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Hard Times for Michigan Restaurants


terapinchef
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While times are tough everywhere, things have been exceptionally rough in MI. As mentioned in other posts, several prominent restaurants have been closed/converted, and I know that there are several prominent chefs who have been relocated, possibly to less conspicuous places. It would be nice to have a thread to keep track of such things...I know that both BooCoo's Shawn Mac and Forte's Tim Voss have left their former residences to take up shop somewhere else. Any other massive changes taking place, or information as to the whereabouts of the aforementioned? Any news in general related to new blood coming in/old regimes leaving?

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I won't aggrandize anything to myself; only to say we mounted the first authentic bistro (French in technique and influence, local and seasonal in outlook as much as possible) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and did all we could to weather several storms. We shut down this time last year. Painful lessons learned.

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Molly Abraham reported Tim Voss is going to Fiddleheads in Royal Oak -- he may actually be there now, since she wrote he's going to start "in January." This is just fine with me, since I like this restaurant, and I don't view it as being significantly "less conspicuous" than Forte.

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Shawn Mac, unless something has happened that wasn't reported, is at Twingo's in Detroit, and was heavily involved with its re-opening a year ago.

Oh, and the Free Press reported yesterday that Rick Halberg, after the closing of Emily's in Northville, is now working for Hiller's (the supermarket) as "Director of Culinary Services."

[it's] a job that I am in the process of defining," Halberg says. "But basically I am hoping to turn the prepared foods division into something that is really great, in the ready-to-go area as well as wines, fresh meats, poultry and fish -- the direction being anything to help make meal time easier, whether you are cooking or reheating.
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Shawn Mac, unless something has happened that wasn't reported, is at Twingo's in Detroit, and was heavily involved with its re-opening a year ago.

Oh, and the Free Press reported yesterday that Rick Halberg, after the closing of Emily's in Northville, is now working for Hiller's (the supermarket) as "Director of Culinary Services." 

[it's] a job that I am in the process of defining," Halberg says. "But basically I am hoping to turn the prepared foods division into something that is really great, in the ready-to-go area as well as wines, fresh meats, poultry and fish -- the direction being anything to help make meal time easier, whether you are cooking or reheating.

Actually Shawn Mac left Twingo's in November to pursue other interests. I am the new chef at Twingo's and will be rolling out new menues in about four weeks.

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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Much to my chagrin (and I'm sure many others' as well), Pany Soumpholphakdy has not only sold his Ny's Thai Cafe in Novi, but his family has moved back to Europe (Switzerland, or so I'm told), so he's not even in the local restaurant scene anymore. His food was excellent, fresh, and often innovative, especially considering that it was a Thai place that sold Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, and French food (his creme brulee was wonderful *and* affordable).

If you're not familiar with Pany, he's worked as chef in some of the best restaurants in the Detroit area, some (all?) of which aren't around anymore. It's a crying shame that he's not, either.

::sigh::

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Unfortunately, these departures reflect a more general trend. According to a study by United Van Lines, Michigan tied with North Dakota as the #1 "outbound" state (i.e., % of moves out of the state vs. into the state).

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I won't aggrandize anything to myself; only to say we mounted the first authentic bistro (French in technique and influence, local and seasonal in outlook as much as possible) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and did all we could to weather several storms.  We shut down this time last year.  Painful lessons learned.

Where was your bistro? And why did you select the U.P. for your locale? I lived in the the U.P. for nearly a decade, and while I love the place, I can't envision a bistro up there. It is very rural....please tell me more....

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Hi Mom -

We were located in Marquette. Many reasons we chose here; a large hospital system (over 500 physicians), many folks with a high degree of disposable income that live here by choice, with no outlet for business or true pleasure dining; a bidco, bank and other funding entities indicating the time was overripe for this kind of place, as it had been sought for so many years, who put together a funding package without blinking. Not the least, my wife and I had wanted to find a way to bring our family (little boy) here, away from the city, and she has generations living here locally. Of all the places in this region, we felt Marquette was the economic hub that could support such a thing, and, being the singular place to satisfy this (apparent) long-held demand, we felt we were well founded.

Despite being told by the bidco that our pro-formas were "conservative" and that we "were going to blow those numbers out of the water," we blew it on due diligence. We opened to great fanfare, sold out totally for the first few months - press and television coverage was quite effusive and kind, and lasted quite a while, as something like this had never been done this way (oddly enough, Michael Sneed of the Sun Times, for one, wrote a nice little blurb, and we were regularly, positively reviewed in travel sites, blogs, etc.) - but we quickly (though not quickly enough) saw the culture just wasn't ready for such a thing, at least not now. Coupled with a heavy debt load, an exogenously strained economy, and first year op, well, you know the end of that story.

