A little over two months after firing up the kitchen for delivery-only service in New Center, Yum Village is now opening up regularly for lunch on Woodward Avenue. The food truck turned brick and mortar restaurant from chef Godwin Ihentuge features a menu of flavorful Afro-Caribbean dishes served in the style of a grain bowl with layers of rice, curry, protein, and vegetables.
Yum Village has been in a state of evolution since, Ihentuge founded the business back in 2012 as an extension of his own catering company. The organization hosted monthly pop-ups with rotating chefs that were designed to help up-and-coming food businesses connect with customers and get feedback through surveys. By 2016, the chef transitioned to a more traditional catering business focused on corporate events while searching for a restaurant space. The following year he started a food truck instead, with the goal of building his reputation while also continuing to search for a home for Yum Village. The food truck became a regular in the mobile restaurant community, appearing at a variety of local events and frequently parking at the West Village summer beer and wine garden.
Ihentuge’s opportunity to grow into a permanent space finally arrived last fall when he leased the short-lived Atomic Chicken restaurant at 6500 Woodward Ave. Using funding from a combination of grants and a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign, the restaurant renovation is now nearly completed.
While the basic layout is nearly identical to Atomic Chicken with the same seating inherited from its predecessor, the Yum Village team has embraced color in the formerly all-white and red fast-casual dining room. Gray walls are accented by stripes of yellow, purple, black, and blue. The space also features new lighting. Ihentuge plans to update the signage soon and add a juice bar to the counter area.
The menu features options like jerk chicken, curry chicken, crisp and juicy suya fried chicken, and vegan akara (black eyed pea fritters). Protein options can also be built into a combo bowl with additions like maafe rice (flavored with West African peanut stew), fried ginger-curry chickpeas, sweet pepper salad, and West African jollof rice with tomato, garlic, and smoked peppers. Ihentuge intends to eventually acquire a liquor license.
Opening a business in the winter in Detroit, is nearly always challenging for new restaurants and perhaps even more so in New Center. Although the area around New Center is increasingly dense with residents and corporate offices, many of the forthcoming businesses on the blocks surrounding Woodward Avenue are still under renovation. “I probably served more people on my food truck when I was open during the food truck days than I’m doing on the days that I’m open here,” Ihentuge admits. Still, he’s optimistic about the area and the restaurant, which is still in its infancy. “As it starts to pick up, it will be different.” Ihentuge says he’s been approaching the opening to the restaurant gradually and trying to learn the natural rhythm of the neighborhood. For now the restaurant is serving food through third-party delivery apps and open on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch.
Although Ihentuge is trying to be conservative with his hours while Yum Village settles into its space, the owner is committed to creating new culinary opportunities for employees. The restaurant a serves as a culinary incubator and currently shares space with a West African restaurant called Culture in a Bowl. Ihentuge also uses a open book management model where employees meet weekly to discuss the economics of the restaurant.
“We’re not really treating this like a normal kitchen,” he says. “We’re actually treating you’re more than a sales position.” Employees at Yum Village receive a standard hourly wage with direct primary care through Plum Health, paid time off, and paid sick leave. After a probation period of three months post-hiring, employees are also eligible not only for their standard hourly wage but also a 20 percent commission for catering business that they bring in, T-shirt sales, and more.
“I believe in economic justice for all,” says Ihentuge, a longtime proponent of eliminating the tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers. “The current reality is that Uber driver or a Lyft driver makes more money than someone who works in a kitchen. If we still want to see kitchens work the way they work right now, than we need to start doing these things because the alternative is this going to be Uber for kitchen staff.”
Photographer Michelle Gerard visited Yum Village on a recent afternoon. Scope out the updated interior at Yum Village and the restaurant’s dishes below.
• Afro-Caribbean Restaurant Dives Into Delivery Ahead of Spring Opening in New Center [ED]
• Afro-Caribbean Restaurant Heads to Former Atomic Chicken Space in New Center [ED]
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