For some downtown bar and restaurant owners, business from the North American International Auto Show means everything.
“It’s like night and day,” says Lolinda Bellamy, general manager at Cobo Joe’s on Congress across from Cobo Center. Aside from Red Wings games, the sports bar and barbeque restaurant is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch, but during the 14-day Auto Show, it’s open until 2 a.m. Owner Richard Cadreau says the business he gets during the Auto Show accounts for 30 percent of his yearly sales.
“I wish we could have this (kind of business) every day,” Bellamy says. “I’ve been staying open until 2 in the morning for these guys. They say we’re giving Slow’s a run for their money.”
Restaurateur Joe Vicari says press preview week is when he sees the most action at his GM Renaissance Center restaurants, Joe Muer Seafood and Andiamo Detroit Riverfront.
“We do three weeks of normal business in one week ... it’s really positive,” says Vicari of this week when journalists from around the world are in town. “This is the hot week because of all the press, the foreign press are all in, so Sunday to Thursday are very busy, and then Friday is the black-tie gala and that’s very busy. Next week is a nice week, but it’s not like this week.”
Arguably, the week leading up to and during the North American International Auto Show is the busiest — and most profitable — for Detroit restaurants and bars.
“I kind of view this type of event sort of like having a mini-Super Bowl in your backyard,” says Mike Bernacchi, a business administration professor at University of Detroit Mercy. “People don’t go anywhere else for (the Auto Show), they come here.”
The boom for the city also is good for Michigan as a whole, Bernacchi says. The gross state product has grown 19.6 percent from 2010 to 2014, he says, but the GSP in Metro Detroit has grown 26.9 percent and this area makes up more than half (52.4 percent) of the state’s GSP.
“We know that the downtown area is growing and we know that increasing favorability reflects on its image,” Bernacchi says. “Michigan depends on (Detroit’s) 700,000 population and it’s wonderful change, especially on its small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s really remarkable; the whole state should be rooting for us.”
The business-boosting crown jewel of the Auto Show’s run is likely Friday’s Charity Preview night, especially for higher-end restaurants. Many fine dining options very close to Cobo are booked up.
Joe Muer is completely full and has been mostly booked since June. You aren’t getting into London Chop House on Friday, either.
Andiamo Detroit Riverfront has very little availability, Vicari says, because the restaurant is mostly booked with private parties from Michelin, St. Johns Providence Health System, Mayco International, Valspar and other firms.
Just blocks from Cobo Center, Townhouse Detroit also has space left. Calling as soon as possible for reservations is recommended.
According to the Open Table reservation app, several other fine dining options in downtown Detroit have availability for small groups, including Roast in the Westin Book Cadillac, Fountain Bistro, Texas de Brazil, PRISM at Greektown Casino and Wolfgang Puck Steak at MGM Grand Detroit.
Outside of walking distance from Cobo, the slightly more casual, but still upscale Republic Tavern at Grand River and Cass still has space, including its private dining area, which can hold 30 guests. MotorCity Casino Hotel’s Iridescence also has tables.
Diners could also get lucky at Selden Standard in Midtown. The restaurant at Second and Selden, which serves seasonal small plates, is mostly booked up, but always saves a few tables for walk-in guests.