Bottom line, my wife and I should have listened more to our better instincts. With Waterstone we really sought to bring an experience not seen this way (local, seasonal menu based on relation with known farmers and ranchers; everything in house, to include charcuterie, pastry, butchery, etc.; an experiential, teaching kitchen and front of house, down the line), and give over something we have always cherished, something we felt was of worth. But we failed to reach people and let them know that they needn't be intimidated by a "French" experience, that what we sought - flatly, an evening by the fire, among friends - was as homey as any experience they normally enjoy, just accompanied by profound care and the desire to deliver a deeply memorable experience. Too late, we discovered we were not reaching folks. We own the mistakes we made. Lessons learned.

ps: Great username - opening with "Hi mom" brings a smile.

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Molly Abraham reported Tim Voss is going to Fiddleheads in Royal Oak -- he may actually be there now, since she wrote he's going to start "in January." This is just fine with me, since I like this restaurant, and I don't view it as being significantly "less conspicuous" than Forte.

I hadn't heard that, so thanks for the info. I love Fiddleheads and think that Tim will be great there. Forte, in my opinion, is just not very good.

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Wow! That sounds like it was a really great place. Sorry it didn't pan out. I lived in Houghton most of the 80s, and love the U.P. It will be a great place to raise your son. People that live in the U.P., no matter what their income, are a different breed. I'm sure that's why the banker was wrong. If you have lots of money and live in the U.P., you are making a concious statement that you live a "no frills" lifestyle. I've seen some people with lots of money spends $$$$ on custom built log homes, but they would never buy designer clothes or eat in upscale restaurants. That's not to say that great food isn't appreciated up there, it is. However, maybe if it was sending a message that wasn't part of the laid back lifestyle, that might explain it. Also, it's mandatory to have a great bar. Have you considered a reincarnation as something a little different?

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Wow!  That sounds like it was a really great place.  Sorry it didn't pan out. I lived in Houghton most of the 80s, and love the U.P.  It will be a great place to raise your son.  People that live in the U.P., no matter what their income, are a different breed.  I'm sure that's why the banker was wrong.  If you have lots of money and live in the U.P., you are making a concious statement that you live a "no frills" lifestyle.  I've seen some people with lots of money spends $$$$ on custom built log homes, but they would never buy designer clothes or eat in upscale restaurants.  That's not to say that great food isn't appreciated up there, it is.  However, maybe if it was sending a message that wasn't part of the laid back lifestyle, that might explain it.  Also, it's mandatory to have a great bar.    Have you considered a reincarnation as something a little different?

I think you hit it on the head, mom. From what I have seen, more generally, folks just don't go out. Most restaurants up here are struggling; although it is true that by the time I introduced essentially another line to our work - "Foods from the Hearth - Bistro Classics" (braised pork shank, trout grenobloise, steak frites (ribeye cap from the ribeye), roast chicken "grand mere" (a whole roast poussin, lemon, thyme, garlic brined and scented under the skin), etc., for $19, we were already "the fancy place." Even though our bistro plates were within shooting range (a few bucks) of the brewpub down the street, it was likely too late. And though we shot for warmth and accessibility, I think to many, we were just the French place. We did have a good bar, great and skilled tenders, and a glass atrium/lounge that was exposed to the sky and beautiful at all times of year. But there is no doubt we saw wine and food in unbreakable marriage, and were not really a bar scene separate from the cuisine. Likely a major flaw for the area.

Nope, mom, lessons learned in terms of this area. After a lifetime of self-directed pursuit of French cooking, my family and I are heading to France next fall, so that I may begin study at the ESCF-Ferrandi, if accepted into the program; and she may further her study of French viticulture (if I may speak my pride in her a bit, she is the winner of the WCF International Pinot Noir Celebration Fellowship - flying to Willamette Valley, Oregon, this next summer, to, well, drink a ton of pinot, and eat at some wonderful places).

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 years later...

It is indeed a scary time for fine dining in Detroit. While certain coney islands and olive gardens are doing gangbusters the nicer places (especially within the city limits) are really really hurting hard. aside from tapawingo and musashi, it was reported today that c-pop gallery (not a restaurant) and the legendary baker's keyboard lounge will most likely close by the end of the summer. I was impressed by Molly Abraham's column today urging diners to dine at their favorite restaurants more frequently, not only to support them, but also because they may not have the chance to do so for very much longer.

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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  • 3 weeks later...

And now Fiddleheads is gone.

The stylish, casually upscale Fiddleheads restaurant in Royal Oak will close at the end of business Saturday, owner Colette Farris said today.

“The economy is terrible, and a very unfortunate financial decision had to be made,” she said.

Sad.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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  • 3 weeks later...
And now Fiddleheads is gone.
The stylish, casually upscale Fiddleheads restaurant in Royal Oak will close at the end of business Saturday, owner Colette Farris said today.

