Co-owners of Hamtramck's new concept restaurant (revolver), Michigan native Peter Dalinowski and Nigerian immigrant Tunde Wey, are good friends with big plans for their restaurant, a love of Detroit, and the energy and passion to make great things happen. Eater recently spoke with the restauranteurs about Revolver's opening weekend, the importance of food, Revolver's future, and who really has the best coney in the city.
What was the biggest surprise of your opening weekend?
Tunde Wey: The ground caught fire.
Peter Dalinowski: We had a gas line that wouldn't reach past the stove, it wasn't long enough and we thought it would be okay?(laughs)
PD: We underestimated the amount of time everything would take. We spent all day every day just trying to find things. We went to get tables from this restaurant auction, and they were particle board with plastic veneer from a Coney Island. I was putting them in the truck and I realized, we can't even do anything with this! So I decided to build tables like they have at Amazon. The table tops are solid core doors, and they're heavy as hell.
TW: We were painting two or three hours before opening. Peter didn't sleep for 36 hours; he finished the tables at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. The crazy thing was just realizing how we balance ourselves out. Peter has super powers; his attention to detail is amazing. People like me, I think "oh, it's just about the experience!" but little things make the experience. We're not where we want to be yet, but I'm recognizing that I need to pay more attention to details, or have Peter around all the time!
PD: Tunde and I are very complimentary. Our abilities and what we're good at fit like puzzle pieces. Revolver is a work in progress, we didn't want it to be "done" on the first day. We have a vision for the future, and every time you come you'll see a new awesome thing. We're okay with imperfections; it was a carryout place for 20 years! I think you can have a dream, and if you have a way to start small and build up, that makes more sense. Why do you have to come out of the gate running? It's like life- you don't start as an adult; you just have to grow bit by bit. The first seating on Friday didn't even seem real to me. But the second one, it got dark, it was full of so many friends, it was chill, everything was like clockwork, and it was like "wow, this is amazing"!
What is your most precious food memory?
TW: I grew up well fed. In Nigeria everything was from scratch, we didn't even have a microwave until I was 13. We'd go to Sunday mass, and after church my dad would spend three hours cooking. Then the whole family would sit down, and we'd play little games, hiding food in our pockets. My mom cooked too, and one time, I don't even know if this is true, but it was cold and raining in the afternoon, and we were eating our regular lunch of Gari (ground cassava), beans, fish, and Mom was feeding it to us, maybe I was nine or ten, but she was feeding it to us herself. So I connect food to being with my family and being loved, I guess.
PD: Growing up in my house I didn't know anything about good quality food. But I became best friends with these Jordanian brothers, and I ate at their house all the time. The Mom made amazing spreads, and I couldn't believe what they were eating! I also remember summers in Virginia at my Aunt Goldie's house, it was all Southern food from scratch, like apple turnovers, and biscuits. Everyone gathered around the table to eat and talk about their day, nobody rushed out; it was all done with care. At Revolver we want diners to have an experience. We don't just want people to say, "Oh, they have the best chicken", it's more than that. A lot of restaurants act like they're doing you a favor because they're giving you food and that's it. We want Revolver to feel like a family reunion, or a bunch of friends getting together, which is more than just food; it has all these other elements.
Is there something in the Revolver concept that Detroit in particular needs right now?
TW: We call what we do casual artisanal fare. It's a lot of detail and time, it's handmade, and in that sense it's gourmet. It took the chefs a week of preparation to serve 70-80 people last weekend. But the casual part is being laid back, you don't expect coldness, you expect warmth and embrace, you can be yourself. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think there is a place like that in Detroit. You can bring a first date or a best friend here. We're not casual to where we're sloppy, but not formal to where it's stiff. We didn't invent concepts like community tables, but what separates us is thinking about the balance between great food and great company. It sounds cliché, but we want to pay attention to details and serve great food without the experience being suffocating.
PD: I think it's good socially to bring a lot of people together. It's also a great opportunity for chefs; they don't have to worry about the front of the house. Maybe this is a springboard to owning their own restaurant; maybe this helps them realize they don't want a restaurant. There are a hundred things about Revolver that I think the city needs. Like the business model; right now the only person making out in a traditional restaurant is the owner. We're interested in everyone making enough money and feeling like they're really a part of it. I worked in restaurants for years and never felt like part of something. We are willing to make less so that our employees and chefs can make more. We want every single thing in our business model to make sense.
What do you look for in a Revolver chef?
PD: we ferret out people we think have a similar vision, and look for technical details like being as farm to table as possible, no preservatives, as local as possible. Then for me it comes down to personality. You can tell when you're talking to someone if they want to run the show and be in charge, or if they know it's about everybody. The vision for the food, business model, and relationships are important, if those things work then it's a good relationship. And there are plenty of chefs who see the value and see the potential in Revolver. The American business model irks me-most people don't want to be at their job. It doesn't have to be that way. Any business has the potential to be harmonious and profitable for everybody.
TW: to be honest it's very rare that we find a chef who right away we find that we understand how they feel and they understand how we feel. It's about building relationships. We test them, "Are you a dick?" "Are you efficient?" "Is the food delicious?" "Are you a nice person?" And we mean that sincerely, are you a person who will not scream at other people, can you use your inside voice? We genuinely want to build long-term relationships. And it can only get better. The more people we can work with on a more consistent basis, the better the food and experience will be. We're looking for people who want to grow with us long-term, or not, but at least people who want a relationship.
Now the important question. Lafayette or American?
PD: I have a very strong opinion on this. Seriously. Lafayette all the way. I have opened my mind to American, but the food, the tables, the service; it is not the same thing. I love the subway tiles at Lafayette. And they have the best soda fountain Coke I've ever tasted. The second best is Athens in Royal Oak, my Dad would take me when it was still a dive, before it was all chrome. Their loose burger is amazing, and their fries are the best.
TW: I am indifferent. I was at one, I don't know which one, I tried to pay for my food and I put my card in the ATM and it took my fee but didn't give me money. I was talking to the guy at the counter trying to get my money and then the owner came over and said I was a liar and a thief and I lost my shit, so based on that experience?fuck the Coney! I think it's all this excitement over nothing, like the Super Bowl. It's all contrived.
So how will Revolver develop in the future?
PD: We want it to be a regular lunch spot at some point. We're also going to do Sunday brunches. We never want to be just one thing and one concept.
· Revolver Hamtramck [Official Site]
· All Revolver Coverage [-ED-]