When Café Con Leche owner Jordi Carbonell and his wife Melissa Fernandez opened a pop-up in a vacant Lafayette Park storefront two years ago, residents on the East Side began buzzing about the possibility of a second location in their neighborhood. A month later, the pop-up closed shop, but Carbonell was hooked on the idea of a sister location.
Fast forward two years and Detroiters are finally getting their wish. No longer in the voluminous Lafayette Park space, Carbonell, with the help of Urban Detail architect Noah Resnick, has settled into the West Grand Boulevard building in New Center. Across from the Fisher Building and through West Grand's lobby door, one finds the bones of Café Con Leche Nord.
Curbed Detroit's preview of the New Center location last summer featured colorful geometric renderings and views of the cafe. While many of these elements have remained, the design has gone through some refining since those initial conceptions. Carbonell and Resnick have chosen to preserve the lobby entrance, while Spanish touches, like the drop-down ceiling tiles inspired by the Barcelona's street grid, will add accent to a more muted color palette.
Construction began in mid-June. A large L-shaped counter and bar now fills the spacious corner suite. The bar, Carbonell notes, will be finished with reclaimed wood and the sides will be covered with a simple but eye-catching mosaic designed by local artist Itchel Arriga. Windows looking out on West Grand have also been replaced with sliding frames that on warm days will mimic the feel of an open-air bistro.
In designing the space, Carbonell and Resnick kept functionality in mind. For instance, Carbonell saw a need to have a separate space in the café for private meetings. The room will seat between 14 and 18 people and will be available for reservation. The menu will be an expansion of the original, offering more lunch options to serve the needs of businesspeople in the area. In crafting the Latin American and Spanish-inspired options, Carbonell has enlisted the help of Eva Gravillera of Casa de Espana and Bekah Galang.
Since it opened in 2007, Café Con Leche's Southwest location has become a hub for community members to meet and organize. In the same vein, Carbonell hopes to create a similar atmosphere for New Center. He acknowledges that New Center is more commercially oriented than his Mexicantown location. However, Carbonell is confident that a mixture of residents, workers, and students in the area and those that will eventually come to the district via the M-1 rail will create an atmosphere for success. "I'm excited about new potential customers," he says. He's already begun networking with the community, meeting with businesses in the area, and reaching out to other restaurants.
While a firm date is still in the air, Carbonell anticipates that the café will be prepared for a soft opening by mid-October if the necessary permits and inspections can be completed in time.
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