“The economy is terrible, and a very unfortunate financial decision had to be made,” she said.

Sad.

This sucks. Fiddleheads was one of the few great spots in Metro D.

_________________________

Dave Kaye

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  • 2 months later...

And now, Five Lakes Grill, at least as we know it.

After 14 years, award-winning Five Lakes Grill in Milford will close at the end of business Saturday and reopen Aug. 3 as a Mexican restaurant, becoming the latest upscale area restaurant to close or dramatically change because of Michigan's struggling economy.

Chef-owner Brian Polcyn announced the change Saturday in an e-mail to longtime customers. His new concept, Cinco Lagos -- which means Five Lakes in Spanish -- will feature house-made salsas, chorizo, braised meats and handmade tortillas, he said.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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And now, Five Lakes Grill, at least as we know it.
After 14 years, award-winning Five Lakes Grill in Milford will close at the end of business Saturday and reopen Aug. 3 as a Mexican restaurant, becoming the latest upscale area restaurant to close or dramatically change because of Michigan's struggling economy.

Chef-owner Brian Polcyn announced the change Saturday in an e-mail to longtime customers. His new concept, Cinco Lagos -- which means Five Lakes in Spanish -- will feature house-made salsas, chorizo, braised meats and handmade tortillas, he said.

I guess I'm okay with this...heck, I guess I'm okay with *all* of it, or at least the general principle of what's behind it. Not trying to single out FLG or anything, but in this guy's opinion, there has been a metric ton of restaurants in the Detroit area that over the last five years or so, have been honestly acting like the cache of going to them somehow validates obscene pricing structures, with very few actually delivering on the promise of what they purport.

It's imploding, and while I know that, at least in part, that's a result of the entire area being majorly squeezed for cash and jobs, I find it ultra-ironic that even the highest caliber places are finding room to fill the tables through discounting, 2-for-1s, reducing, etc. It's a shame that they didn't try doing this *beforehand*, whereas now they're just fighting to survive. I don't mean to pile on the pain, but when you're not a special event type of place, and the average price of an appetizer is equal to or more than what a decent entree should be, the reality check you're facing now is long, long overdue.

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  • 2 months later...

Add Tribute to the list.

During the last year, the company tried numerous special promotions to increase business and had added a casual patio menu for summer. But dinner and drinks for two still averaged $150 or more, while many competitors had cut costs by changing their menus, ingredients or portions, or offering fire-sale prices to stay afloat over the summer.

SaltWater at MGM Grand Detroit converted to a casual, less-expensive menu; Bacco in Southfield reduced portions and significantly reduced entrée prices; Five Lakes Grill in Milford closed to convert to a Mexican format, and Larco’s steak house in Troy became Big Beaver Tavern with a menu of burgers and sandwiches.

Meisner said Wisne considered reinventing Tribute, too. But in the end, “she wanted to stay true to what the restaurant was.”

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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  • 4 months later...

R.I.P Seldom Blues

Seldom Blues, the upscale restaurant and jazz club in the Renaissance Center, has closed, citing "financial distress" according to statement released by the owners today.

"Restaurateur Frank Taylor regrets the necessity to reject the lease, based upon unacceptable monthly loses associated with operating a 17,000-square-foot, 320-seat restaurant in Class A real estate," the statement reads.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Myself being one of the people stupid enough to move back to Michigan, to start a culinary career way too late in life can attest to the economy in bad shape. Luckily enough for you guys you have restaurants to lose on the east side of the state. Here on the west side there is nothing worth writing home about.

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Myself being one of the people stupid enough to move back to Michigan, to start a culinary career way too late in life can attest to the economy in bad shape. Luckily enough for you guys you have restaurants to lose on the east side of the state. Here on the west side there is nothing worth writing home about.

Where on the west side of the state are you located?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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  • 2 months later...

I guess I keep bringing the bad news about Detroit's restaurant scene.

Downtown development officials gave a sobering assessment Wednesday of Detroit's restaurant market two days after a pair of high-profile eateries abruptly closed in the wake of a city lawsuit that accused the owner of fraud.

"It's misery right now to maintain a restaurant in downtown Detroit," said Ted Gatzaros, a Downtown Development Authority board member and longtime developer in downtown. His holdings include the Atheneum Suites Hotel and Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Café in Greektown.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100429/BIZ/4290345#ixzz0mXAyHxMd

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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  • 4 weeks later...

Sad to see that I started this post 3 1/2 years ago and things are not getting a whole lot better. Maybe I'm just stuck in a culinary rut myself, but I just can't seem to get excited about meals in this area anymore...I guess I'll just have to eat out more and keep trying.

It doesn't help to be working in the kitchens, either. If I just couldn't find a good place to eat it wouldn't be so bad...

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