Could Wyandotte be blossoming into metro Detroit’s next dining destination? While communities like Hazel Park have slowly transformed into unexpected restaurant hotspots over the past few years thanks to chefs like James Rigato, more and more the riverfront downtown district in Wyandotte is seeing overflow from Detroit’s food community.
“It seems in the last five years, there's a lot more stuff popping up Downriver,” says Dangerously Delicious Pies owner Sam Wood. Last year, he and co-owner Don Duprie opened the first brick-and-mortar outpost of their longtime Third Street Bar sweet and savory pie pop-up in downtown Wyandotte. Wood, originally from Berkeley, admits that his first thought was to open a shop north of Detroit, in a city like Royal Oak or Ferndale. However, Duprie, an Ecorse native, convinced him otherwise.
The two chose Wyandotte for a variety of reasons, Wood says. Not only did Dangerously Delicious start baking all its pastries in a nearby River Rouge bakery but the Wyandotte location also allowed the restaurant to introduce its recipes to a fresh pool of customers.
Since then, other Detroit restaurants and bakeries have followed Dangerously Delicious Pies to Wyandotte, attracted by the city’s walkable and active downtown district. The area is a hotspot of robust restaurant activity. Right now, Wyandotte has more than 30 independently-owned eateries within a few blocks, and owners and city planners say there’s enough people living there to support more new businesses.
“There are people living here,” says Joseph Gruber, director of the Downtown Development Authority for the City of Wyandotte. “The population of Wyandotte is about 25,000. In downtown Wyandotte residency occupancy rates are anywhere between 96 and 98 percent.”
Wood agrees with that assessment. “Plenty of people looking to eat, [and] have some cool, different options,” he says.
Matthew Buskard, owner of Corktown gastropub Bobcat Bonnie’s, says one of the reasons he opened his second location in Wyandotte was to meet the demand of these hungry residents. “We want to hit areas that are kind of underserved,” Buskard says. “[An area] that isn't already oversaturated by a million other options.”
Buskard originally began looking at locations like Taylor and Woodhaven before being approached by the owners of Bourbon, a bar and grill in downtown Wyandotte. Before long, Buskard struck a deal with the owners to take over the space and retain the existing staff. “It all came together quick,” he explains.
So far, that decision is paying off. Since Bobcat Bonnie’s Wyandotte restaurant opened its doors in February, Buskard says business is booming. “We've definitely had our fair share of kinks we needed to work out,” he says, “but we've been extremely well-received. Better than what we thought.”
Buskard points out that unlike the Corktown location, Wyandotte no longer offers lunch. However, even with fewer hours, on an average night his Downriver location nets the same amount of business as the Corktown restaurant does in a whole day. “We were getting so, so busy at night [that] it was hard to keep up with lunches that weren’t very busy,” he says. Still, Buskard is looking to rework lunch service to better suit the downtown Wyandotte community with faster options for workers on the go.
An outsider might think breaking into Wyandotte’s restaurant scene would be simpler than launching a similar business in Detroit. But owners acknowledge that, at times, the city can be challenging to work with. Buskard says that Bobcat has sometimes struggled with strict business ordinances set by the city.
Under city code, all businesses must submit any anticipated changes in their buildings or structures to the health department or department of engineering and building for approval. This even includes small, cosmetic changes like the color of awnings or even outdoor patio furniture. By comparison, these sorts of restrictions typically only come into play in Detroit’s historical areas.
Michele Bezue, owner of the Detroit Marshmallow Co. and Michele Bezue Confections, says she has experienced some of the same strict regulations as she prepares to open her new location next to Bobcat Bonnie’s on Biddle Avenue this summer.
Bezue moved her business from Grosse Pointe Park to Wyandotte after the original location’s building was sold. “Wyandotte has much more stringent and strict permitting” compared to her previous location, says Bezue. “My first shop was in Detroit and my second shop was in Grosse Pointe Park, they just let me do whatever I wanted,” she says with a laugh. Even so, Bezue respects the restrictions. “I feel like it's ultimately probably a really good thing.”
Although some might look at the changing landscape of Wyandotte with trepidation, other long-term business owners see opportunities with each new business.
“It's kind of a small town inside of a big town,” says Courtnay Rusu. Rusu owns RP McMurphy’s, which opened in 1979. He says that the business community is very much the same. “Everybody knows everybody and, obviously, as more people come in that changes a little bit, but it's a very tight-knit group,” he says.
Even in this small community, longtime business owners like Rusu are cautiously optimistic about the new restaurants and bars opening in the area. “Competition always checks you a little bit, but to me, it's healthy,” says Rusu. “It doesn't let us get stagnant. But, at the same time, it shows that downtown Wyandotte is viable. It does nothing but bring more people in.”
It’s hard not to see some potential growing pains arising down the road from increased competition. Still, Gruber isn’t concerned about Wyandotte becoming oversaturated with dining options yet.
“I think if you look at all inner ring suburbs in the region,” he says, “places like Ferndale, Royal Oak, Wyandotte, we're in a really great position to both contribute to and benefit from this critical mass that Detroit is reaching.”
Lexi Trimpe is Web Editor for Hour Media and contributor to Eater Detroit and Thrillist.
Editors: Brenna Houck