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Rubin: There’s no wait a few yards from Shake Shack

At Woodward Coney, you can find omelets, Greek salads, gyros and — best of all — time

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The line outside Shake Shack was more than an hour long at lunchtime Friday. Forty yards from the front of it, Mike Boussi could have fed the last guy two or three times before he reached the door.

Boussi owns Woodward Coney Restaurant, which is not the next big thing. You want a burger, a Greek salad or a fajita wrap, quick and friendly?

Woodward Coney is that thing. The dependable thing. The thing that’s been around for seven low-key years, since Boussi took a chance on a space where someone else had given up.

“I hear they’re nice people,” Boussi said of his new neighbors, but he hasn’t had a chance to say hello yet. The crowds, the television cameras ... Introductions will have to wait. Besides, he’s busy, too.

“People walk in, you’ve got to be taking their orders,” he said.

“They work for the city, for a bank, they have half an hour,” he said.

“In and out,” he said, which is another chain entirely, and maybe In-N-Out will come here, too.

New York-based Shake Shack, doing business since Thursday in the First National Building, is the latest high-profile, high-impact national name to alight in suddenly desirable Detroit.

Woodward Coney, doing business since before Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans began the hip-young-professionals stampede, is the only place within easy eyeshot serving 15 different omelets and a Double Dog Combo.

It’s sandwiched between Bangkok Crossing and the Grand Trunk Pub, a short stroll north of Townhouse Detroit, another very cool place you don’t go for lunch if you’re in a hurry.

“You go to Townhouse, that’s expensive,” said Dave Hoffman, an architect from St. Clair Shores. He was eating two sunny-side-up eggs and toast, $4.99, in a booth across from another architect working on a $7.55 corned beef skillet.

A waitress, not theirs, saw them from across the restaurant — which is to say, about 15 feet away — and called out, “How you guys been? I haven’t seen you for a minute.”

Boussi greeted regulars as they made their way to familiar tables or a seat at the counter. That gentleman likes the chicken fattoush, he said. That lady usually has the Woodward Melt pita.

He’s 45, a father of three from Dearborn Heights by way of Lebanon who’s building a business he says he hopes his children will be too educated and ambitious to take over.

“You’ve got to spend more time on your business than your family,” he said, and he shrugged apologetically. It’s 6 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, with Sunday for the kids.

He came to Detroit in 1996 because his family was here and came to the restaurant trade because that’s also where his family was. Late last decade, he heard Quicken Loans was moving downtown and he got here first, to a storefront where people have been buying their lunch for more than 70 years.

The more places to eat, he said, the better it is for everyone.

“People are going to try everything,” he explained. Walk past his white and dark red tile facade on the way to Shake Shack and you might remember it the next time you want a bowl of chili or don’t want to stand in line.

Mike Roehrig of Clinton Township, the 58-year-old controller for a commercial construction company, was sitting by himself with a copy of The Detroit News.

“I want to try that place,” he said, nodding toward Shake Shack, “but not yet.”

Then lunch arrived: cheeseburger and fries, $7.75, five minutes from taking his seat to reaching for the salt.

The next half hour was his.