Eastern Market began as a six-day-a-week wholesale market in 1891 that served as a hub where hundreds of Michigan farmers could distribute produce wholesale directly from the farm to restaurants and grocery stores. But when the Detroit Produce Terminal opened in 1929 just a few miles away on West Fort Street, it introduced growers outside of Michigan to the wholesale landscape, creating steep competition with local growers. From the 1950s onward, the demand for a wholesale public market decreased with the growth of large grocery stores and regional distribution centers. And while the city’s Western Market was eventually demolished, Eastern Market adapted.
Today, it represents the largest historic public market district in the United States, serving as a cultural and food hub where roughly 175 vendors gather on Saturdays (and sometimes Tuesdays) to hawk produce, plants, art, and more to upwards of 2 million visitors per year. And that’s just scratching the surface of Eastern Market’s programming, which includes everything from private events to fitness classes.
Eastern Market is also a destination for eating and drinking, with several longtime establishments considered staples of the city, including Bert’s Marketplace, Amore da Roma, and Vivo’s. In recent years, other notable restaurants and bars such as Bunny Bunny, Cøllect, Detroit City Distillery, Eastern Market Brewing Company, and Midnight Temple have seized on the area’s walkability and deep ties to local growers while bringing new perspectives to the district. And while some businesses such as Louisiana Creole Gumbo have been dealing with the threat of being pushed out, developers and restaurateurs are increasingly looking to get in on the action and make Eastern Market not just a lively Saturday activity but a place to live, work, play, and, most importantly, eat all week long. Here are some significant developments in Eastern Market to keep an eye on.
Food Innovation Zone Further North
The Eastern Market Partnership, the organization that runs programming at the market, is looking to expand by 75 acres in what’s referred to as the Food Innovation Zone. It seeks to take ownership of as many as 1,200 residential lots between Mack Avenue and Wilkins Street. According to Eastern Market’s chief executive officer Dan Carmody, the expansion will support existing and relocated food-related businesses and create sites for a new generation of food businesses.
“We had to provide a way to provide new food manufacturing space in a way that doesn’t preclude people from actually having a quality of life in the neighborhood adjacent to it,” says Carmody.
The current plan is to fill the vacant land with spaces where food-based businesses can manufacture and process their products and retail businesses can operate. The buildings will include a home mixed-use development with retail and offices facing Wilkins Street. Along St. Aubin Street, a new greenway and stormwater management system will create a buffer between the Detroit Edison Public School Academy and create a pedestrian route to the school’s new athletic field.
Wolverine Packing Co. was the first business to expand into Eastern Market’s new zone in February 2019. The 180,000-square-foot facility, which became its fifth meat processing plant, was necessary for the company’s growth and to prevent the loss of a major contract. The only other site available for this level of expansion in metro Detroit was by the airport, and the fourth-generation family-owned business didn’t want to seek residence outside the city limits.
Marrow Eastern Market
Ping Ho, owner of Marrow and several other notable Detroit food and beverage operations, plans to expand into Eastern Market with a two-story, 14,000-square-foot restaurant with a rooftop bar and a USDA-inspected meat processing facility at 2442 Riopelle. The two-story building will include a new restaurant with a rooftop bar and a USDA-inspected meat processing facility that will produce a line of Marrow-branded meat and charcuterie products to sell at all the restaurant group’s locations and an on-site retail butcher shop. The project is slated to break ground this fall, with a mid-to-late-2023 opening.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to expand Marrow’s imprint into Eastern Market,” says Ho. “With its rich legacy as a food hub for local processors and vendors, it fits our mission. We’re eager to build and support a robust and sustainable food system in partnership with our farmers.”
Bea’s Detroit, which began as a lemonade stand along the Dequindre Cut and went on to launch an expansive cafe, co-working, and event space — is shuttering in September, with a final blowout on Eastern Market After Dark on September 15. With an increased demand for lemonade and contracts with Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Costco — Bea’s is shifting its focus to supplying a nationally distributed lemonade. According to Bea’s owner Beatrice Wolnerman, a new tenant is planning to take over both floors of the cafe at 1533 Winder Street. Bea’s is currently working to secure a contract with a co-manufacturer for its lemonade production.
Keep Growing Detroit’s Land Purchase
Keep Growing Detroit purchased the 1.3-acre lot in Eastern Market in December 2021, on which it grows crops and runs an urban agriculture program. The farm and food sovereignty organization was founded in 2013 with the mission to serve gardeners and farmers within the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. Through various programs, Keep Growing Detroit has worked towards a vision of the city where the majority of the produce consumed by Detroiters is grown by its residents. are programs that would have been at risk without the land purchase. Securing the land was vital for the urban farm to maintain a permanent home in Eastern Market that would allow the group to build permanent hoop houses and storage buildings on the property as well as continue projects such as the Garden Resource Program and Grown In Detroit.
The Mosaic Food Hall
Detroit-based Ventra LLC and Calgary-based developer Halcor Group expect to begin construction on the Mosaic in late 2022. Plans for remodeling the 104,000-square-foot Detroit Water and Sewerage Department building at the north end of Eastern Market on Riopelle Street include a 25,000-square-foot food hall led by Robert Montwaid, founder and creator of the now-shuttered Gansevoort Market in New York City and Chattahoochee Food Works in Atlanta, is behind the food hall project. The space will also include a 5,000-square-foot rooftop bar and plans to house other creative and entertainment spaces.
One of Detroit’s oldest food businesses — corned beef specialists EW Grobbel, is planning two projects to benefit Eastern Market’s incoming Food Innovation Zone. Grobbel’s Gourmet Fresh Neighborhood Market will occupy the former Eastern Market Seafood address on Market Street. The store will offer a variety of fresh and prepared foods, a deli featuring an expanded lineup of meat products, and a rooftop dining area with a view of the downtown skyline. The market had an estimated timeline of Spring 2022, but construction is still underway.
EW Grobbel also is planning to build a 140,000-square-foot production and distribution center in the Eastern Market expansion area to bolster business and bring in a wide array of new jobs to the district, though there’s no set timeline for the project.
The Indian street food of Midnight Temple is available outdoors throughout the summer, though an indoor space is nearing the finish line. It can be enjoyed while listening to live music and drinking beverages from Eastern Market Brewing Co and Detroit City Distillery. Weather permitting, Midnight Temple serves Wednesday through Sunday. Akash Sudhakara, the owner of Midnight Temple, is hopeful that the approval of licensing for the indoor space, rooftop views, and soon-to-be late-night offerings will be approved by the end of 2022.
The Shed X Project
Eastern Market received $12 million from the State of Michigan’s 2022 budget for facility improvements, and one of the plans the partnership has is the Shed X Project. Shed X will reside in the 100 to 150,000-square-feet of space north of Shed 5. Eastern Market plans to move their wholesale operations into this new area. This will allow for the mandatory updates needed on the older buildings currently being operated out of, which are no longer suitable for use by food processing or food distribution, according to the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by the FDA. Construction for Shed X Project is estimated to begin in late 2023.
Michigan Farm to Freezer
Michigan Farm to Freezer is working through plans for of expansion in Eastern Market. The company is currently in the development stages, but as part of the Shed X Project, the food preservation company is looking to add a canning facility that other food businesses can use. With Michigan’s short growing season, one of the more efficient opportunities is to freeze or can produce with minimal processing. This extends the life of the produce and offers another avenue for farmers to see sales year-round.