But after this period of transition, Cogswell and DiTomo decided to make a major life decision and move back to the Asheville area, where Cogswell grew up.
“This property went up for sale, and we said, ‘Wow, that sounds like a life where we could start something really cool,’ and we went for it,” Cogswell says. “The pandemic has definitely been a catalyst for us to be pushed out of the nest. Though we were already growing through the industry, I think that we’re going to see just a huge number of new businesses from my generation of chefs coming out of this.”
Located about a half-hour north of Asheville in Marshall, the property comprises two houses, one of which serves as a residence while the other has been converted into a bakery with two wood-fired ovens built by celebrated baker and masonry builder, Alan Scott, nearly two decades earlier.
The spot has been host to community pizza nights in the past, and it’s a tradition Cogswell and DiTomo plan to uphold and one that plays well to their strengths; the former is a baker and the latter specializes in Italian cuisine. They’re aiming to restart the pizza nights by the end of summer while also exploring other avenues, like selling breads, pastries, and other goods at farmers markets. Opening an on-site bakery may be in the cards, too, but Cogswell says it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
“Instead of creating a very hard and fast plan from the beginning, we have our starting ideas and things that we want to flesh out and many dreams for the future,” Cogswell says. “We’re really interested in having this grow naturally and in terms of what feels right for us and also what the community wants.”
After overcoming numerous obstacles to keep Table No. 2 up and running, Mitchell was eventually forced to reevaluate his plans. Timing and location played important roles for him, too, but in a different way. The GoFundMe campaign caught the eye of numerous real estate firms and pretty soon the chef found himself with about four dozen offers.
He eventually found the right partner in Bedrock Detroit, a commercial real estate firm owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that specializes in redeveloping urban areas. When Table No. 2 makes its triumphant return, it will be doing so downtown in a 6,500-square-foot space—more than triple the size of the original location.
For as challenging as the past two years have been for Table No. 2, Mitchell’s other restaurant, Imaginate, was perhaps saddled with an even worse lot. It opened up Valentine’s Day 2020 only to shut down a month later. Unlike its sister restaurant, Imaginate didn’t have an existing consumer base to tap into for off-premises orders. Not to mention, its over-the-top presentation and visuals made it all but impossible for carryout.
“Imaginate restaurant is a fine-dining, theatrical-dining experience where all the food comes out on props, and it gives off this really cool, Insta-worthy style concept where it makes you want to pull out your phone and take a picture of the actual food,” Mitchell says. For example, the bone-in ribeye comes out on a chopping block with a 3-foot fork balanced on it while the coconut-almond popcorn shrimp is presented in a popcorn machine. Even more visually striking is the cotton candy dessert, served atop a mannequin head.
Mitchell says he’s learned a lot about the execution and importance of off-premises and plans to continue offering the 50 percent deal on carryout at Table No. 2 once it reopens. Nevertheless, the chef remains committed to the magic of dine-in. He even looks to creatives beyond the foodservice world, like Walt Disney, for inspiration in cultivating a special experience.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with the restaurant, where they have this spectacle atmosphere … That’s how I’m trying to build my empire of great restaurant experiences,” Mitchell says. “If someone asks [guests] how it was, I want them to be able to say, ‘It was amazing. It was totally unexpected.’”
Mitchell will get to put that model to the test when Imaginate opens in its new home in the Royal Oak suburb of Detroit this summer, with Table No. 2 slated to follow four to six months later.