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Modern Italian Restaurant Mad Nice Causes a Stir Over Parking Complaints

Why some residents are peeved at the wildly popular new eatery’s guest parking situation

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A street view of Mad Nice on Second Avenue in Midtown, Detroit, Michigan. Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is the editor for Eater Detroit.

The new modern Italian restaurant Mad Nice, which flung open its doors March 15 following months of anticipation, is creating much buzz lately — but not exactly for its naturally leavened pizza dough.

The valet parking stand, which is located at the entrance of Mad Nice’s parking lot, has caused an uproar on the neighborhood watch app Nextdoor after one user alleged that the restaurant has taken over the public right of way for its valet operations.

“The new restaurant (Mad Nice) on 2nd, around Willis, has commandeered half of a city block of public parking for their valet staging,” says Nextdoor user Marlena Hanlon in a post published on Sunday, April 2.

Hanlon points out in a photo Mad Nice’s parking lot, two orange construction cones that seem to be blocking public parking spaces on the street, what appear to be two valet parking attendants standing on the sidewalk, and a public parking meter kiosk several yards to the north of the attendants. Several Nextdoor users responded by noting several other instances of restaurants — including Mario’s Restaurant, just up the street from Mad Nice, and Basan, the small-plates restaurant and bar across the street from Little Caesars Arena — apparently setting up their own valet stands without regard for the neighboring community.

“This restaurant has decided that it is appropriate and beneficial for them to charge $15 a car — as reported by employees — to park the cars in their adjacent lot, which patrons cannot park in otherwise. Or, I suppose, to eventually park on the street once the lot is filled. So, they are charging customers to park in the lot, and they took all the public parking from everyone in the half block between Alexandrine and the alley.

“This is an area with a high density of occupied housing and other businesses,” the post continues. “For them to essentially take public parking for their own private use is not only illegal, it is notably antisocial. Perhaps this failure in community regard warrants consumer choices among residents.”

City officials became aware of parking concerns at Mad Nice, Mario’s, and Basan on Tuesday and sent crews to the establishments to further investigate the matter.

According to the city’s website, an application for a valet permit must be completed by anyone interested in operating a valet staging service in the public right of way, or on private property which requires the use of the public right of way for maneuvering vehicles.

Georgette Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Department of Public Works and the Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department, confirmed with Eater on Wednesday afternoon that Mad Nice does have a valet permit, but city officials are continuing to look into the issue to ensure that the business is in compliance. Johnson adds that Mario’s does not currently have a valid valet permit and Basan has a private easement, but not a permit.

Justin Near, whose Near Perfect Media represents Heirloom Hospitality Group (the parent company of Mad Nice), tells Eater that the restaurant does have the proper valet permit and that the stand is situated on the property’s private parking lot. As for the cones visible in the photo posted on Nextdoor, Near says they do not belong to the restaurant, Heirloom, or the valet company, nor did they place them in the area around the property.

“I think what’s probably really affecting residents, is the sheer number of people now coming into the area,” says Near. “Just to give you an idea, Saturday night, they did 900 covers, and then Sunday another 800, and then the rest of the week is quite similar. So I mean, there’s a lot of new traffic coming through on that street. And I think that’s probably quite shocking to people in the area.”

As for Basan, which opened its doors in November on the ground level of the Eddystone Apartments, Ed Saenz, a spokesman for Olympia Development of Michigan, says that a valet permit is not needed.

“We (ODM Parking) are responsible for the valet parking option near Little Caesars Arena and Basan at the Eddystone residences. The valet service operates on the vacated Park Ave[nue] between Sproat Street and Temple and therefore does not trigger the need for a Detroit valet parking permit, as described on the city’s website.”

Vince Passalacqua, owner of Mario’s, tells Eater that the restaurant has held a valet permit and also owns the parking lot across the street.

While the city is working with the ownership of the three restaurants in question to resolve any potentially lingering issues, the Nextdoor post unearthed a long-held concern among Detroiters over how new development contributes to, or harms, a neighborhood.

The Mad Nice property in particular has been fraught with controversy for close to a decade over how best to redevelop it since the Tom Boy Market shuttered for good in 2014. When high-end luxury store Will Leather Goods followed in its place, complaints surfaced that the property should have remained an affordable retail food option for nearby residents. The leather goods brand didn’t last long. In spring 2019, the retailer closed and later that year, Heirloom Hospitality announced plans to open Sauce (it was later redubbed Mad Nice). The establishment bills itself as a restaurant with modern Italian and coastal California influences, with prices ranging from $10 for an order of sourdough bread to $120 for a porterhouse steak, and a strict dress code.

Not far from Mad Nice and Mario’s and just a stone’s throw from Basan, the Ilitch’s Olympia Development and New York-based Related Cos. $1.5 billion District Detroit plan to expand housing, retail, and restaurant offerings in the area surrounding the Little Caesars Arena just north of downtown has caused an uproar among residents over the city council’s approval last month of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to complete expansion efforts.

Among the complaints against the expansion is how the needs of major developers take precedence over investments in schools or libraries.

Hanlon, who lives in Mexicantown but frequents the area around Mad Nice for Seasons Market across the street or the dog park on nearby Cass, says that she’s not sure if illegal valet parking is commonplace or whether it historically flew under the radar because fewer motorists called for it.

“For me, the question is not really about availability of parking, per se,” says Hanlon. “For me, it’s an issue about rights to the city, and the fact that it’s thematic around how private enterprise will leverage public infrastructure and resources in a way that doesn’t share the benefits.”

Update: April 5, 2023, 7:30 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that Mad Nice has a valid valet parking permit.