Detroit’s hip, chef-driven restaurants cite various reasons for not offering mid-day meals
Craft cocktails, gorgeous plating and a focus on hospitality are characteristics that many of Detroit’s newer, chef-driven restaurants have in common.
Another common thread in many of these trendy spots is the lack of lunch service.
Daytime visitors to the city who have heard of Detroit’s flourishing restaurant scene will find that they have to wait until evening to dine at hot places like Katoi and Gold Cash Gold in Corktown, Wright & Co., Standby and Roast downtown, Grey Ghost Detroit in Brush Park or Eastern Market’s visually stunning Antietam.
The reasons these hip spots aren’t open at lunch vary. Because many of these places focus on fresh, high-quality dishes, prep-time is a big factor.
Wright & Co. chef and partner Marc Djozlija said he knows there’s a desire to see lunch service at his second-story restaurant just steps from Campus Martius, but it’s just not possible because of the amount of prep work required for their dinner service.
“The amount of volume we, fortunately, do out of this place just really hampers out ability (to serve lunch) at the present time,” he said, adding that he doesn’t rule it out. Djozlija said he’s obtained a commissary space to allow for additional prep work so he and his staff can cater to larger parties and his pastry chef can expand her role.
For now, though, he said when it’s time to make dinner, his chefs need to walk in to the stations “ready to go” and that requires hours of prep work from kitchen staff. You can’t serve lunch when your chefs are in the kitchen all morning and afternoon getting ready for dinner service.
“Our storage is all downstairs... they do all the prep, take it downstairs, they rotate it, they bring the rest up to set up,” he said. “To actually service lunch, we’d have to find a way to get those people out of the kitchen or bring them in at five in the morning, and that’s not ideal either.”
Other restaurateurs said they just don’t serve lunch and don’t intend to.
With a cocktail list that’s twice as long as the food offerings, Standby in the Belt Alley is a popular after-work spot that has a strong emphasis on hospitality.
Partner Joe Robinson said Standby isn’t open for lunch because they want to keep its identity as a cocktail bar.
“We designed it to be a night-time haunt, and lunch wouldn’t feel right to us.” Robinson said.
The feeling is similar at Grey Ghost Detroit, where the kitchen wasn’t designed for space for more than one service per day. Lunch was never part of the plan.
In Corktown, lunch is not offered at Katoi for reasons related to functionality and format.
The Thai-influenced restaurant debuted in early 2016 and has seen a wait for dinner service — particularly on weekends — consistently since opening. Dinner starts at 5 p.m. and the restaurant keeps serving well into the night with a vibe that considers lighting and music, as well as the food.
“Our food prep is so intensive that staff is getting there at 8 a.m. prepping for dinner service until 5 p.m., so the kitchen is in use,” said Katoi co-owner Courtney Henriette.
Because of their craft cocktail program, even the bar staff has to arrive early to prepare the house-made syrups, juices and the like.
“It’s really labor-intensive,” said Henirette.
She said that early on when she and chef Brad Greenhill were deciding on the atmosphere for the brick-and-mortar Katoi — which started as a food truck — they knew they had to make a decision to either offer lunch and dinner, or have dinner and a late-night vibe.
On Thursdays through Saturdays, Katoi serves a late-night menu that Henriette describes as “creative bar food.” The menu changes at the chef’s whim and may include favorites from the dinner menu, such as som tum tod (fried papaya salad).
“For us, the whole sensory experience really comes alive in the dark,” she said. “It’s sort of this whole dynamic experience: it’s spicy, it’s loud, there’s colorful lights.”
A few players in Detroit’s dining renaissance like Gold Cash Gold in Corktown and Republic in the G.A.R. Building tried to offer lunch service, but both pulled back in January of last year.
Gold Cash Gold cited the reason for eliminating a lunch menu was to focus on dinner and brunch services. Chef Brendon Edwards also points to the fact that Corktown has many places to eat lunch now, but he would consider opening during the day “when the time is right.”
Republic stopped serving lunch when its sister restaurant, Parks & Rec, expanded its daytime menu early last year. Parks & Rec is open daily for breakfast and lunch only.
Other spots, particularly those in walking distance from the city’s center, have succeeded with daylong service for years. Both Andiamo Detroit and Joe Muer Seafood have the advantage of being in the GM Renaissance Center.
“Andiamo and Joe Muer Seafood both do great a lunch,” said Rosalie Vicari of Andiamo Restaurant Group. “They have the great fortune to be not only destination restaurants, but also they are located in a building that is the hub of business in the Detroit area.
“I think that some restaurants feel that unless they are really busy, the lower check average at lunch time does not make it worthwhile to open.”