Cass Cafe, the stalwart vegan-friendly restaurant and art space that served as a cultural anchor to the Cass Corridor for nearly three decades, will be closing its doors for good on Sunday, July 17.
Manager Meghaen Tebo confirmed with Eater on Thursday afternoon that rumors that began swirling on social media late Wednesday, July 6, about the restaurant’s impending closure are true. Longtime fans of the spot including Joe Rashid shared memories and their reactions to the Midtown mainstay. Tebo says she is unsure of what the future holds for the space, owned by Chuck Roy.
Roy told Eater that once word got out about the fate of Cass Cafe, he’s received an outpouring of support from regulars and former employees alike. He pointed to struggles related to shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic exasperated the struggles he’d been experiencing to keep the restaurant in operation all these years.
“We’ve been struggling for a while. It’s not something that I wanted to do,” said Roy. “I loved everything about the Cass Cafe, except that it was it just was kind of subsidized for a while, you know and the current climate didn’t help.”
Roy opened Cass Cafe in 1993 to serve as a laid back space for community where guests could enjoy a vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu, take in an indie art installation, or converse with academics from nearby Wayne State University at the bar. Roy told Eater that he first got to know the Cass Corridor in 1978 when he attended Wayne State as a football player. He bought the building from a woman on a land contract in the late 1980s and spent the next few years working toward opening the restaurant and gallery space.
In addition to providing an arts venue for the neighborhood, Cass Cafe has experimented in recent years with developing a more inclusive landscape for restaurants and food makers when it served as the headquarters in 2018 as the Dream Cafe, a collaborative effort between the Allied Media Conference and FoodLab Detroit. That days-long event showcased the culinary talents of several food businesses owned by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.
In the early months of the pandemic when indoor dining in Michigan and elsewhere was banned to curb the spread of COVID-19, Roy organized a GoFundMe campaign asking for support so that he could continue to pay the cafe’s team during the lockdown. The fundraiser garnered more than $10,000 in donations.
“It has been a struggle,” Roy said in the GoFundMe campaign when it launched in spring 2020. “It’s very difficult to call 30 staff members and tell them that they’ve temporarily lost their jobs, but it’s a small price to pay because my priority is to keep everyone healthy.”
Cass Cafe is among a number of other other longtime Cass Corridor establishments to shutter in recent, including Union Street, which closed permanently in November 2020, and most recently, Traffic Jam and Snug, which was destroyed by a fire in May.
Roy said that he is keeping his options open regarding the future of the restaurant, saying that if the right investor came to he and his wife with an offer to take over the business and keep it the way it is, that would be perhaps the most ideal scenario that he would consider.
“My wife and I, we’re both artists, and we love art and we love that community, we what was the community, it’s not the same community,” said Roy referring to the many newer establishments that have opened throughout Midtown over the years.
Roy says that he will uphold some commitments he has lined up in September, including opening for Dally in the Alley, which takes place every year the weekend following Labor Day weekend.
Tebo tells Eater that she’s worked at Cass Cafe the past five or so years and says the spot has remained a constant in her life, whether she was working or just hanging out there in her free time.
Thursday afternoon, the cafe’s phone rang consistently with customers calling in to find out whether the rumors about the closure were true.
“This was definitely like a really great spot to come and hang out and hang out with other creative people and so this closure is going be a little sad,” she says.
This is a developing story that will be updated when more information is available.