One of Detroit’s best food trucks has found a new, permanent home. Chef Godwin Ihentuge tells Eater that he has signed a lease at the former Atomic Chicken space in New Center with plans to open a fast-casual outpost of his popular Afro-Caribbean restaurant Yum Village in early 2019.
Ihentuge began hosting pop-up dinners under the Yum Village banner in 2013 and introduced his food truck in 2017. Since then, it’s made regular appearances around town at festivals and food truck rallies as well as serving as the more permanent food option at the Villages Biergarten and Dequindre Cut Freight Yard.
Ihentuge has a five year lease agreement at the 6500 Woodward Ave. Yum Village’s brick-and-mortar restaurant will offer an expanded version of the food truck’s menu, which includes items like maafe (spicy peanut and vegetable stew), jerk chicken, curry chicken, and fried chickpeas. Diners can expect additions like fried chicken and brick cake on the menu, as well as a juice and smoothie bar. Ihentuge is also in the process of acquiring a liquor license for the restaurant and intends to serve West African products such as beer and wine.
The 50-seat restaurant will undergo an aesthetic redesign and is expected to reopen in January with special dinners, followed by an official opening in February. Ihentuge says he was approached by the property owner in New Center to takeover the Atomic Chicken space and eventually acquired all of the previous restaurant’s equipment.
“The area is amazing,” Ihentuge says of his decision to open in New Center. “I went to Wayne State University and essentially got my teeth cut in that neighborhood.” The chef says he’s looking forward to being part of the many new developments happening in the area including being close to fellow African restaurant Baobab Fare, set to open early next year. “I think it’d be really cool to have a restaurant that primarily serves African and Caribbean food — with the focus on keeping the prices affordable — in a city that’s primarily Afro-American,” he says.
He’s funding the project through $115,000 in grants acquired through Motor City Match and the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund. Yum Village also received a small grant from Midtown Detroit Inc. for facade improvements. Ihentuge says he plans to use it to strip away the white paint from the exterior brick and create a mural as a backdrop for a future patio. Ihentuge is also starting a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign today that will help Yum Village grow alternative businesses including delivery-only restaurants and retail products. The chef also plans to expand the food truck and catering arm of the business through the storefront.
Ihentuge has been a vocal proponent for raising minimum wages for restaurant workers and plans to continue offering access to higher wages at his restaurant. Yum Village employees will start at $12 an hour with the opportunity to “work that up to a $15 an hour.” Ihentuge also plans to create a profit-sharing format where cooks can create a “chef’s choice” dish for the menu and will receive a percentage commission from the sale of the item. “We’ll definitely be striving to push things like equity-based payment, access to that profit-sharing and things like that for our workers as they grow with us,” he says. Much of his staff from the food truck, but he is currently in the process of interviewing more potential candidates.
Stay tuned for more updates as Yum Villages nears opening day.
• YumVillage Launches West African-Influenced Food Truck [ED]
• All Yum Village Coverage [ED]
• All Coming Attractions Coverage [ED]
• YumVillage Launches Brick and Mortar in New Center Detroit [Kickstarter]