THE WHITEWASHING OF DETROIT'S CULINARY SCENE (CITY LAB. Nov. 3, 2017)

A lot was still possible in Detroit of 2013: As a broke, undocumented Nigerian immigrant, I could stumble into co-owning a well-regarded restaurant. We called it (revolver), parenthesis included.

Ours was a quirky DIY party. My partner Peter and I stayed up the night before our grand opening, fashioning dining tables from solid-core doors and four-by-fours purchased from Home Depot; Peter’s home stereo and speakers were our sound system. Each night, a different local chef ran the kitchen, offering a new multi-course menu of the finest and trendiest food in the city. All the local greats and a few not-so-greats came through. We garnered some attention when we made the local paper, and things picked up. That imprimatur signaled our entree into the cadre of Detroit’s new culinary movement, an important part of the city’s wider resurgence from bona fide, court sanctioned, collapse.

By the time the global financial crisis hit in the mid-2000s, Detroit had plenty of practice flirting with disaster. The automobile mono economy was unsustainable. The regional and state governments were intent on penalizing the thinning majority-black city for infractions real and perceived. There was bureaucratic complacency and corruption at administrative ranks: Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was incarcerated on the heels of multiple scandals, miring municipal leadership in embarrassing infighting. The local real estate market imploded, and General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, causing further havoc in the business sector.