Serving the community and offering a helping hand have always been part of Adrian Tonon’s character. Growing up in a diverse community in Detroit, Tonon used food as a way to gather people around a table and offer solutions to serve their needs.
From a young age Tonon worked at his family’s business, originally Rina’s and now Café Cortina, where he gained exposure to hospitality business and customer service — two foundational skills that have persisted in his career.
Today, Tonon brings these values to life in politics, leading in a reliable way that unifies community members to create a thriving and sustainable creative culture.
Spartan experience earning a versatile degree
Tonon graduated from Michigan State in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in Hospitality Business, adding formal training and expertise to his hands-on family restaurant involvement. The college experience for him was more than just days at the library; it was the people he met and built relationships with.
“I was hyper-engaged in the curriculum and made strong connections with my professors. I pride myself in still being a student in government and life,” Tonon said.
During his time at MSU, Tonon embraced his passion for the arts, including the music scene. Tonon managed and played in several bands, connecting with artists like East Lansing–famous Swishbelly. He maintains these relationships to this day and surrounds himself with talent in many different aspects.
Although he had to pause his studies when his father passed away, he eventually went back to complete his last semester. This meant commuting to campus three times a week while still running the family restaurant alongside his mother in Detroit. Tonon noted that despite only getting four hours of sleep a night for two years, he never lost determination.
“My degree was important to me and my family. I am proud to have come from Michigan State, and I want to enshrine that,” Tonon said.
Bringing passion to life in Detroit
In true Spartan fashion, Tonon has always had the mentality that anyone, no matter their economic status, has something to offer in this world. Combining his passions with an entrepreneurial mindset has allowed him to create several businesses to reflect this mantra and boost equity for Detroiters.
In 2015, Tonon started distributing record labels to help promising artists. Following that, in 2018, he began investing in real estate property for young men and women that gave them the title of owner and to build a foundation for themselves.
Tonon’s time as an entrepreneur also overlapped with his entry into the world of politics. In 2012, he joined Michael Duggan in his successful campaign as mayor for the City of Detroit, where Tonon promoted world-class customer service to enhance the culture that would soon be put in place.
After Duggan’s election, Tonon was appointed as the city’s first-ever director of customer service in 2014. He took the Café Cortina training and culture from his family restaurant and combined them with his MSU degree in hospitality business to make a significant impact for the City of Detroit. Today, Tonon’s customer service curriculum is used to create and enhance culture for 8,000 city employees.
From there, Tonon continued to bring creativity and passion to life when he also became Detroit’s first 24-hour economy ambassador — also known as the nighttime economy ambassador — in 2018.
“[As an ambassador I] focus on the economy and city life between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This time is for creating jobs and looking for venues musicians can perform at, which includes working with developers to make sure venues are not displaced,” he said of the role, which is typically only seen in European cities such as London, Amsterdam and Paris.
Tonon championed awareness and unity, created jobs and maintained retention and brought together creatives living in Detroit, attracting them to the city’s venues while also attracting more visitors to the city in general. The creative economy that Tonon has worked to expand now has a global GDP of $3 trillion.
“Detroit is again being recognized as a world-class creative city: a work, live and play city,” he said. “In order for Detroit to continue to grow, we have to build around the community and use bridges in order to serve the community to preserve the rich culture.”
Relentless commitment to community
And this Broad Spartan isn’t stopping there. Today, Tonon is running for U.S. Congress in Michigan, hoping to continue promoting excellent customer service and support for creatives while accomplishing many goals for improving quality of life.
“If I am elected to the U.S. Congress in Michigan, there are many issues I want to address — creating a community in terms of building generational wealth and providing housing, health care, inclusiveness, equity and jobs for those who want to pursue their passions and dreams,” Tonon said.
He also hopes to increase the amount of funding toward schooling. “A possible way to solve this would be looking into colleges that accept federal funding — more schools who would be able to welcome those who are more marginalized,” Tonon said.
It’s clear that a degree from MSU can lead someone in many directions. For Tonon, no matter where he ends up next, his Spartan pride will always shine through as he continues to make an impact in his community.
“MSU is an institution where alumni come out as ambassadors, which is very special knowing each of us are doing something unique around the country,” he explained proudly.
“Through your relationships, unify each other to build bridges and use those bridges today to serve the community,” he continued. “If you use customer service in a positive mentality, it’ll give people reasons to trust you, which allows you to navigate things easier. Yet, if you don’t live it and explore the unknown, it’s always just going to be words on paper.”