Midnight Temple — an outdoor food stall that’s been slinging masala dosas, hakka noodles, and samosas at Eastern Market since 2020 — is finally ready to welcome guests inside its long-anticipated restaurant. Situated at 2466 Riopelle, the second-story gastropub owned by Akash Sudhakara inside a century-old slaughterhouse has been transformed into a moody nightlife sanctuary.
Complications related to city permitting, a familiar struggle among Detroit restaurant owners, slowed down Sudhakara’s efforts to renovate the space into a haven that celebrates his Indian heritage and love for urban farming. After more than three years of work, Midnight Temple unveiled its years-long labor to friends and family in late May with the opening of the indoor dining room, which exudes dark, jewel-toned lighting with tropical vibes complete with lush flora that hangs from the ceiling rafters and accents the brick-exposed walls. Other improvements include a bar and tabletops made from reclaimed wood sourced from Sudhakara’s childhood best friend’s cabin in St. Helen, Michigan and works of art from India and Detroit. The result, a space that feels like a refuge from the industrial bustle of Eastern Market outside.
Despite the opening milestone, work on the interior is not quite complete. In about a month, Sudhakara says construction of the indoor kitchen should be finished, which will support the roll out of a separate menu of about 20 traditional items like panipuri, tandoori platters, and fusion specialties like tikka fries — all meant to reflect memories of Sudhakara’s mother’s home cooking and his Michigan upbringing. For now, guests are handed a buzzer when they purchase food from the stall to alert them when their order is ready. Upstairs, customers can find cushion-lined seating and order cocktails from the bar. The bar is leaning into the tropical drinks like Invisible Colors — a carbonated, boozy take on the classic mango lassi made with tequila, Manzanilla sherry, mango, honey, orange, and rosewater.
The delay on the indoor space may have been fortuitous for Eastern Market shoppers. In the interim, Midnight Temple had been operating from a converted camper van fashioned to resemble the many street food stalls found in parts of India by commissioning Ekta Kansara, a henna and mehndi artist based in Michigan, to add her intricate design-work to the cart’s exterior. During the pandemic when dining alfresco was practically a requirement, the 2400 block of Riopelle was converted into a car-free zone, where visitors could pick up a snack and then meander over a few yards to find a bar set up by Detroit City Distillery and ample lounge seating.
“I’m trying to imitate what you would have exactly on the streets of India … That’s what I miss [most about] traveling,” says Sudhakara of the imagery he’s encountered during his many visits to his family’s home country. “When you go to Thailand or Singapore or in India, especially, that street food is just so great to watch the cook make it and right from there, it’s fresh like you’re seeing exactly what you’re getting.”
Sudharkara says that his family comes from an agricultural background. His parents met while working as coffee planters in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, before immigrating to the United States. He says the very coffee that facilitated his parents’ meet-cute is available on the menu. Growing up in an immigrant household in Grosse Ile Township, he says that he did not always appreciate the culinary excellence he was exposed to at home.
“Growing up, in high school, I didn’t like eating my parents’ food,” says Sudharkara. “They’re vegetarian, and I just always wanted to go out and try American food like steak, beef, pork, all that.”
That changed when he began studying at Wayne State University, where he earned a degree in nutrition in 2016. After finishing his undergrad, he had a stint at Eastern Market conducting public health research on urban farming.
“I missed my mom’s food,” he says. “At first [I was] showing [my mom’s recipes to] my friends back home and when all of my American friends liked that, I was like, ‘Oh, shit, we gotta do this.’”
That newfound admiration for his family’s heirloom recipes, combined with his academic background in public health and nutrition inspired him to take the next step and open a space of his own. Eastern Market, with its vast offerings of fresh produce, local vendors, and halal butcher shops, felt like a perfect place for Midnight Temple.
In the years since launching Midnight Temple’s street food offerings, Sudharkara has collaborated with other pop-up and food- truck vendors to design a rotation of fusion specialities that reflect the bicultural nature of growing up in a diaspora household. During one day this week, for example, the food stall planned to feature a Mexican Indian menu of birria tacos using naan, elote topped with masala, and butter chicken nachos prepared by a buddy of Sudharkara’s from Southwest Detroit. In the coming months, he hopes to add other fusions like Thai or Filipino cuisine into the mix.
As for his mom’s cooking, he says she’s responsible for about half of the menu’s offerings.
Midnight Temple is open 6 p.m. to midnight with kitchen service until 10 p.m.Wednesday through Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.