Orchid Thai — the casual Lower Woodward eatery whose pad thai became a staple of downtown office workers on lunch break — has closed following an 18-year run. Owner Ally Lee confirmed with Eater that the last day of service was Tuesday, February 28, the final day of the restaurant’s lease.
Lee says the closure is bittersweet. While she’s looking forward to a vacation and exploring her options, she says that she will miss the daily routine of seeing longtime customers and supporting her staff — many of whom she says she’s mentored over the years and have gone on to college or to open their own businesses. In the days since the closure was announced, she says she’s heard a flood of words of support from of loyal guests.
“We are very thankful, because we had a very good run, we have customers who have been with us since the beginning,” says Lee. “The last few days here listening to the stories of our customers, the milestones that Orchi Thai had in their lives, it almost seemed like we were kind of a landmark forthe lower Woodward area for a little bit there. So it means a lot to me to get the feedback from the community.”
Lee recalls her early days downtown before launching the restaurant. She was in her 20s and had been hired in her first real job with the city of Detroit. The first thing she noticed at the time, the dining options were abysmal. She wanted to show other Asian American entrepreneurs that downtown was filled with opportunities.
“The reason why I built down here was because I couldn’t find my cuisine,” says Lee. “It would be during lunch and I’m hungry, and I’d be like, I don’t know how many more times I can eat at coney islands and burger joints, and I want my food.”
Over the years, Orchid Thai became a go-to destination for downtown workers and residents, though Lee says that as she’s going through the process of shutting down the business, she can’t help but notice a lack of other Asian dining options in the commercial district. To that end, she has a message to Dan Gilbert, whose Bedrock Detroit is the property management company in charge of the restaurant’s lease: “
“I am very proud of the work that Dan Gilbert has done here in downtown Detroit, I am probably his biggest fan, and I remember meeting him once when we did the Monroe [Blocks project] groundbreaking across the street,” says Lee. “I hope that he continues to do the fabulous work that he’s doing. But I would like to make one suggestion for him, actually a challenge. I would like him to bring more Asian American businesses to downtown Detroit, especially in the Lower Woodward area.”
New GAR Building Steakhouse
The Grand Army of the Republic Building, which formerly housed the Parks & Rec Diner and Republic, has a new owner. West Bloomfield-based real estate investment and management company, Barbat Holdings has acquired the historic property and plans to open a steakhouse and event space later this spring. The 1899-constructed building, which formerly served as a space for Civil War veterans to get together, was immaculately renovated following decades of neglect between 2011 and 2015 by Tom Carleton, David Carleton, and Sean Emery. Republic and Parks & Rec occupied the ground level of the five-story castle but during the pandemic, both spaces sat largely vacant. In 2021, the owners put the property on the market.
According to a February news release announcing the sale, Barbat’s hospitality division, Prime Concepts Detroit, plans to open the steakhouse later this spring that will sprawl throughout the building’s five floors.
New food options coming to Cadillac Square
Development plans for Cadillac Square have been unveiled, and in addition to expanding upon downtown’s residential, parking, and office offerings, the Bedrock-led project will include entertainment and food options. According to a February 22 news release, plans for the 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use development located between Monroe and Randolph Streets adjacent to Campus Martius Park and Cadillac Square include 90,000 square feet for a market hall, grocery, restaurants, and other retail options. Construction is expected to come in phases, with phase one starting in 2024 and a third phase launching in January 2028.
Calexico Is Out
Calexico, the California-Mexican-influenced restaurant that flung open its doors in downtown’s One Campus Martius building in 2016, is gone. In its place later this year will be an Italian and Mediterranean-style eatery, being launched by Chicago-based chef and restaurant group, Fabio Viviani. Details about the spot — including the name, menu, and opening date — have not yet been shared.