Tuesday, September 10, 2013

[EID Feature] Q+A with (revolver) co-owner Tunde Wey

Today in Model D I reported on the opening of a new table d'hôte restaurant opening later this month in Hamtramck called (revolver). But co-owner Tunde Wey, one of Nikki's Boys, isn't into the whole brevity thing. His answers to my emailed questions were so snappy I felt that they deserved to be shared in their entirety. Here is the full scoop on (revolver) - how the concept was born, how it has evolved, who is involved and what they're setting out to do. Make your reservations during Hamtramck Food Week!

EID: Who is behind this concept? 

(revolver co-owner Tunde Wey): (revolver) is operated by Tunde Wey and Peter Dalinowski. Peter and I used to be flatmates in Woodbridge, where Peter lives. At first our relationship was a little tenuous: you see, Peter is meticulous and a natural gourmand with exquisite taste in everything (sometimes it's overbearing because we can’t go anywhere without Peter pointing out how things could be better). I am, on the other hand, more intuitive, freewheeling, passionate, and not entirely particular or concerned with the details. One such detail I was uninterested in when I lived with Peter was who owned what in our refrigerator…so I kept eating Peter’s delicious and tasty foods. He wasn’t too pleased. Anyway, we soon rallied and became good friends. There was one night especially, after ingesting something unfortunate, Peter spent three hours from the early morning into dusk comforting me. He’s a lovely man, with great taste in food and friends.

Anyway, a few months ago, sometime in April, after I had decided to scuttle my plans to move to Chicago to finish up school, Peter and I met up for lunch. We started talking about various ideas we had for businesses that would be wonderful for the area. Peter has been self employed for almost six years running a ticket brokerage business, and I had “entrepreneured” my way through a couple of fiscally challenging situations, so we are both business-minded. Peter and I had always talked about getting into business together because our tastes and aesthetic values matched considerably. So when we started talking in late April, it seemed the time was right; his daughters were going into school so he had more time on his hands, and I was resuming my adventure of living in the city. We spit into our palms, shook hands firmly and jumped into business…the restaurant business. Peter loves food and design, I love entertaining around food and design, so we are a balanced pair in that sense.

Our discussion eventually settled on the (revolver) concept after we came across our current location. Shout out to Jason Friedmann, [former] Economic Dev director at the city of Hamtramck; he was integral to helping us secure the location. The space really catalyzed our decision to try our concept. It seemed to call for it, with its large kithcen and intimate dining area.

We are currently working with five wonderful chef partners. Jessika Rae Warren, Oliver Honderd, Brad Greenhill, Alla Dihes and the team of Thom Ingram and Nate Bankowski.

Menu for Thursday, September 26. 

Describe the concept of (revolver).

(revolver) is our take on a table d’hote restaurant. Back in the day -- caveat, I am not a gastronomical historian, but from our research, as early as the 1600’s, countryside inns would serve a large family style meal to their guests. Basically the host would decide what to prepare and all guests would be invited to his table, hence "Host’s Table" or table d’hote -- if you want to get all fancy with it.

Our concept is similar. We are inviting people to our “table” so to speak, and offering them a chance to eat delicious food sourced locally, and fresh, prepared by people who LOVE and are experts at what they do.

We offer a very reasonably priced multi-course prix fixe menu. Our menu is always changing, which is exciting because we traverse a variety of food styles and genres, allowing our patrons to explore different cuisines and interpretations of food. We are also very conscious about accommodating different preferences so we include vegetarian (and sometime vegan) courses in each of our dinners. We have communal seating, so folks are eating next to other folks, talking (hopefully while not chewing) and really enjoying good company and food.

We have two seatings per night. Seatings are by reservation only. To reserve a seat at the restaurant diners have to prepay for the meal through our website. When you dine with us, we know exactly what you want to eat, so it's hassle-free and barring a catastrophe (knock on wood) there is no ungodly wait for your food. The plates come out on time, and in order…so as the expression goes “the food and drink flows” uninterrupted.

We call our kind of food casual artisanal fare, meaning our meals are prepared with the most sincere and thoughtful attention from ingredients, sourcing, prep to plating, but we are still fun and informal. No starched collars here…well maybe some starched collars, 'cuz Peter loves to dress up.

We want folks to leave feeling satiated; brimming with good food, buzzing from great company and excited to have learned and tried something new.

And our name (revolver)... yes, that's (revolver) spelled in parenthesis: we think this parenthetical variation should be an official entry in the dictionary. (If “twerking” has made it, so should this.).

We think of (revolver) as an adjective, an opportunity to do things differently, when it comes to food and the customer experience. It is not an allusion to guns at all. It is strictly a reference to our revolving menu and concept.

What sort of items can we expect to see on the menu? What is the culinary influence?

