Livernois-Six Mile redevelopment moves ahead with pizza place opening
Detroit — In 2018, Marcus Jones approached his business partner, Akunna Olumba, about an opportunity that tapped into their development backgrounds: Invest Detroit was looking for a developer to rehab a vacant building at 7316 W. McNichols.
“He said we should do this request for proposal: 'I think we have a great idea,' Olumba recalled.
"We had this idea about doing this pizza bar in the middle of the neighborhood and we wanted something that was sophisticated, that felt like downtown, but was still in the neighborhood.”
Four years and one pandemic later, Jones, 35, and Olumba, 40, of Detroit-based Legacy City Group celebrated the grand opening of The Detroit Pizza Bar at a Friday event attended by Mayor Mike Duggan. The 4,500-square-foot restaurant opens to the public April 8.
The pizzeria joins what is expected to be a wave of revitalized spaces in the Livernois-Six Mile neighborhood, known as Live6. The $1.3 million project is funded by the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a public-private partnership with the goal of improving 10 neighborhoods in the city.
“We put millions into the Fitzgerald neighborhood, the new park, the roadwork, partnered with the neighbors, renovations, demolitions,” Duggan said. “When you drove down McNichols, it was heartbreaking, all of the vacant storefronts.”
In the spring of 2019, the Live6 Alliance opened its Neighborhood HomeBase, a storefront community space that sits several doors down from the restaurant. In October, the city celebrated the completion of a $7 million streetscape project along McNichols. And in December, another strategic neighborhood fund project broke ground across the street, the Sawyer Art Apartments. The $10.8 million, 38-unit development is expected to be complete in mid to late 2023.
Duggan recalled when Jones approached him about a plan he had to build a pizza restaurant on McNichols.
“I thought to myself, I’d been looking for the first person who would step up and say 'I see the potential of this strip,'” the mayor said. “I have no idea how he picked this strip, but we said 'we’re going to back you.'”
Construction on the restaurant began in February 2020, but was soon halted by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones said. Work resumed in June 2020 and was completed in January 2022. The team had to work through material and labor shortages and rising construction costs, Jones said.
"It was just hard, to be quite honest," he said. "We had a great support with not just Invest Detroit being the ones who really believed in us to fund the project, but they convinced the city to be behind us on this project."
Marcia Ventura, senior vice president of lending for Invest Detroit, which supports business and real estate projects, said the nonprofit worked with Jones and Olumba on financing for the project. She notes that the restaurant will feature pizza flavors named after community groups.
"These are social entrepreneurs par excellence," Ventura said. "They're great. When you buy a pizza with a community name on it, a portion of those profits will be given back to that organization to support their efforts."
The pizzeria is an open, inviting and brightly lit space with large and small tables for patrons to have a sit-down meal. The kitchen features a large pizza oven and there’s a bar along the east wall. Jones and Olumba added a second story to the building that offers a walk-out balcony overlooking the street.
"As you look up and down the street, you see it's different than it was a year ago," said Geneva Williams, executive director for the Live6 Alliance. "We're going to continue to do that. Detroit Pizza Bar is definitely the important next step in revitalizing West McNichols. In partnership with the supporters at Invest Detroit and the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, this restaurant demonstrates what a visionary approach to business development can do."
So far, the restaurant has created 20 jobs with plans to create more. All of the staff hired are Detroit residents, most of whom live within a two-mile radius of the restaurant.
Among the employees is Reginald Gaddis, the establishment's manager and bartender who lives about five blocks from the restaurant.
“I want to show our city that in the middle of a neighborhood, you can have high class, high quality, high customer service experience,” he said. “I want it to feel it’s a place you can feel safe, feel welcomed, feel loved, part of the community. That’s what we’re here for.”