Bucharest move ‘just business,’ owner says

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

When news broke last week that the much-loved Bucharest Grill has to leave its original Detroit location at the Park Bar and move, the online universe erupted in outrage.

“We’ve been getting a lot of hate mail,” said Jerry Belanger, who owns the Park Bar and its building, “all revolving around the idea that I’m the big man and I’m throwing the little guy out of downtown.”

Belanger and Bucharest’s founder and owner Bogdan Tarasov, who’ve shared space since 2006, seemed taken aback at how quickly the story morphed into a good-guy, bad-guy narrative.

“I want people to understand Jerry isn’t taking my stuff and throwing it out on the street,” Tarasov said Monday, adding that he was told several months ago that he wouldn’t be able to renew a lease.

“I love the Park Bar. I had a great success over there, but they think without us it’s going to be better. There’s no reason for people to be mad at Jerry,” he added. “I’m not going to say I like it, but it was just a business decision.”

In an unusual symbiosis, since 2006, the Bucharest has rented the Park Bar’s kitchen for its Middle Eastern take-out business. While the Bucharest has no designated seating of its own, diners willing to order a bar drink can walk into the Park and eat their shawarma and Romanian sausage there.

But over the course of the nine years, Belanger said, the Bucharest’s business exploded, outgrowing the space and crowding out regular Park Bar customers.

“People tell me all the time they don’t come to my bar anymore because they can’t get in,” he said, noting that on occasion the take-out line for the Bucharest fills up the bar itself or snakes around the corner on the sidewalk.

“We finally said ‘This is too much for us,’ ” Belanger said. “We’d run better and healthier if there was less volume, even though that’s counterintuive.”

The Bucharest, which also has locations in Corktown and the New Center, will relocate to 2690 E. Jefferson, taking over part of what used to be Lucky’s Pub and Grille. The new space, which Tarasov says he hopes to be in by the end of February, will have 3,500 square feet of space and seat 75 diners.

Unlike the Park Bar, however, it will not have a liquor license.

Tarasov emphasizes that they’re just moving to the east side of downtown.

“When you say ‘Jefferson,’ some people think it’s all the way to Grosse Pointe,” he said. “But it’s just east of Ren Cen. It’s near the RiverWalk.”

While the new location won’t work for the Tigers fans who used to beseige the Bucharest before a game, Tarasov notes there is an upside. The new space is in a strip mall, so unlike downtown, there’s ample parking.

For his part, Belanger’s working up a whole new cuisine for the Park, though he’s not sure when the new venture will launch.

“We’re going to do Hawaiian local food,” he said, which he defines as an eclectic blend of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and American cuisines that has little to do with your typical luau.

“It’s a cuisine that stems from 400 years as the crossroads of the south Pacific,” Belanger said.