Checkers franchise owner Nicole Wilski, right, of Grosse Pointe Farms prepares meals at her Clinton Township site with cashier Maria Xhaj, center, and Vjollca Vataj. Wilski has eight Checker's locations in total with her new additions. (Photos by Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
With the addition of her first Checkers location in Detroit next month, Nicole Wilski is counting herself lucky to be part of a surge of restaurants bringing new dining options to the city.
Wilski, a 31-year-old Clinton Township native, owns and operates six Checkers in the metro area and will open two in Detroit this spring. One of the locations, which opens in mid-March, is in the heart of Detroit at Doris and Livernois. The second will be in Midtown and is slated to open the second week of April.
“We’ve worked hand in hand with Midtown Detroit Inc. for our location at East Forrest and Woodward. There will be an outside patio area, beautiful landscaping, Wi-Fi and a digital menu board. These are things we haven’t done anywhere else in Michigan,” Wilski said. “We want it to be awesome.”
Detroit’s bar and restaurant scene has grown sizably in the past year with additions from chain eateries and independent joints. Popular newcomers include Bagger Dave’s, La Feria, Zef’s Midtown, Topsoil Cafe and Craft Work.
The Detroit buzz got even louder last week, when Grand Rapids-based BarFly Ventures announced plans to open HopCat — Detroit, which has a full-service restaurant and draft beer lines boasting 130 varieties. The $3.3 million investment will bring 100 new jobs to Midtown and revitalize the former Agave restaurant, which has been vacant since 2006.
“Overall, the culinary scene in Metro Detroit is expanding,” and there are many more slated to arrive this year, said Adriane J. De Ceuninck, vice president of marketing and communications for the Michigan Restaurant Association in Lansing.
The National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast reported recently that the state’s projected industry sales are estimated at $13.5 billion this year, a 3.1 percent increase from 2013. Michigan ranks No. 12 in total sales volume in the United States. Nationally, total restaurant industry sales are expected to exceed $683.4 billion.
De Ceuninck also noted that employment in the restaurant industry is growing quickly. In Michigan, an estimated 399,300 people will work in the restaurant industry this year. That number will grow to 422,300 in the next decade, which equals a 5.8 percent growth rate, she said.
Still, De Ceuninck noted that the industry faces some challenges, including the continued economic recovery, food costs and labor issues.
Checkers/Rally’s Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. is the largest double drive-thru restaurant chain in the United States. The company develops, owns, operates and franchises both Checkers and Rally’s restaurants. Based in Tampa, Fla., it has more than 800 restaurants in U.S.
Wilski has a background in business administration; she formerly was a financial adviser for her family’s florist business. She jumped over to the quick-service restaurant industry in 2009.
“I got into Checkers franchising because I used to love visiting the restaurant on Van Dyke. I just liked a lot of their food — I love the burgers and the banana milkshakes in particular,” Wilski said. “When I started working with them, I liked the great corporate structure — there’s lots of support and I knew there was room to grow.”
Her first Detroit location will be at Doris and Livernois; the second to join will be the Midtown site at East Forrest and Woodward. Each location will have about 60 jobs. Wilski said she hires a sizable number of people from Michigan Works, and that her franchises promote heavily from within the organization.
“We have a couple at our Eight Mile and Woodward location in Ferndale that came to us as crew members. They’re both managers now. They’re a great husband-and-wife team and they’re great people,” Wilski said. “There’s a lot of incentive to work hard because you’ll get promoted accordingly.”
Wilski has eight Checker’s restaurants in total with these new additions. Her six operating restaurants started with one in hometown of Clinton Township on Garfield. Stores in Highland Park, Warren, Ferndale, Southfield and Chesterfield followed. Wilski said she also has five more development deals in the works, including a new location in Troy across from the Oakland Mall.
But with the city’s revitalization, the Detroit locations may be her favorites for a while, she added. “We’ve lived here our whole lives. We love the city, and we want to add value to it,” Wilski said.
Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.