Noteworthy Detroit area restaurant closings of 2020
The year didn't start off great for restaurants, with a small cascade of well-known local businesses closing in January and February. Then the pandemic hit, sending the industry in a tailspin nationwide.
The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association reports that, based on a survey done last month by the National Restaurant Association, 33% of Michigan restaurant owners say it's "unlikely" they'll be able to stay in business during the next six months.
Based on national numbers, the MRLA suspects that around 2,000 bars and restaurants have already closed permanently in 2020 throughout the state.
The true impact of the pandemic and the state-issued orders closing indoor dining rooms will be felt for months. There are handfuls of restaurants that are temporarily closed that found more stability in pausing business altogether rather than just offering carryout or outdoor dining in the middle of winter.
While not all are coronavirus-related, here's a look at some of the most significant restaurant closings in Metro Detroit in the past 12 months.
Bistro 82: Just five days into the new year, news broke that this award-winning, upscale Royal Oak restaurant would close weeks later. The owner, who owns other businesses in the area, said he would instead use it for a private dining space.
Gold Cash Gold: This closure may have been the first of many surprises of 2020. When this chef-driven Corktown restaurant opened about six years ago the city's dining scene was vastly different than when it closed in early February. Co-owner Phillip Cooley cited growing competition as one of the reasons the owners decided to move on. Chef Brendon Edwards later appeared at Craft Work in West Village for a few pop-up brunches after that restaurant closed in March.
Craft Work: The next well-known Detroit restaurant to hang up its apron pre-pandemic was Craft Work in Detroit's West Village. The neighborhood bar and restaurant's managing partner Christian Stachel told The Detroit News there wasn't one major factor to the closing, and described the restaurant landscape as "a challenging time." Metropolitan Bar and Kitchen, a neighborhood market and restaurant, is expected to open in this space in March.
Briggs Detroit: A downtown hangout that was a sports bar with an all-inclusive vibe (they showed drag queen reality shows as well as sports games), Briggs made its exit without much fanfare in 2020. One of the bar's signature events, the Detroit Santa Speedo Run moved to Royal Oak's Pronto this year. Seafood restaurant Sloppy Crab is expected to open in this space, at 519 E. Jefferson, in early 2021.
GreenSpace Cafe: This 100% plant-based restaurant and lounge owned by cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn claimed landlord issues when it shuttered on Feb. 1. It was unique in that it mixed kind of an upscale "date night" vibe with a vegan menu, but was possibly too niche for downtown Ferndale.
Fort Street Galley: Another pre-pandemic closure was the short-lived but ambitious Fort Street Galley. The spacious food hall just steps from Campus Martius in downtown Detroit had a full bar with craft cocktails and four stalls featuring different concepts. These included Filipino restaurant Isla Detroit (still looking for a permanent home) and Michigan & Trumbull, which opened a brick and mortar space in Corktown in January. Owned by a group that has similar concepts in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Fort Street Galley opened in late 2018 and was dark by end of February 2020.
Town Tavern: A reliable, neighborhood staple where you could get classics like an Old Fashioned cocktail and a bowl of pasta any night of the week, Town Tavern closed in the spring partially because of lack of business due to COVID-19. The downtown Royal Oak spot was part of Roberts Restaurant Group, which includes five Oakland County restaurants including Beverly Hills Grill and Cafe ML.
Table No. 2: Chef Omar Mitchell faced issues with his new fine dining restaurant on the Avenue of Fashion with construction in 2019 and a pandemic in 2020. Open just over a year, the tiny restaurant was known for tableside construction of lobster bisque, Caesar salad and bananas Foster. He's nearly fully crowd sourced a GoFundMe to restart Table No. 2 in a new location.
Magnet: The span of time this restaurant was hyped before its opening was longer than the time Magent was actually operational. It had all the elements of a hotly anticipated new restaurant: popular chef (Brad Greenhill from Takoi), a renovated building and a unique business model (no tipping required). Owner Philip Kafka said the model wasn't sustainable, while Greenhill cited COVID-19 as the reason for closing. Kafka told The Detroit News in August that in the future he'll turn the space into a more casual restaurant "inspired by streets of Tel Aviv."
Detroit Institute of Bagels: This popular breakfast and lunch restaurant in Corktown closed and went up for sale over the summer. Owner Ben Newman told me he is confident it will remain a neighborhood bagel shop. So while DIB did close in 2020, there's hope that it will return under new ownership in 2021.
Revolver: This Hamtramck dining space, formerly a Thai restaurant, opened about seven years ago as a platform for chefs of all experience levels to pop-in and cook for one or a series of meals. The seating was communal, the beverage program was BYOB and diners purchased tickets in advance online.
Wolfgang Puck Steak: Internationally known celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck exited MGM Grand Casino in Detroit in 2020 after eight years with the property. The casino replaced it with D. Prime, described as a "modern steakhouse."
Kavans Tavern Burger Bar: This Roseville restaurant was formerly known as Kavan's Colony East, which had other locations around town and dates back to the 1970s with American cuisine like New York strip steak and pot roast. This longstanding restaurant at Hayes and 12 Mile just outside Macomb Community College's Warren campus appears to have closed in 2020. Former owners could not be reached for comment on exactly when or why it closed.
Industry mourns lost figures in 2020, too
Detroit's hospitality industry lost several significant chefs and owners in 2020 as well.
Otus Supply chef Jason Osburn, known in local food and music circles, died unexpectedly in February. In April, COVID-19 took Otis Knapp Lee, 72, who founded Mr. Fofo's Deli in Detroit in 1974 and ran it for 34 years.
Longtime Detroit restaurateur John Lopez, a champion of the Cass Corridor area who had a hand in Midtown restaurants past and present (Union Street, Agave, Twingo's and Atlas Global Bistro), died of unknow causes in May.
Anthony Calabrese, executive chef of Cantoro Italian Market in Plymouth died in November.