Justin Vaiciunas has stepped down as executive chef at Crowne Plaza where he helped open Top of the Pontch and Jefferson House. Chef Brandon Schatko is now leading the Crowne Plaza in a major reshuffle of its service — including shuttering the floundering Jefferson House and expanding into breakfast, lunch, and dinner service at the Pontch.
Sales at both restaurants had fallen drastically over the past year, Schatko explains; however, the hotel still saw potential to rescue its high-rise restaurant the Pontch. "We felt it was very important to save it and maybe the problem was that it's not approachable," he says of the Pontch's fine dining menu. The new menu, gradually introduced this week, is meant to inspire broader appeal at a more reasonable price. "Everyone can come and enjoy a good meal and still enjoy the great views that we have," Shatko adds. The Crowne was able to transfer most employees from the Jefferson House. The restaurant hosted its final service on Wednesday, although the Urban Cellars bar continues to serve a limited menu.
For his part, Vaiciunas is moving forward with expansion plans at his fast-casual concept Brera Pizza & Salad Co. He and Brera partner Michael Jaafar are in the process of working out a lease agreement with Bedrock Real Estate for a downtown Detroit location. The chef also confirms a report by Downtown Publications that he's planning to open a new Asian restaurant concept Toshi in Birmingham next to Cosi. "I wanted to get back into restaurants," he says. The restaurant format is inspired by one of Vaiciunas' favorite dining spots in Chicago, Momotaru, and will incorporate Japanese, Korean, and Chinese flavors into the menu.
Vaiciunas will go before the Birmingham City Commission on October 12 for bistro application review. If the plan is approved, Toshi's construction will likely begin in March with the aim of opening by next summer. Check out Top of the Pontch's new menus below: