Malik Evans will likely be our next mayor, but he got his start selling cookies
You mentioned in a speech that you got your first job when you were fourteen. What was it?
I was a peer educator through Prevention Partners. I forgot what the program was called, it was some type of youth health program, and the high school kids would go to the elementary schools to talk about youth health. It was called Prevention Partners; it doesn’t exist anymore but that was my first job. I got paid, I had a W-2, we got trained. It was a part-time gig, but then I had my own businesses on the side. I had a cookie business and a grass-cutting business.
Did you say cookie business?
Yup, my mother would make the cookies, I would sell them, and I’d pay her for the ingredients. So I learned the importance of paying your suppliers (laughs). She found out that I started selling the cookies without telling her first. My mom made me fresh-baked cookies every morning, from first grade all the way up to my senior year of high school. So around third or fourth grade I started taking extra cookies, and I would sell those extra cookies. And she would say “Why are you taking all these cookies?” because she would make a dozen and I would take six, then I would take seven, then I started taking more. And she said “Listen, if you’re gonna do this you gotta do it right,” so she started baking more and I started selling to neighborhood kids, nursing homes, I just started selling them to a bunch of people and I started making money off of it. So it started as a summer job that then started growing throughout the years.
When did that fizzle out?
I would say probably ninth or tenth grade, because then I started getting other jobs. The first big job I got was working at Genesee Valley pool and ice rink, and I was kind of like the office manager. I did the bank deposits, I took in the money, I did all that kind of stuff. But that really taught me entrepreneurship early on, so I have a special place in my heart for entrepreneurs—always have—because of that. And I was lucky because I had a mom and dad who encouraged it. And I had my grass cutting business so I had multiple streams of income. I’ve always worked, my entire life.
Did you grow up here?
Yup, South Wedge. Wasn’t like it is now, so it’s changed a lot over the years but that’s where I grew up.
Is there anything you were particularly looking forward to that got canceled or postponed because of COVID?
[laughs] Man, are you kidding me? I had a big birthday party. Now it’s almost two years off, it’s frozen in time in my garage. My birthday’s in February, and we had the party scheduled for later in March because we had people traveling from all over the place and we wanted better weather for it. So we kept postponing, saying “We’ll let you know what’s gonna happen, we’ll let you know what’s gonna happen.” So it’s still gonna happen, probably in 2022, but literally my wife has all the party favors and everything’s still in the garage. So that was postponed, a couple of trips were postponed, but the party was the big thing because people were going to come from all over, which we were really looking forward to. An uncle coming from Texas, brothers and sisters from around the country … so that was postponed because of COVID.
Since things have started to open back up, have you been able to take any of those trips or things you had planned?
Not yet, because I started to run for mayor. And that really threw everything out of whack. But you know, I got a chance to go to D.C. … I’m a regular traveller to D.C. because I have family there. I have a lot of family in Ohio, so I got to take a quick trip there. 2019 I travelled extensively, so 2020 made up for it because I didn’t get a chance to go anywhere. So that was tough.
What was your first concert?
Ooh! Janet Jackson and Usher. And I’m a big concert person, so 2019 I probably saw fifteen concerts. I flew all the way to Tampa to see Phil Collins on the second row. I’m a big Phil Collins fan. I took my wife. But Janet Jackson and Usher was my first concert, and that was an amazing show. Usher was not big then … I would say that was my first big concert, because I saw Destiny’s Child before Beyoncé was big at the Highland Bowl. But my first big concert, by myself, I was eighteen, that was Usher and Janet Jackson. It was funny, because now Usher’s got a Vegas residency and became this big star, but he was the guy who, there was nobody in the stadium. Because nobody came yet. But I went right in the beginning and I was like “Wow, that guy’s good.” And now he’s probably as big as Janet Jackson, so it’s funny to see how that goes. But I’m a big concert guy. That was another thing that COVID really hurt me, because it stopped the concerts. So I’m looking forward to getting back into that as well.
Are you big into the local restaurant scene?
Eating, yeah. Eating food when other people are cooking is good [laughs]. Anybody that comes to Rochester, I’m always telling them to go to places, but places no one’s heard of. There’s a place called Jamaican Soul, to me I think it’s the best Caribbean food I’ve had. Peppa Pot, Georgie’s Bakery … I like finding these places that people don’t really think of. But then I like Branca, too, Char’s my favorite place for steak … so I can go to that end, but I can also tell people where these places are they’ve never heard of; I’m known for taking people to these places that look like small little takeout places but they find out “Hey, there’s some good food places in Rochester.” I’m telling you, Rochester I think has some of the best food around, hands-down. Red Wings stadium … I’ve had the food at Madison Square Garden, and I’ve had Red Wings stadium, and I think our food at Red Wings stadium has better food than Madison Square Garden. So I’m very passionate about—not myself cooking food, I love people that cook—but visiting places in Rochester that have all these different joints with food, diners … I’m into all different types of food. I get excited about it. And I love trying to support these places.
What’s your favorite park in Rochester?
Hmm, that’s hard. I don’t want to tell people my favorite park because I don’t want too many people to start visiting [laughs]. I like it quiet. There’s one park I go to that a lot of people don’t know about. I love Cobbs Hill, Highland Park. Highland Park is probably one of my favorites; I grew up going there … but Rochester has so many parks that people don’t know about, in fact one of the things we did when I first got on city council was I had a park summit, where there were kids and I had them tell me all their favorite parks, and I was telling them about park names they’d never even heard of. Even just green spaces, Rochester’s also known for green spaces. For example, there’s a hill behind School number 12 called Big Bertha. And it’s not really a formal park, there’s just tons of green space and you can go up the hill and into Highland Park. That’s one of my favorite spaces.
Do you feel good about the direction that Parcel 5 is heading?
[points out window] There it is, next door. I mean, you have to decide what it’s gonna be and you can’t think about Parcel 5 in isolation. You have to think about it as the whole downtown. You have to look at what’s going on in the west side of downtown, which needs a lot of help, you have to think about what’s going on at Strong, what’s going on here at Innovation Square, so how does Parcel 5 fit into all that? I think that’s important. The challenge that we have in Rochester is we have all these spaces but they’re not programmed to the level I would like to see. So look at Highland Bowl, it’s a great spot. We have some movies and things that go on there, the park over here is excellent, by Geva. People don’t think about that park, but you can do a lot of things at that park. So when we think about Parcel 5 I want people to think about it in the context of all the other spaces we have and how they can play together. We have all these spaces, but how can we get a cohesive strategy to make sure there’s always something going on at one of these parks? I was just at Jones Park, an amazing space over at the soccer stadium. We’re really blessed to have all these spaces.
It sounds like you’re probably a big fan of Fringe.
Oh yeah. I’ve seen some crazy things at Fringe. I’m a big fan of the Fringe Festival. I’m trying to think of the comedian I saw there was … Oh, Jay Pharoah. I saw him at one of the tents. So Fringe is cool because it has something for everybody. But I’m a big fan of all the festivals in Rochester. I haven’t decided what I’m going to yet, but I always try to hit all the festivals, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Fringe, Clothesline Art Festival, Puerto Rican Festival, Park Ave. I try to hit all the festivals when I can. Rochester has some great festivals to take advantage of, so you feel like you’re in a new place when you have all these festivals.