Top 10 Metro Detroit dining stories of 2017

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Fueled by a talented chef, tons of buzz and a cool vibe, Katoi restaurant was at peak popularity in February when it was destroyed by arson.

It was shocking news. The Thai-fusion spot in Corktown was easily one of the most popular of all Detroit’s new restaurants, and guests would wait as long as two hours for a table at peak dining times.

The restaurant community rallied around Katoi’s owners, employees and chef Brad Greenhill — who was actually in Thailand studying new recipes when the fire broke out — offering shifts to those who were put out of work by the restaurant’s temporary closing.

By the end of the summer, Katoi was rebuilt and ready to relaunch. The bar area was expanded, and a very tall chain-link fence was curiously put up around the building for insurance-related purposes.

Just days before opening, however, owners faced backlash from members of the community who felt the word “Katoi,” which comes from the Thai word “Kathoey” was an offensive term for transgender women. Katoi became Takoi, and they soldiered on.

To me, Takoi’s yearlong story was the restaurant news of 2017. Here are some other big stories that impacted the Metro Detroit dining scene during the past 12 months:

Chefs come home: Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents returned to his native Michigan to helm the Apparatus Room at the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which opened May 15. Seasoned chef and cookbook author Maxcel Hardy returned to Detroit to open River Bistro in the Rosedale Park area, the first of three restaurants he’s expected to open after moving back home. Another example, Guns + Butter chef Craig Lieckfelt, returned to the area after traveling and cooking in Tokyo, India and the U.S. to prepare a series of pop-up dinners at Hazel Park’s Frame.

We getShake Shack: When the New York City-based burger chain Shake Shack opened in Detroit in February, a line wrapped around the building to get in, adding even more burger options to the downing dining scene. A second Michigan Shake Shack opened in Troy in June.

Chef Lorraine Platman retires: After serving inventive and health-conscious cuisine at Sweet Lorraine’s for 30 years, chef Lorraine Platman decided to lighten her load and closed her Southfield restaurant in June. She and husband Gary Sussman are still involved with their Mac n’ Brewz and Mac n’ Cheez locations.

American Coney’s 100th: A century after Greek immigrant Gust Keros opened a hot dog restaurant at the corner of Lafayette and Michigan, his family celebrated the big milestone with throwback pricing at a party in May with live music and giveaways.

Twenty years of Avalon: They started 20 years ago in the Cass Corridor when people told CEO Jackie Victor not to have windows in her cafe because they would just get broken. This year she opened a full service Avalon International Breads cafe and bakery in downtown Detroit to go with her Ann Arbor restaurant and presence at Detroit Metro Airport’s McNamara Terminal.

Metro Detroit Black Restaurant Week debuts: Over the summer, a pair of food bloggers from launched Metro Detroit Black Restaurant Week as a way to showcase the area’s black-owned businesses and black chefs. In a town where restaurants are a hot topic and an expanding industry, it seemed timely to launch such an event to highlight minority-led eateries, considering some traditional “restaurant week” promotions only included a small fraction.

Founders Midtown opens: Twenty years into their beer-making history, Grand Rapids-based Founders Brewing Company opened a 14,000-square-foot brewery, taproom and restaurant in Detroit’s Cass Corridor.

Italian restaurant shake up: This year saw many changes in Detroit’s classic Italian dining landscape. Most notably, Roma Cafe closed after more than 100 years of business in July, and Amore da Roma opened a few weeks ago in its place with a refreshed look and many of the same menu items. Two downtown Italian dining staples, Angelina Italian Bistro and Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille, ended long runs after their landlords — Bedrock and Ilitch Holdings, respectively — did not renew their leases. The same family that owns Da Edoardo opened La Lanterna in Detroit’s Capitol Park in the spring.

Other big closings and shuffles: Coach Insignia in the GM Ren Cen closed in February. Park Bar sold to Cliff Bell’s owners, and will close temporarily next month. La Dulce moved from Royal Oak to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Downtown Detroit in July, and closed about four months later. Jolly Pumpkin opened where Vinotecca and Bastone were in downtown Royal Oak, moving the latter into a smaller space and closing Vinotecca, which will get a new life in Birmingham in place of Bird & the Bread. Blackfinn in Royal Oak also closed.

Those were some of the big dining stories of 2017. For a look at what to expect from the restaurant scene in 2018, come back Thursday.

Twitter: @melodybaetens