On the corner of Michigan Avenue and Junction Street in Southwest Detroit the former Zorba's Coney Island sits vacant. Though its sign still promises "breakfast anytime" and hand-written notes on yellow paper say "closed for vacation," Zorba's won't be reopening. However, the empty restaurant isn't doomed to become another blighted building on a block in Southwest. Norberto Garita, owner of neighboring El Barzon, and his son Bertin Garita have big plans for the space.
Zorba's Coney Island, at 5517 Michigan Ave., is destined for reincarnation as a fast-casual fusion restaurant similar to the Italian-Mexican cuisine at the more upscale El Barzon. The restaurant, named La Noria (which translates to "water wheel"), will offer quick service and a lower price point with wood-fire oven pizzas, tacos, tortas, and more. "We want it to be not as pricey but the same quality of food," says Bertin.
Norberto, who opened his first restaurant in 2007, says he decided to open a second restaurant because he wanted to "work a little more on the area and on the community," he says. Norberto hopes opening La Noria will enliven his corner of Southwest and entice more customers to both restaurants, because "when people come to my place, they'll see more people around."
While he's still in the process of planning the restaurant, Norberto's son Bertin says they've begun gutting the interior. "We knocked everything in the inside out," he says.
On the outside of the restaurant, the owners are planning to update the façade with red brick and replace the windows. Perhaps by opening day or within the next year, they hope to create an outdoor patio space in the neighboring parking lot with a small garden and an arched wall.
Inside, the restaurant will have booth seating along the walls with tables and chairs arranged in the center. The restaurant will have a full bar. Norberto is ordering the wood-burning oven from Italy. He conservatively estimates that La Noria will open in mid-summer, but says it could also be as late as November before locals get a taste.
Even with 25 years of restaurant experience under his belt, Norberto acknowledges that opening a restaurant is still tricky business. However, he hopes this time around will be easier. "I feel a little more comfortable going into the second one," he says.
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