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Community rallies to help Katoi employees after fire

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Social media made it possible for members of Metro Detroit’s restaurant community to act quickly to show support for the owners and employees of popular Corktown restaurant Katoi after it was ravaged in a fire early Friday morning.

A fundraising event held Saturday afternoon at MotorCity Wine, just a few blocks from Katoi was well-attended in spite of being organized at the last minute. The event collected donations and the bar also contributed a percentage of sales. In all, nearly $3,000 was raised for employees of Katoi who have found themselves without a job.

“It was a huge lovefest for Katoi,” said MotorCity Wine owner David Armin-Parcells. “People love to party for a cause.”

A second fundraiser is being held Wednesday at Atwater Brewery, 237 Jos Campau in Detroit. The event, 5-9:30 p.m., will include a 50/50 raffle and silent auction. Some proceeds will benefit Nemo’s in Corktown, which was also broken into Friday morning. It’s not clear if the two crimes are related.

Hours after the fire, a GoFundMe page for Katoi’s was launched to raise additional funds for the employees. One thousand dollars was collected within the first hour, and the donations reached $8,000 by Monday afternoon.

Dozens of owners, managers and chefs at Metro Detroit restaurants posted to Facebook Friday offering to employ those in the Katoi family who are jobless while the eatery rebuilds.

Sean Force, executive chef at Ocean Prime in Troy offered a front- or back-of-house position to anyone who needs it. He says so far no one has taken him up on the offer which he thinks could be a good sign.

“No one has reached out yet, which I hope is a good thing and everyone found something,” he said.

“What happened at Katoi was devastating. It wasn’t just a job; it wasn’t just an investment. It was hours of passion, sore knees, burned arms, missed events.”

“The restaurant in our city with probably the brightest future had their world ripped from them,” Force said. “I had to do something and that was the first thing that came immediately to mind, put your hand out.”

Wednesday the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards named Katoi and other Metro Detroit restaurants as semifinalists for the prestigious honor. Katoi was the only Michigan restaurant chosen for the semifinal list of Best New Restaurants.

The James Beard Foundation will narrow the list down to finalists next month. Katoi’s temporary closure will not negatively affect their standing, according to a representative for the foundation.

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens