It's been more than two years since Russell Street Deli's partners Jason Murphy and Ben Hall confirmed plans to bring Lafayette Kitchen and Diner to the former Steak Hut on Lafayette (enough time to make some wonder if the project would ever officially come to fruition). Now, Hall confirms to Eater that they're finally moving forward with renovations at the abandoned restaurant building bordering Corktown and the West Side Industrial neighborhoods. The restaurant will be home to three different concepts: a new American eatery called Lafayette Kitchen and Diner; Baldessari, a pizzeria; and a summertime-only soul food spot dubbed Lil'bruh.
"If you don't have disposable income, it's totally unfair that you can't have that same experience."
Hall acknowledges that the Lafayette project has faced numerous delays. "As soon as we got the building and people found out we got all these crazy, crazy offers [to purchase the property]," Hall recalls. Real estate investors were extremely eager to take the diner building off the partner's hands and were willing to pay nearly twice the original price. It was an enticing prospect, he admits, and one that made the notably cautious entrepreneurs stop and think. Still the pair decided to move forward with designs and liquor licensing, a process that took nearly a year. Then the architect fell through. However, as of November, initial licenses were approved by the city allowing construction to finally begin on Lafayette.
Like its predecessor Russell Street, Lafayette's menu will utilize a large amount of local produce and feature plenty of vegan and gluten free options. The idea of a prix fixe menu has also been "tossed around." On the beverage end, Andrew Mehall is designing a reasonably priced session cocktail program. The goal is to create an affordable dining experience where "someone can eat there once or twice a week and not get crushed," Hall says, noting that the city's high poverty rate puts many new dining experiences out of reach for Detroiters. "If you don't have disposable income, it's totally unfair that you can't have that same experience."
The owners also plan to continue their tradition of paying staff above Michigan's tipped minimum wage. Hall, who is an active member of the organization Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment (RAISE), says it's important for him as a business owner ensure that his staff members are receiving fair compensation. The average Russell Street employee currently makes about $16 per hour. Hall and Murphy aim to open Lafayette Kitchen and Diner by June, with Baldessari and Lil'bruh to follow.
The Lafayette Kitchen and Diner projects aren't the only dining concepts headed for West Lafayette Boulevard. Just a stone's throw from the old Steak Hut, Slow's founder Phil Cooley and Bigalora partner Michael Chetcuti are currently renovating Ladder House No. 12 and have taken the liberty of naming the area SoCo. The unspecified restaurant is estimated to open sometime next summer.