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Will Food Save Detroit? I Think It Just Might

Meet Godwin Ihentuge, one of the faces of the new Detroit

abandoned buidlings like the former Central Train Station, while hauntingly beautiful, are a reminder that there is still much work to do

When I say Detroit, what comes to mind? Do you think of the abandoned buildings that abound in the city? Do you think of the fact that the population has dwindled from over 2 million down to 700,000? Maybe you think about the dying auto industry, the lost jobs, the bankrupt, failed pillar of the American Dream.

Well, those things might be true, to an extent, but to write Detroit off is short sighted. I just spent a weekend in downtown Detroit and the city that I experienced is full of energy, hope and, most importantly to me, really great food. I did not consume one morsel of food that did not wow me. Every restaurant that I set foot in was beautifully designed, bright and airy and staffed with knowledgable, excited young locals who are so happy that you are there that they bend over backwards to show you the Detroit that they are building. These people are innovative, energized and committed and are making something big out of next to nothing.

One of those people is Godwin Ihentuge, but before I can talk about Godwin, I have to tell you about Nathan.

Shepard Fairey has helped transform the alleyway behind the gallery into an outdoor gallery space

We arrived in Detroit on a cold, windy, rain soaked Saturday afternoon. The minute we dropped our bags off at The Hilton Doubletree, we had the hotel shuttle take us straight to the Library Street Collective to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit. Because Fairey also painted up a storm in the alley (along with work from other artists- the alley is gorgeous), we wandered around the building, in the rain, and then, on the recommendation of the ever helpful gallery maven, Angela, we ran over to Wright & Co for a drink and something to eat (more about that restaurant later). After a pleasant hour spent sipping rose, snacking on burrata and tuna tartare, we thought we would just go outside and flag a cab, as you do in any big city, and continue on to the next restaurant on my list.

toasting the start of a remarkable weekend at Wright & Co

Lesson #1:
Cabs are not plentiful in Detroit, don't plan on flagging one and Uber doesn't work with foreign credit cards (you have to set up paypal which you can't do through the app on the fly, as it happens) so if you are not American, get that sorted beforehand. We had to brave the rain once again and walked until we hit a hotel, thinking, again wrongly, that like any other big city, cabs would be waiting by the curb in front of the Westin. Although there was an abundance of door men lingering outside of the beautiful front doors, there was not one taxi waiting curbside so when Shack finally saw a yellow taxi cruising by, he ran out and waved at it wildly and the cab did a U turn and came to get us.

Serendipity sent this cab driver to us. Nathan Liverman was personable and chatty and asked where we were from, was this our first visit to Detroit, etc. When I told him that we were there so that I could write about the emerging food scene in the city, he lit up! He told us a bit about Bamboo City,  a group he is involved in that supports and encourages young Detroitonians (does that sound right?) to become entrepreneurs. Bamboo Detroit is expanding to the Julian C Madison building and will offer about 70,000 square feet of space of entreprenurial buzz. There will be pop up space, a free resource library, 10,000 square feet of co working space, event space, a light manufacturing facility as well as retail and restaurant space. Formed in 2013 by a team of four Detroit businessmen, this amazing place gives its members 24/7 access to shared office space, conference rooms, wi-fi, a mailing address, etc and, most importantly, a huge community of support. Nathan, it turns out,  has a management company called LIVEtown Music, thanks to Bamboo Detroit.

He drops us off at the Seldon Standard, wishes us a wonderful visit and we think that we have seen the last of him but, sadly, we could not get a seat and had to venture out in search of another place to go. After a disastrous couple of hours wandering Midtown in the rain, dropping my camera in a puddle and ending up at a collegiate style brew pub that was packed and totally not what we needed, I called him (he gave me his card, right??) to see if he can come rescue us. He is about 15 minutes away, so, because we are idiots, we tell him that we will just call a cab instead and ask the manager of the brewpub to do that. It was 20 minutes later, still cabless, that we realized this was a huge mistake but that tale is for another story and another day.

