Petty Cash, a New American restaurant that draws from the legacy of Black Southern culinary traditions, is gearing up to open on Thursday, July 7, bringing an “upscale casual” dining experience to the Avenue of Fashion. The spot, at 20050 Livernois, is helmed by three veterans in the local food scene, including Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles founder and former NFL player Ron Bartell.
The 2,800-square-foot Green Acres neighborhood restaurant is the latest eatery to hit the ever-growing food scene along Livernois. Co-founder Kelly McBride says he and Bartell have been working on finding just the right fit for the Green Acres neighborhood restaurant for nearly four years. The duo were interested in bringing a more high-end option to an area that McBride says has historically been more known for fast-food options. In recent years, that has begun to change with places like Bartell’s original restaurant Kuzzo’s serving as a sort of catalyst to inspire other more contemporary spots to set up shop in the district. Others involved in the partnership include Art Hicks and Rufus Bartell.
“I live in the neighborhood and I saw that when I go around the corner all I would see was fast food, but I had to go to Midtown or Birmingham or Royal Oak to get what I like,” says McBride. “We wanted to put what we like in the neighborhood. Why should we have to travel outside our neighborhood to get what we like?”
McBride says he began his life in cooking as a teen during a summer job at the Plum Hollow Country Club back in the ’90s. That gig turned in to a lifelong career, including a catering business that helped him pay for culinary school, and eventually forays into real estate investment.
McBride says his full-time cheffing days are mostly over, but to helm the kitchen, he and Bartell turned to an emerging name in the local scene, Dominic McCord, whose previous experiences include working as a sous chef at Bacco in Southfield, chef de cuisine at Maru in downtown Detroit, and stints at Leila and Phoenicia — both founded by stalwart Lebanese restaurateurs Sameer and Samy Eid. McCord first met Bartell in winter 2020 and at that point, he says — like many restaurant workers over the past couple of years — he had been considering leaving the industry altogether.
What changed his mind was hearing Bartell’s vision for the restaurant. The two got to know each other over food, quickly bonded, and eventually McCord was brought on as a partner in the business. McCord says his grandmother had also previously lived in the area, making opening in the neighborhood all the more appealing.
It was also an opportunity for McCord, who is African American, to join the growing number of Black chefs who are taking ownership of Detroit restaurants, not just working as hired hands supporting the creative visions of white-owned establishments in downtown and the suburbs.
In describing Petty Cash’s food, McCord describes it as New American through the lens of his Black Southern roots (his family hailed from Arkansas and Alabama) and his previous working experiences. For example, instead of using pork ribs, Petty Cash uses lamb ribs. The chef utilizes Southern cooking techniques but incorporates pomegranate molasses for his barbecue sauce or toasted cumin and turmeric instead of the more traditional dry rubs diners might be more accustomed to. Other menu items include a variety of seasonal vegan and vegetarian options, smoked meats, and seafood.
“My goal is just to introduce different cuts of meat, introduce different vegetables, introduce different cooking techniques, and just make it all makes sense and give people a different experience,” McCord says.
Behind the bar is beverage director Kamalani Ingersoll, a native of Hawaii, who McBride says, previously bartended at the Bad Luck Bar, Flowers of Vietnam, Monarch Club, and elsewhere. For both the food and drink, as many ingredients as possible will be made in-house or sourced locally. McBride also says that in terms of hospitality, diners can expect servers and bartenders to educate them on the techniques and background of all menu items, a move to both help guests feel at ease and to familiarize them with their philosophy.
The restaurant’s moody black, green, and gold-accented interior was the work of Black-owned design firm Urban Alterscape, which also did the interior for Baobab Fare, and was developed by R&J Development. The place has seating for 81 indoors and 42 in an enclosed patio area. One of the brick exterior walls dons a mural that says “Black Dollars Matter,” created by artist Desiree Kelly.
As for the name, when McBride and Bartell first started brainstorming ideas, the duo wanted a name that conveyed that upscale, casual vibe.
“Ron and I was talking and we threw [ideas] around, like, we didn’t want to be overpriced but we’re also not trying to be inexpensive either,” McBride says. “It’s more like, come spend a bit of cash and enjoy a good time.”