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Goldfinch American: Detroit's New Villain?

Revolver Hamtramck.
Revolver Hamtramck.
Photo: Chris and Michelle Gerard

It seems that the Metro Times has a bit of a beef with Tunde Wey's new restaurant concept Goldfinch American, according to their provocative article "How Goldfinch American capitalizes on Detroit poverty". Wey, who is a co-owner and founder of the successful concept restaurant Revolver in Hamtramck, is making waves, and apparently enemies, with his newest plan to bring fine dining to Southwest Detroit.

The Metro Times article explores the apparent tension between Wey and others in Southwest Detroit, where he currently lives. The cover illustration, a snooty white waiter with a bow tie revealing a crumbling city on a silver platter, makes the tone of the article very clear: Wey is definitely not the good guy. According to the article, the tension comes from the price of the dinners, and from a quote about said tension, visible on Goldfinch American's website.

First, just how expensive is the food? Dinners were originally offered at $11 per course, up to 11 courses total, bringing the meal to over $100 per person. This could cost even more if wine pairings were included, as reported in the Metro Times article. In reviewing the website, the concept has shifted a bit, as the menu is currently set at 11 courses (no more, no less) for $145 per person, plus $50 extra for wine, which includes gratuity.

An everyday meal? Absolutely not, but in the day of one-night-only super chef pop-ups, the truly extravagant number seems to be the quantity of courses, not the price tag. Similarly priced pop-ups usually end after course six or seven, and a dinner at Roast or another top-notch Downtown restaurant can easily approach the same price per person, or far more depending on what's chosen from the wine list.

All the same, that is by no means a normal price point for Southwest Detroit, and that's part of the draw for Wey, according to a conversation he had with Eater before launching the venture.

"In Wey's mind, Southwest represents the best of Detroit: it has a higher population density, it's blue collar, it's full of unbroken chains of storefronts (much like Hamtramck, where Revolver is located), and there's a tension between new and old that he finds compelling. Goldfinch American fits firmly into the "new" category, but tension is an idea that comes up repeatedly in it's concept, juxtaposing finer dining with a working class neighborhood and using classic cooking techniques in new and innovative ways."

But that tension has taken a somewhat ugly turn. Neighbors spoke to the Metro Times with concern, noting that they felt worried the restaurant would "push people out" and that Wey "crossed the line" in his apparent depictions of the neighborhood as poor and dirty, with its fair share of ruin porn.

"'Are we porn?' asked Rashida Tlaib, state house member for the district that includes southwest Detroit, where she has been a resident for more than 30 years. 'If my residents feel disrespected — even one — we have some issue.' She was careful, though, to caution that people might also simply be afraid of change. She noted when food trucks came to southwest Detroit, business owners were similarly worried about the character of the neighborhood."

Fear of change is not just a Southwest concern, it's a Detroit concern period, and it's not without merit. The potential for positive change versus the damaging effects of gentrification is a hot topic in the city and the suburbs, and everyone has an opinion. These conversations can become heated, and anyone who pays attention to the news is aware that a step forward to some feels like a giant step back to others.

The polarizing website quote itself, which comes from Wey's friend Cary Brainard, addresses those concerns, and the potential impact of the site's tone. The quote is Brainard's response to Wey's website for Goldfinch, which Wey asked him to review. It acknowledging head-on that controversy was imminent, and that some might find it offensive (the quote appears here unedited, see the Metro Times' edited quote here, fourth paragraph):

"Your Goldfinch restaurant concept is food porn meets ruin porn. It's like the Victor's Village in District 12. The draw is great food in a gritty building in a decrepit area surrounded by pigeons and poor dirty children? It's a post-apocalyptic paradise. If it were a movie you'd be the bad guy. If it were a book you'd be the warning tale of the treachery of the rich when the dregs of society become an inconvenience to them. You are the realization of restaurant gentrification. Is that what you are shooting for?"

Is that what Wey is shooting for? He says no, noting in the Metro Times article that the money from his dinners is being spent (by him) back in the neighborhood, and mentioning that he himself couldn't afford to eat the dinners he's providing, and that while he's sorry to offend, he believes he's truthful nonetheless. It's a messy issue, and one that will come up again and again as the city continues to evolve.
· How Goldfinch American capitalizes on Detroit poverty [Metro Times]
· Goldfinch American [Official Site]
· Meet Goldfinch American: Bringing Modern Dining To Southwest Detroit [-ED-]