The restaurant group behind Detroit restaurants Takoi and Magnet has dissolved. Chef Brad Greenhill and developer Philip Kafka have ended their partnership under the umbrella group Top Young Hospitality due in part to the economic strains of the pandemic, Greenhill said in an emailed statement. Greenhill will become the sole owner of northern Thai-influence Corktown restaurant Takoi, while Philip Kafka will keep the Magnet space closed indefinitely while he determines a suitable use for the space.
Many restaurants have struggled to keep their footing during the pandemic, but those that served primarily dine-in customers have faced the most challenges under the three-month, partial stay-at-home order in Michigan and the limits to indoor seating capacity during the partial reopening. Chef Greenhill’s management team had attempted to pivot Takoi and Magnet into a carryout model with meal kits, beer, wine, and, as of a few weeks ago, cocktails to-go. Being a less-than-a-year-old establishment in an area of Detroit with less foot traffic and density than the Corktown neighborhood, Magnet faced an uphill battle. At the end of July, the wood-fired, Middle Eastern-influenced restaurant closed its carryout service to “recalibrate and refocus,” according to a message on the website. At the same time, word began to spread that Magnet would likely not reopen.
In addition to closing down Magnet and placing Greenhill in control of Takoi, Top Young Hospitality’s Core City prep kitchen space, the Pantry, has been leased to chefs Jennifer Jackson and Justin Tootla. Jackson will be opening an as-of-yet-unnamed southern-style, all-day cafe in the space. Kafka owns much of the property surrounding the Magnet building.
During their partnership, Greenhill and Kafka developed restaurants that become known for their food as much as its award-winning designs — and, at times, for controversy. Takoi started out as a food truck and later transformed into an award-winning restaurant. However, the same year it was named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award, the Michigan Avenue building was gutted by a fire. Both Takoi — pre-fire and post-fire — as well as Magnet, were designed by the architecture firm Undecorated, which imbued relatively unfussy, industrial garages in Detroit with sci-fi interiors.
In the aftermath the fire at Takoi, the restaurant also faced a reckoning for its previous name — a slur towards Thai transgender people — that made some people in the community uncomfortable. Greenhill and his partners stated that they were not aware of the negative connotations and eventually agreed to change the name to Takoi.
One of the founding partners left the group around the same time at Takoi reopened and Top Young Hospitality was established with a new general manager, Christina Ponsaran, and beverage director, Drew Pompa. Top Young Hospitality opened Magnet with ambitious goals to eliminate tipping, but later adjusted away from a majority salaried staff to a higher hourly wage.
Greenhill tells the Detroit Free Press that Pompa and chef de cuisine Tony Redman will continue to work with him at Takoi. Ponsaran is consulting at both Magnet and Takoi, while figuring out her next move. Takoi is currently operating under a tip-pool system with a starting wage of $9.65 per hour.
Greenhill writes in a statement to Eater that he no longer believes in restaurants groups as a model. “Restaurants should be restaurants, not companies,” he said. The chef plans to continue offering patio seating, carryout, and delivery at Takoi going forward and will open the restaurant for dine-in service at 50 percent capacity beginning on Wednesday, September 16. Customers with gift certificates to Magnet can redeem them at Takoi.
Update: This story was updated with Philip Kafka’s full name. The article was originally published on August 31, 2020.
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