Business & Real Estate

Sacramento couple create neighborhood happenings

Roshaun and Maritza Davis are the founders of Unseen Heroes – an Oak Park-based marketing, events, and public relations company that publicizes several events happening around the city. Their Gather: Oak Park event on the second Thursday of each month has become one of the biggest standing block parties in the city with food trucks, breweries, DJs and crowds.
Roshaun and Maritza Davis are the founders of Unseen Heroes – an Oak Park-based marketing, events, and public relations company that publicizes several events happening around the city. Their Gather: Oak Park event on the second Thursday of each month has become one of the biggest standing block parties in the city with food trucks, breweries, DJs and crowds. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Watching Maritza and Roshaun Davis in public is like watching two planets whose gravity constantly pulls people into their orbit.

The married co-founders of Unseen Heroes, a public relations and event planning firm, are central figures in Sacramento’s urban rebirth. Since they started their business eight years ago to promote Roshaun’s hip hop band, they’ve been hired to help some of the most creative people opening restaurants, starting businesses and building new developments in the city.

On a Thursday night earlier this month, 3,000 people packed into the area around Third Avenue and Broadway in Oak Park for Gather: Oak Park, a popular monthly block party created by Unseen Heroes in 2014 for the Oak Park Business Association.

Although they had staff and volunteers working the event, Maritza and Roshaun remain very much hands-on. Maritza poured beer in a tent near the entrance while Roshaun chatted with vendors as the evening wore on.

“They’re infectious to be around,” said Ryan Donahue, a partner in the Mother and Empress Tavern restaurants on K Street in downtown Sacramento.

The couple’s other collaborations and clients include the South restaurant, Hot Italian, Silk Road Soda, the Midtown Farmers Market, and most recently the Market at Power Inn.

“We’ve been at the table at the start of a lot of leading projects in the city in one way or another, be it implementing these concepts on our own, or sharing ideas and advice to help others in the community grow theirs,” said Roshaun Davis.

We’ve been at the table at the start of a lot of leading projects in the city in one way or another, be it implementing these concepts on our own, or sharing ideas and advice to help others in the community grow theirs.

Roshaun Davis

Their specialty, he said, is “creating something from nothing.”

The couple, both in their early 30s, said they drew much of their initial inspiration from hip hop music. “It was the music genre which starred African Americans, Latinos, and it showed all these different ethnicities making it,” Maritza said in their office on Broadway, across the street from where Gather takes place.

“If you really listen to the music, there’s hints being dropped throughout about how someone became successful – their struggle or their hustle,” she added.

Unseen Heroes initially began with Roshaun’s hip hop group, Righteous Movement. Maritza helped him promote the group after they met in a marketing class at California State University, Sacramento.

“We started getting bigger gigs and getting paid,” Roshaun said. “Other artists started taking notice and they were like ‘Hey, who’s doing that for you guys?’ From there we thought ‘if people are asking, why not? Let’s test it out,’ ” Roshaun said. “It was kind of like ‘Fake it till you make it.’ ”

One of their first significant jobs came when Hot Italian pizzeria owner Andrea Lepore hired them to help produce Hot Italian’s Bicycle Film Festival and the Modern Italian Festival.

“They’re just creative and great at multitasking, which is a critical skill in doing events,” Lepore said.

Lepore had been hired by the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership to help with branding the street. She brought in the Davises to launch GOOD: Street Food + Design Market in 2012. Once a month, the market – now on hiatus – filled an empty warehouse with local designers of clothing, jewelry, and home furnishings under the same roof as chefs, bakers and farmers all selling their products to consumers.

Donahue, the restaurateur, visited the market and saw more than just merchants in stalls selling products. “Those kind of things are very hard to get right,” he said. “I saw what they were doing and was really impressed with the curation.”

In 2015, the Midtown Business Association brought in Unseen Heroes to revamp the Midtown Farmers Market at 20th and K Streets. They’ve grown it from 30 vendors to 90 and added a second street block to its area. About 1,500 people attend the year-round market each Saturday.

Earlier this year, Unseen Heroes landed in the suburbs when the Power Inn Alliance, a group of property owners, hired them to create The Market at Power Inn near the corner of Power Inn Road and Folsom Boulevard.

The company also operates Display, a revolving pop-up store on Broadway. They will soon open another retail space devoted exclusively to women’s clothing.

Maritza said around their office they sometimes jokingly refer to Roshaun as “Roganhdi” for his philosophical and spiritual messaging. But everyone who works with them understands the combination of her operational savvy and his beat-driven optimism create a shared directed vision.

He is the CEO of Unseen Heroes, and she is the COO. Their latest initiative is The Seen, which Roshaun describes as an interactive online magazine highlighting their community of collaborators and consumers.

N’Gina Kavookjian co-owns the wildly popular new restaurant South, on 11th Street near Southside Park, with her husband, Ian. She credits Unseen Heroes with putting the business in a position to succeed. The couple stumbled with their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Granite Bay but used a stall in the GOOD market as a way to come back.

“Maritza and Roshaun create these opportunities, and I don’t know if they see it as that, because I know their focus is on building experiences,” Kavookjian said. Having a presence at GOOD and then at the early Gather evenings helped South become known before it ever had a customer sit down. They routinely sold out of food at both events. Today South keeps them so busy they no longer participate in Gather.

“When we opened up South, people already knew who we were,” Kavookjian said.

Maritza and Roshaun create these opportunities, and I don’t know if they see it as that, because I know their focus is on building experiences.

N’Gina Kavookjian, co-owner of restaurant South

Seeing what was happening at GOOD on Del Paso also made an impression on architect and developer Ron Vrilakas, whose new Broadway Triangle project is the centerpiece of Oak Park’s revival. “It was very fresh and different for Sacramento, the way the event was curated.” Vrilakas said.

He talked to them about re-creating what they had done in Oak Park. They came up with a different idea: bringing people together to eat.

“A big part of Gather was to treat the street as a big dining room table where people get to meet each other,” Roshaun said. “What we’ve found is that Gather feeds a hunger that our city has. We are wanting to come together.”

The concept clearly has legs, and there will likely be other Gather events in other areas next year, Roshaun Davis said.

Much of Unseen Heroes’ success has stemmed from embracing Sacramento. The company now works on branding with politicians, nonprofits, as well as regional cities and communities. It employs eight people in offices contained in a sleek corner building that serves as a focal point of Vrilakas’ Broadway Triangle project. The couple lives upstairs with their three children, Noah, 14, Parker, 5, and Paxton, three months.

They said they were thinking of moving to San Francisco, but then Roshaun had an idea. He was tired of “the chip on Sacramento’s shoulder.”

“I told Maritz, ‘I know it sounds silly but what if we just gave Sacramento a big hug?’ Really showcased why this is a cool spot. That was a lot of the mission of starting GOOD – to showcase what’s here,” Roshaun said.

“That moment of us deciding to brush that chip off our shoulder, that felt like the catalyst for everything that happened after to where we are now.”

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

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