A little more than eight years ago, hardly anyone in Detroit had heard of Bucharest Grill. The Romanian shawarma restaurant was the brainchild of local construction company owner Bogdan Tarasov. At the time, Tarasov says he was simply looking for a place to relax after a long work day, but found options were few in the downtown area. Though Detroit was enduring a prolonged recession, the would-be restauranteur dove into the business headfirst. Over the next several years, Tarasov says he learned a lot about what it takes to run a restaurant. Long hours and careful menu testing (the chicken shawarma recipe took three months to perfect) proved the secret to Bucharest's success. "I expected to put a good product out, but I didn't expect the traffic."
Today, Bucharest is a signature Detroit flavor that's poised for expansion, but quality is still at the top of Tarasov's agenda. From an office in his newly outfitted Abbott Street commissary, Tarasov takes a hands-on approach to the business whether taste-testing garlic sauce or managing the chicken marinade. "I'm really strict. I'm not letting anything go," he says. "That's how you keep the quality."
The original Park Street location now fills approximately 1,000 orders daily made by workers in the downtown area, baseball fans looking for a quick bite near Comerica Park, and the late-night bar crowd. A second location opened last summer in Corktown with a new commissary kitchen just a few blocks away on Abbott Street. Later this year, the company will unveil a Milwaukee Junction restaurant on Piquette Street. Keeping Bucharest inside the city is important to the founder. "If people are coming south to eat in Detroit, we don't have to go to the suburbs. They can keep coming to Detroit and seeing the change."
Tarasov purchased Dave's Drive-in on Piquette at auction in 2011 before the neighborhood was considered a hot investment. While the area seemed "quiet," he liked the building's proximity to downtown and easy access from Woodward. Initially plans called for the property becoming Bucharest's second location; however Tarasov changed his mind due to the slow permitting process and alterations in initial designs (Tarasov wanted to preserve the building). The Piquette site was delayed in favor of opening Michigan Avenue and the Corktown commissary.
"I don't want to lose control over quality."
With its enduring popularity, fans and investors submit requests to Bucharest daily for new locations. Queries have included Chicago, Alabama, and even Pakistan. While Tarasov appreciates the interest, but has yet to seriously consider those offers. The travel logistics don't suit his regimented focus on quality and consistency. "We don't change anything. Everything is the same. The portions are the same since we opened and the quality is the same."
While he's not ready to reveal their next locations quite yet, the owner confirms that at least two Detroit Bucharest satellites are in the works after Milwaukee Junction. "We're going to open one at a time and if it's manageable we'll open another one. If it's not — if you've got a feeling that this is the limit — we'll stop right there," Tarasov says. "We're in the business to make money, but [we] also want to have happy [customers]." Milwaukee Junction doesn't have a scheduled opening date, but the company estimates the restaurant will debut by late summer.