Fast forward to the following morning and we are buying tons of beautiful, cloth bound, hardcover note books from the Shinola store in midtown. Shack gets a call and hands me the phone, shrugging and saying that someone wants to talk to me. It's a local number and I do have a couple of friends and a cousin in the area so I take the phone. Godwin Ihentuge is on the other end and he wants to invite me to come to a place called Yemans Street to meet him as well as the owner of the place and a chef who cooks brunch there every Sunday. Nathan has contacted Godwin and told him about the lady from Toronto who is writing about the food scene and was sad that she couldn't connect with anyone in the pop up restaurant world and Godwin, as it happens, is from the pop up world.

Is it wise to drive to a neighbourhood you have never been to, in a city that still has some very dangerous neighbourhoods and meet some guy with a name you can't pronounce just because he has dangled a pop up chef and some brunch in front of your nose?
Probably not, but that is exactly what we did.

Yemans Street is a permanent pop up hosting spot that opened in September of 2014 by husband and wife team, Matt and Corrie Tinker. This place is so new that I had to spend a day getting Zomato to add it to it's data base.

 If you know Detroit, it's across the street from the iconic Polish Village Cafe and apart from a little chalkboard signboard out front, you might walk right by it but once you open the door, you are immediately wowed by the bright, airy space that can easily sit about 60 people. From Thursday to Saturday they offer a revolving door of chefs, from Detroit and beyond,  cooking dinners that require pre-booking by patrons and on Sunday, they are open for walk in  brunch. At this time, the regular brunch chef is Jeremy Kalmus. He and Godwin had just pulled off a HUGE pop up for over 600 on the previous Friday. It's a small that menu changes weekly, depending on what he finds at the market and what he feels like cooking. The idea for the Korean Schmear Lox and Bagel that I am served came to owner, Matt, in a dream and is a one off menu item. Who knows what his dreams will tell him to serve next Sunday?

Tater tots, cheese sauce, fresh salsa, scallion, scrambled eggs, avocado and lime crema for $10

Poppy seed bagel, wasabit cream cheese, smoked salmon, kimchi, capers, pickled red onion for $13 

owners, Corrie and Matt Tinker and Chef Jeremy Kalmus

So, back to Godwin. After attempting to chef his own pop ups, he realized that he was spending 80% of his energy on trying to get something off the ground and arranging the business end and about 20% of his energy on the actual food. This gave him an idea..... what chefs really need is an agent. In a city like Detroit where too many talented young people don't have the means to open up a brick and mortar restaurant or a food truck, the pop up restaurant has become huge but the logistics can be daunting. This is where Godwin and his company, Yum Village, comes in.

Yum village will do all of the business of the pop up for the chef. The find the right venue, take care of all of the needed permits and insurance, source everything that is needed for the event and arrange all rentals of said stuff, figure out the kitchen set up and, most importantly, market and promote the event. At that point, all the featured chef has to worry about is the food.



The night before I arrived in Detroit, Godwin, along with Chef Kalmus, hosted a sold out event for 650 people at the Eastern Market. He is calling this event PNO, or Professionals Night Out and it provided an opportunity for Detroit's entrepreneurs (this word is very important in Detroit), professionals, foodies and creative people to network over a great meal, drinks and an afterparty. Godwin's dream is to expand PNO until it becomes a semi annual event that is held, simultaneously, in multiple cities across the country. Sadly, I tried to get tickets before I left but it was already sold out and I had not yet met Godwin but I will absolutely make my way to Detroit for the next one.

After spending just under 48 hours in Detroit, I am just as excited as these good people are about the future of the city and if it's food scene is any indication, they way back to Detroit's heart is going to be brought through it's stomach.

If you are planning to go to Detroit, I cannot recommend Nathan highly enough:

  1. (DTW) Airport Pickup/Drop off-- (1-2 people, $55) (3 people, $65) (4-6 people $75) *This is not priced per person.
  2. Canada Pickup/Drop off-- (1-2 people $60) (3 people $70) (4-6 people $80) *This is not priced per person.
  3. For hire service rate per hour is $45.00.  
  4. City Tours--  (2 hours) Adults $59, Seniors/Students $49, 17 & Under $20 ( include complimentary Downtown pick-up and return).
  5. Payment methods include cash, credit/debit cards, and bitcoin. 

Yemans Street

Yum Village

Book a Ride with Nathan

PNO Detroit

Bamboo Detroit

The Library Street Collective Gallery


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