place to find that info if you travel into town unless you go to the front desk (of a hotel).”
They believe the site also can help Stark County residents find and discover new local places, as well as help local businesses struggling due to the pandemic.
The site will feature local restaurants, bars, craft breweries, wineries and coffee shops. It will include a variety of search options, from a name search to searching a general location to searching specific amenities, such as patios, kids eat free deals and live music opportunities. Each search result will include the menu, hours and a 3D view of the place.
Beyond the website, Sturdivant said they plan to host digital passport experiences, where customers stop at the identified businesses and get a code to unlock free merchandise.
They launched three Stark Flavor pilots in November that included a coffee crawl, a lunch passport and a dinner and nightlife passport. They expect the full Stark Flavor site to be ready this spring.
“As crazy as 2020 was, I’m happy it happened because it gave me the boost to get here,” Sturdivant said.
Sturdivant’s local favorites:
Favorite local restaurant:
“I have so many favorites! But I would say Harmon’s Pub. This has been the place my friends and I have frequented consistently for close to 16 years. All these years later, I still see all the same faces there. I would have to add Basil Asian Bistro in here, as well.”
Favorite thing to do:
“Spend time in downtown Canton. Our downtown area just has amazing vibes. There are so many incredible restaurants and things to do. If you are not frequenting our downtown Canton area, you really are missing out on so many great places and experiences.”
Most admired business owners:
Cathy and Patrick Wyatt from Carpe Diem Coffee Shop and John Bikis at Royal Docks Brewing Co.
“(Cathy and Patrick) are just two of the finest people I have ever met! They were two of the first people to really buy into the idea of the rebuilding of our downtown area over 17 years ago. Not only are they still here, they are still going strong. Very close second would be John Bikis at Royal Docks. What John has been able to do with that Royal Docks brand has been nothing short of remarkable. I’ve had the opportunity to work with John on a yearly Turkey Bowl tournament I created a few years ago, where all of the proceeds are donated to a local nonprofit organization, and I have always enjoyed working with him and everyone on the Royal Docks team on this event.”
Favorite indoor activity:
“Going to Canton Charge games. I am a huge basketball fan, and having this in our area is something I love attending frequently during the season.”
Favorite lunch spot:
Thatsa Wrapp Shack in North Canton.
“That All Fired Up Wrap always has me feeling some kinda way. Their chips and dip? Come on now! I will probably be eating lunch here tomorrow now that I am talking about it.”
Favorite entertainment spot:
“1899 Golf in Belden Village even though I have absolutely no golfing skill whatsoever. Even if you are not into golf, they just have such a fun spot to hang out, and they make some of the best drinks around.”
Favorite local spot to grab a drink:
“I am a lover of local craft breweries. For me, Royal Docks and Shale Brewing are two of my favorites. If you are up for a little bit of a road trip elsewhere in Stark County, I love going to Sandy Springs Brewing Company down in Minerva. Amanda and Andy are just two fantastic people I have been incredibly lucky to have gotten to meet over the past couple of years. If I would pick something non-brewery related, I love going and trying all of the various pop up bars that they open next to TD’s on Tuscarawas Street. They always do such a fun job with all the various drinks and themes they come up with.”
Favorite local event:
“How do you pick just one? Two of my favorite events I have been personally invested in are the Compassion Delivered Be the Change Gala and the Stark County Special Olympics Track and Field Invitational. I look forward to these events every year and am so honored I have had the opportunity to work on these committees to help put them on every year.”
Favorite local volunteer opportunity:
“Compassion Delivered and Love the Children Ministries. I am also very active in yStark! I guess you could call that a volunteer opportunity for me since I have helped on various committees over the past few years. I love being invested in this group with so many other young professionals that are doing so many spectacular things in their careers and in our community. Kelly Piero is just absolutely fantastic in her role as director, and I have so much respect for her and what she does for all of us.”
Favorite place to see live music:
“Anywhere that the local musical legend Julian Curet is playing! If you book him, I will come.”
Favorite place to shop local for gifts:
“I think Cantonology and Arrowhead Vintage & Handmade Goods are both unique and cool stores. The originality of the products they carry just jumps off the page.”