What started out with about half a dozen fine dining establishments gathered to showcase their culinary prowess from a rainy alleyway in downtown Detroit has blossomed into one of the most exciting food festivals of the season. The Hospitality Included Fest returns Sunday, August 6, to Milwaukee Junction’s Chroma building at 2937 E. Grand Boulevard. This year, 32 food and drink vendors representing some of the most popular bars, restaurants, and pop-ups in metro Detroit will showcase their culinary talents to a crowd that’s expected to reach 5,000 people. Among the participants of this year’s festival are several veterans in the local dining scene, including the Pakistani pop-up and food truck venture Khana, Lady of the House, Petty Cash, Marrow, Midnight Temple, Ladder 4 Wine Bar, and Detroit’s beloved Dutch Girl Donuts. In addition, the event will also highlight several local artists, including Escada Gordon, India Solomon, Sheefy McFly, and music by Courtt Denise, Cris Keyz, and others. The full lineup can be found on Instagram.
Event organizer Thor Jones tells Eater that the event launched three years ago with the participation of seven fine dining establishments popping up in the walkable Belt alleyway (home to Standby and the Skip) to introduce Detroiters to the city’s growing restaurant scene. The landscape for fine dining, cocktail bars, and cafes has grown exponentially over the past decade or so, simultaneously garnering national headlines and local criticism, particularly from Detroiters of color who say the newer developments aren’t built with longtime residents in mind.
“I think Detroit, as largely Black-populated as it is, I think it’s it’s extremely segregated,” says Jones, originally from Atlanta. “[At] the Chroma grounds, the goal is to kind of strip all that away, and allow people to go to places that they may not always go but also show that it’s possible to feel comfortable around people who don’t look like you to, hang out with people who don’t look like you, be in places where you may not normally be. As gentrified as Milwaukee Junction, and the North End [are] becoming, they’re still one of those areas in the city where the real neighborhood is right across the street. It’s cool to be able to have diners who may go to Oak & Reel and SheWolf with the people who live in the area because that’s definitely not the case in those dining rooms.”
Attracting diners of all races and ethnic backgrounds to experience all that the city’s food scene offers is just one challenge facing restaurants and bars in Detroit. The other part of the equation, says Jones — who is also the general manager at nearby tasting-menu restaurant Freya — involves setting up a Black and brown workforce with the proper opportunities to pursue careers in hospitality. A report issued by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United in 2020 says that just over three-quarters of Detroit’s restaurant industry is staffed by Black workers, but that about 40 percent of tipped workers and nearly a third of kitchen staff live in poverty.
In 2022, Hospitality Included launched Full Hands In, Full Hands Out, which provides five days of hands-on training for entry-level young Black adults interested in working in the city’s high-end bars and restaurants so that the industry is more reflective of the community. The training program has yet to take off. Jones said that for its inaugural class, 30 people applied, 17 people confirmed their attendance, but only one participant completed the program. Complicating matters, Freya was named one of the best restaurants of 2022 by the New York Times, forcing the restaurant’s team to focus on keeping up with its newfound acclaim.
“The hospitality industry is one of the largest industries in the city and yet, as a Black community, I don’t think we’re tapping into it enough,” he says.
The Hospitality Included Fest takes place 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, August 6, at the Chroma building at 2937 E. Grand Blvd.