Our menu is really diverse. Because we have different chefs cooking on different days, each brings with them their own history, influence and preference. Part of what we are trying to show folks is that maybe the customer isn’t always right. Maybe, when you come to a dining establishment, you should trust the chef, this person who has spent their lives thinking about food, tasting, experimenting, learning and refining their craft. Maybe you should just come in, sit down and open yourself to a culinary adventure, through edamame and peanuts, sticky rice stuffed with pork and wrapped in fragrant grape leaves or a lacinato kale cut with apple, radishes and baked cheddar. Or a zucchini pancake, or handmade sausages or even chicken liver crostini. Our menu is diverse, bold and inventive because our chefs are interested in exploring new ways to serve different ingredients.

We want our patrons to deeply enjoy the benefits of our chefs’ own adventures and in this process learn new things about their own tastes.

Menu for Friday, September 27.

Where did the chefs go to school or learn to cook?

We have a mix of professionally trained and self-taught chefs. However the similarity between all our chef partners is their love and commitment to cooking. This is what they do. Most of them have been cooking for years, catering or in restaurants. They are working with us because they are interested in our concept which allows them to share the best of their culinary repertoire while also giving them room to explore new food concepts. One of our chefs, Ollie, says, “Cooking is what I do when I’m procrastinating.” That struck me as such a profound statement, firstly because I identify deeply with the procrastinating part (editor's note: LORD is this true) but more seriously because it is interesting to consider that thing which we think a distraction, as maybe the thing that is our passion. So like Ollie, for all our other chef partners, this is their “work-lust”-- if i may quote Seamus Heaney, a poet I was recently introduced to. They are passionate and open about cooking and entertaining.

Describe the space.

The interior of our space is simple, minimalist. We have an open box space that is really our canvas to continue to grow. We want our space to also be revolving, to be flexible enough to change around and reconfigure depending on our meals or events. Our real focus is the food, and the conversations around the food, so we are careful to make sure we don’t lose sight of this. We do have some mural plans, so...that should be cool.

What was in the building previously? 

The building has mostly always been a restaurant at least for about 30 years. It was in its first incarnation, sometime in the '70s/ '80s a fast food family dining restaurant. Most recently the last tenant was a Thai Food restaurant. (Editor's note: most recently the space was going to be Ootie's, and breakfast and lunch spot, then Acme Food Company, which was going to follow suit. Neither concept ever opened. For reasons.)

When will (revolver) open? 

We will be open during Hamtramck Food Week, which is September 23-28. After that we plan on going to a weekend schedule serving Thursday, Friday and Saturday dinners. We are open to the public by reservation only, so folks can’t just walk in and place an order. We have two dinner seatings, one at 6:15 p.m. and a later seating at 8:45 p.m. We do not have a bar. We are currently only taking reservations for 35 seats a seating. We plan to gradually grow into our full capacity of 60 seats per seating.

And now for the obligatory biggies: why Hamtramck, why Detroit, why now?

The Detroit question is probably the most important question. First of all, we see Hamtramck as its own distinct and vibrant community; however we see it also as intimately part of the Detroit community. And our definition of Detroit is the city; the struggling city with its challenges and charms. Hamtramck is a unique, almost satellite city of Detroit. It is dense and diverse, with the sort of retail storefront stock not available in other parts of Detroit. Its downtown is walkable, historic and raw. But it is suffering from considerable fiscal afflictions; a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager was recently instated.

Its downtown does not offer very diverse retail options and is mostly a succession of smaller, basic goods stores, so the potential here is incredible. As an immigrant I am drawn to Hamtramck (editor's note: he's not the first of Nikki's Boys to mention this), its diverse and ethnically comingled population are such a wonderful cultural gift. Peter is Polish so he has many fond memories of eating paczki at local bakeries and duck blood soup at restaurants in Hamtramck -- he made me try the duck blood soup, it was delicious.

We really decided on Hamtramck because it has all the prerequisite ingredients (that was a purposeful pun) for a financially thriving commercial district, but it's not quite there yet…there are other newer businesses, and restaurants moving into the area as well. I think (revolver) along with the new cadre of businesses and the long-standing establishments already here can begin to make an important difference in Hamtramck and also Detroit. We would love to see Hamtramck as another arc of success in the larger detroit story.

What is (revolver) adding to Detroit's culinary scene? What sets it apart from other concepts?

(revolver) is really a concentration of Detroit’s upstart culinary talent. There are now a lot of chefs working out innovative menus and sharing this with the public through pop-up dinners. We are taking all this raw (another intended pun) talent and focusing their creativity in one place. We are also a collaborative really, that allows all these chefs to come together and learn from each other. We think there is a yearning for more local and diverse food. More delicious vegetarian and vegan options; more adventurous dining. There are folks around town doing this in their own way, and our little contribution will be gathering all these disparate maverick cooks/chefs/food enthusiasts to really weave together a singular dining experience for our customers. Peter and I, while we will not be preparing the food, are cooks in a way; we have taken all this culinary talent, combined them with an eager dining public to create (revolver), this place where good food meets great company meets learning. And a restaurant or establishment is great when you can’t unstitch these constituent experiences; you just leave feeling great about everything. This is (revolver) baby!