Detroiter Juan Harden opened Zell's Corne
Detroiter Juan Harden opened Zell's Corner in 2016. He is hoping his community can help him bounce back from a fire that almost destroyed the restaurant. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

Zell’s Corner, on the city’s east side, has been serving Detroiters hot food since 2016 — even managing to survive the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the restaurant’s survival is threatened because of a back patio that caught fire last week. 

Juan Harden, who owns the restaurant, said he got a call from the woman who cleans the restaurant. He said he came right away and saw that the back patio — where he cooks all the food — was in flames. 

“We still don’t know exactly what caused the fire, but by the time I pulled up, the fire trucks were here and it was all bad,” Harden said. 

Harden said once he knew no one was hurt, his thoughts turned to the fate of his restaurant. 

“When you put a lot of time and money and energy into a place, you don’t want to see that all go away,” he said. 

Once the fire was out, Harden saw that the inside of the building could be rebuilt. 

“I knew we would be ok,” he said. “This is not finna get me down.”

Zell’s Corner owner, Juan Harden, is anxious to recover after fire damage and see people enjoy his restaurant again. (Photos by Juan Harden)

Harden estimates the damages will cost about $3,000 to $5,000. He didn’t have insurance on the building, so he started a GoFundMe campaign online to help pay for the repairs. The campaign has already raised over $1,900. 

Harden said he’s grateful that his community was so quick to support him.

“I’m going to rebuild … and keep giving back to my community, because they’ve given a lot to me,” he said. “But even more than the money, I’m glad people came to help me clear out the debris. That really means a lot to me.”

Harden is no stranger to making something positive out of a negative situation. When he first bought Zell’s Corner, it was a neighborhood liquor store. 

“When the owners sold it to me, I knew we didn’t need another liquor store over here,” he said. “So I wanted to open something positive, a place everybody could come to and enjoy.”

The same year Harden bought the space, his son Ronzell was shot and killed. 

“That’s how I came up with the name, I wanted to do something to keep his name going that would make everybody happy,” he said. “So the spot became Zell’s Corner.”

Now Harden is focused on reopening the restaurant and said he has “no time to be negative.”

“I just want to get back to doing what I love to do, which is have people in here smiling and laughing and having a good time together,” he said. 

Zell’s Corner is located at 7756 Charlevoix St. in Detroit. The phone number is 313-571-3388.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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