Generous, prolific restaurateur and chef Matt Prentice dies at 62
Longtime Metro Detroit chef and restaurateur Matt Prentice has died at age 62 after an illness.
Prentice was the culinary force behind many successful and popular Metro Detroit restaurants of the past three decades including Morels, Shiraz, Detroit Prime and Coach Insignia. He was also known for his philanthropical efforts, particularly his work with Cass Community Social Services.
His most recent venture was Three Cats restaurant in Clawson, a partnership with Leon & Lulu retail shop owners Mary Liz Curtin and Stephen Scannell that he debuted in 2019. There, he navigated the pandemic that decimated the restaurant industry in 2020 by offering meal bundles at affordable prices and carryout holiday dinners.
“There is an enormous empty spot at Three Cats,” said Mary Liz Curtin in a statement that broke the news of his death, the result of a brief, non-COVID-related illness Thursday morning. “Matt was a big man with an enormous heart, a loud laugh and a generous spirit. He was a wonderful teacher, a great mentor and an unbelievable cook. All of us at Three Cats thank him and are proud to be a Matt Prentice restaurant. We will always serve his favorite recipes and there will always be mushrooms on the menu."
Prentice's career started in the early 1980s with the first of his Deli Unique concepts, which eventually grew to multiple locations. He was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in New York when his father fell ill and Prentice had to return home. That's when he bought the Oak Park deli, threw his last $200 in the till and from there built an empire that stretched to the top of the Renaissance Center.
At one point in the late 1990s, the prolific restaurateur had more than a dozen Metro Detroit businesses under his belt – including delis, cafes, seafood spots, bistros and a bakery, all employing around 1,000 people – and was planning for more, mostly in Oakland County.
His many concepts kept Metro Detroit’s diners happy – and kept the city’s food writers and restaurant reporters busy – throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He catered major events for VIPs, including NBA star Grant Hill's 300-person wedding.
Prentice was known for his velvety mushroom bisque, artful deli sandwiches and well-plated American cuisine, but also for his giving nature.
In 1998, the opening night of his first business in Detroit proper, the Ron Rea-designed Duet Restaurant (located next to Orchestra hall), raised $21,000 to help send members of the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts to New York City so they could perform at Carnegie Hall.
Decades later, a preview of Three Cats in 2019 served as a fundraiser for Cass Community Social Services, offering a first look at the menu for $150 per ticket, 100% of which went to the Detroit-based nonprofit. At CCSS, Prentice worked with the Rev. Faith Fowler to create a kitchen there that serves more than 700,000 meals per year.
"Matt taught our staff to cook from scratch. He taught me how to recognize hospitality and practice generosity,” says Fowler. "We are heartbroken by this news and we will always be grateful to Matt for his friendship and talents.”
When Prentice ran Coach Insignia at the top of the RenCen, he opened up the sky-high restaurant to Cass Community Social Services for strolling dinner and fundraiser on the most sought-after evenings of the year, the night of the Detroit fireworks display.
Though he ran many restaurants at once and was a local media darling, friends say Prentice didn’t put himself on too high of a shelf, especially with his employees.
“Matt was always available to me whenever I needed something,” said James Beard-nominated chef James Rigato of award-winning Hazel Park restaurant Mabel Gray. Rigato worked under Prentice in the 2000s at Morels and Shiraz. “He provided me with such great stories, and he was always a joy to work with. We became good friends over the years and I so appreciated his help.”
Chefs Drew Cayuela and Alex Matoin will take over for Prentice at Three Cats.
Donations in his memory may be made to Cass Community Social Services.
Detroit News staff writer Neal Rubin contributed