Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week kicks off today, promoting the diversity of nationalities in Detroit, and uplifting food entrepreneurs.
This year marks the third year of the event, which launched in 2017, but endured a brief hiatus due to COVID-19. The event runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 9.
Participating are 21 restaurants offering special menu items, ranging from Mexican style ceviche (aguachiles) and a savory chocolate sauce (mole poblano) to enchiladas. The restaurants in this year’s event represent six different nationalities: El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Venezuela and Mexico.
“We started it mostly because we were frustrated about the way that we saw development happening in Detroit,” said Juan Carlos Dueweke-Perez, a restaurant week co-founder.
“There were a couple of folks that we knew personally that were getting not necessarily kicked out of the neighborhood, but it was becoming more difficult for them to afford,” he said.
So Dueweke-Perez and other community leaders, including Leslie Vargas, owner of the restaurant La Jalisciense, and the late Monica Echeverri Casarez, began thinking of ways to support these food restaurants and came up with the idea of a restaurant week. It differs from most restaurant weeks in the sense that the event doesn’t offer meals at a discounted rate, but instead provides unique dishes from each restaurant that aren’t typically on the menu.
“We didn’t want to ask the different business owners to decrease their prices because a lot of the courses are already very, very affordable,” Dueweke-Perez said. So they came up with the idea of each restaurant offering a “heritage dish” that highlights the owner and chef’s particular Latin roots.
At Asty Time, a Dominican restaurant on McGraw Avenue, the heritage dish for the week is Dominican-style meatballs, served with rice.
The restaurant, which opened in 2016, has participated in restaurant week since it began.
“I want to introduce my culture of Dominican food to American people,” said Asty Acosta. “Food is in my blood. My mom is the one who encouraged me on the Dominican culinary art.”
In 1995, Acosta immigrated to Detroit. In 2007, he and his wife began cooking and selling food out of their home before they got their own brick-and-mortar in southwest Detroit in 2016.
The most popular dish on Asty Time’s menu is the “mofongo,” a dish made of fried plantains, garlic, and fried pork belly. To make it, they use a large, wooden mortar and pestle, called a pilon, which they brought from their homeland and Acosta said can’t be found in the United States.
New to the event this year are food trucks and a food truck rally. On Oct. 3, Batch Brewing Company will host the rally with food, music, and even health screenings and flu and booster shots.
One of the participating trucks is Coronados Southwest Tacos, a Mexican food truck offering up the typical menu options, in addition to taki tacos, halal meat, and their own bottled Horchata, a drink made of rice milk, sugar, and cinnamon. And for the vegetarians out there, they’ll be happy to know the beans are vegetarian friendly and most menu items can be ordered without meat.
Reyna Coronado and her husband, Elias Coronado-Bustos, opened the truck in June. It’s parked behind the Auto Zone at 6117 Vernor. Outside the truck is ample space and picnic table seating.
“My roots are here, in southwest Detroit. That’s very important to us,” said Coronado, who was raised in southwest Detroit, while her husband moved here at age 18.
“A lot of people say ‘you guys should go out outside of Detroit,’” she said. “I know there’s a lot of food trucks [in southwest Detroit], but I think there’s space for everyone.”
Soon, the business plans to add a second truck. One will remain permanently behind the Auto Zone, and the other would be used for events.
As someone new to the restaurant industry, Coronado was excited to be able to participate in the restaurant week.
Dueweke-Perez told BridgeDetroit that he has received a lot of inspiring feedback since creating the event. One woman, he said, who owns an import store on Bagley, told him that in the 30 years she’s been a neighborhood business owner, none of the Latin-owned businesses had ever gotten together to talk, or collaborate as a unit, until the start of restaurant week.
“That was one of the most inspiring messages and feedback that I got for the event,” he said.
The event has grown over the years from seven restaurants to 21 and with the addition of food trucks, and the rally.
Dueweke-Perez and the event’s other co-founders are looking to start a Banglatown restaurant week next year.
As an immigrant whose family had a food business, Dueweke-Perez said he has a “deeper appreciation and understanding” of why immigrants start food businesses.
“Generally food is not the easiest industry to start a business in, but usually it’s the most accessible one, because we all have recipes because we all probably have cooked at some point and everybody eats,” he said. “There’s just this large market in which we can share a little bit about ourselves but also make a living.”
For the future of the Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week, or other possible restaurant weeks, he said his hope is “for restaurants to continue pushing to break down barriers between cultures.”
A complete list of participating restaurants and a schedule of events can be found online at Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week’s website.