One of Detroit’s most talked about restaurants reopens tonight after a months long hiatus. For those who aren’t familiar, Thai-influence eatery Takoi (previously known as Katoi) was first conceived as a food truck four years ago but made the leap to brick-and-mortar in March 2016. Takoi received accolades from local and national media but was forced to shutter in February just days after receiving a nomination for a James Beard Award, due to a suspected arson.
Over the past week, the restaurant underwent another significant change by shedding its name, after it became the subject of an article published by Metro Times highlighting the restaurant’s then-controversial moniker. While Takoi has been hosting invite-only seatings for the past few days, it officially opens to the public tonight. Below find a quick primer on the resurrected eatery.
On the team: Katoi’s partners including chef Brad Greenhill, Courtney Henriette, and developer Philip Kafka. Around 80 percent of the previous restaurant staff including one-time bar manager Drew Pompa are returning to the restaurant, according to the Detroit Free Press.
On the name change: The ownership issued an apology and change the restaurant’s name from Katoi to Takoi last week after the eatery became the subject of a Metro Times article; the report cited numerous responses from Thai and transgender individuals who felt the restaurant’s use of the word “Katoi” — a varied spelling of the Thai word kathoey that’s sometimes used as a slur towards Thai transgender people — was culturally appropriative and insensitive. The ownership claimed they were not aware of the negative connotations associated with the term. Words above the gender neutral bathrooms have also been changed.
On the food: Katoi’s menu has always taken cues from Northern Thai-flavors with maybe a few Italian influence and American twists thrown in. Diners can expect a similar experience with shared plates when they return. However, patrons should look out for new items too. Katoi will also be offering a more casual menu on the patio offered through a walk-up window located at the edge of the bar.
On the architect: Architect Ishtiaq Rafiuddin is largely responsible for the almost sci-fi look of the original restaurant and returned to help rebuild the Takoi following the fire. Speaking to Eater, Rafiuddin noted that Takoi was his first-ever restaurant design project, something he believes contributed to the look of the interior. “I was approaching the subject of restaurant design from a very unique standpoint which was zero knowledge of restaurant design,” he said, “... so I think that there's a novelty there that just comes from me not knowing and figuring it out.”
On Takoi’s design: Rafiuddin described the layout of the original Katoi with the bar area separating the entrance from the dining room and kitchen as “bookends” meant to integrate the service and back-of-house areas into the communal spaces. He was also thrifty in how he approached using materials. For example the polycarbonate plastic that gave Katoi its Blade Runner-esque, glowing quality served multiple uses: “It's the material finish because it's the finish of the wall; we back light-it so it's also the illumination; and it also separates the spaces.” Many of the new features added to the building after the fire were part of the original designs for an expansion Takoi was already planning.
On the fence: Besides the name change, the new addition that’s perhaps received the greatest mixed response is the 16-foot tall metal fence surrounding Takoi. Some have wondered if the barrier is meant as a measure against more burglaries like the one that cause the fire last winter.
Speaking with Eater, Rafiuddin said that the goal with the fence was to create an enclosure for the outdoor patio and entrance while also removing some of the distractions from Michigan Avenue. It features multiple entrances that can be moved and changed. “The way the enclosure or this architectural screen works is that wherever there's an entrance we've kind of pushed and pulled to create interesting spaces and points of view,” he said. “In many ways we're trying to screen Michigan Avenue because it's a heavy traffic street so we want the majority of it to be a bit further from Michigan Avenue and we're using the screen to create some separation.”
On the patio: Although Takoi did not have an outdoor space originally, it will be returning with a small patio seating area and a bench for customers waiting to be seated inside. Around 14 maple trees have been planted throughout the patio, which Rafiuddin imagines will “grow into this large cloud over the space.” As mentioned previously diners outside will also have access to a separate menu and drinks through a walk-up window outside the bar.
On the shipping container annex: Another new addition folks might notices when upon revisiting Katoi is the new shipping container jutting off the northwest side of the building. The original expansion plans had the container located further towards the back of the building; however, Rafiuddin says that following the break-in that occurred through the container the owners decided it would be “a little safer” to make it more visible from the street.
The container itself is connected to the patio and will feature a similar light-up polycarbonate interior to the bar, seats for 16 diners, and a dedicated space for DJs. Takoi plans to use it as a four-season, indoor-outdoor dining space and possibly as an area for private events.
On the dining room: The original look of the restaurant has been largely preserved in the dining room with the exception of a few minor changes. The restaurant replaced the colorful patterned upholstery on its low booth seating, with more muted black and white patterned fabric by mid-20th Century designer Alexander Girard. Also, Takoi has replaced the individual chairs along the central communal table with long benches (lucky for anyone who ever had to navigate their chair in that cramped space). The restaurant has also replaced the original chef’s counter near the kitchen with more booths and added rectangular “halo” lighting around the overhead skylights.
On the new reservation system: Takoi now exclusively offers reservations in the form of a chef’s tasting. The cost is $65 per person and includes an optional beverage pairing for $35. Tickets are available through Tock.
On what’s next for the Takoi team: In addition to the reopening of Takoi, the team is also planning a new restaurant called Magnet, expected to open in spring 2018. It will be located the former Magnet Radiator Works building off Grand River and West Warren Avenue near Philip Kafka’s True North Quonset hut development.
Takoi is open from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
• Takoi Website [Official]
• Katoi Switches Name to Takoi in Response to Criticism [ED]
• Katoi Sets a Reopening Date And Plans a New Restaurant [ED]
• Firefighters Put Out ‘Suspicious’ Early Morning Blaze at Katoi in Corktown [ED]
• All Takoi Coverage [ED]