The owner of Birmingham’s Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro, Mario Camaj, Tallulah alum Gerti Begaj, longtime Tallulah customer Wendi Farner are behind the project alongside Rocket Fiber co-founder Edi Demaj and Kode Labs co-founder Etrit Demaj. Mario Camaj tells Eater that he and his partners began looking into opening a restaurant in downtown Detroit roughly two years ago and fell in love with the Bedrock-owned Vinton Building that was designed by Albert Kahn. The Besa team struck a deal on a lease roughly a year ago.
Several of Besa’s partners share Albanian heritage and the restaurant name is an important term in Albanian meaning a pledge of honor and also has strong associations with hospitality. “It’s the philosophy that guides us,” Camaj says.
The 5,500-square-foot, 135-seat restaurant is being designed by Detroit-based firm Neumann Smith Architecture and will span two levels of the Vinton. The first floor of the restaurant will feature a bar area with nine stools and five tables facing towards Woodward Avenue. Diners will then walk past a four-seat raw bar serving oysters and crudos to the main dining room, which includes booths, high tops, four-top tables. The ceilings will feature light fixtures designed to look like clouds. The kitchen is located on the lower level alongside a lounge area and 12-seat chefs table and private dining area.
Joining in the Besa project is Kyle Schutte, a veteran chef who most recently a partnered in The Flats in Beverly Hills, California. Schutte, who has worked in kitchens in Virginia, North Carolina, and Los Angeles, says he’s had his eye on Detroit’s food scene for several years and decided to sell the shares in his restaurant and move to Michigan to be part of it. The menu at Besa is relatively wide-ranging with items like green curry soup, Korean braised duck leg, and rice flour-coconut udon with charred squid, squid ink, and black garlic. Schutte says he also plans to highlight Michigan-raised beef, pork, and lamb. Besa will also offer lunch and brunch.
From the bar, look out for cocktails and an extensive 200-bottle-deep wine list developed by sommelier John Cooke. Camaj says it will “try to touch most of the regions of the world” and will feature boutique wines.
Besa is on track to begin friends and family private previews during the week of September 24 with an official opening to follow. Take a peek at the menus below.
Correction, September 5, 4:21 p.m.: The spelling of Wendi Farner’s name has been corrected.