In an attempt to resolve its $18 billion in debt, in mid-July last year Detroit became the largest city ever to file for bankruptcy in the United States. Now, Detroit is on the rebound, attracting residents and businesses in an effort to rev the Motor City’s growth engine.
This resurgence in restaurant, retail, and overall economic development is thanks largely to Bedrock Real Estate Services, which acquired more than 40 historic buildings, residential spaces, and commercial properties over the last several years and has been developing everything from one-of-a-kind restaurant and retail concepts to entertainment centers and residences. “It’s been extremely busy on the restaurant and retail side,” says Dan Mullen, vice president of development at Bedrock. “There’s just this big rush for people to come down here, rent space, and develop amazing restaurant concepts.”
One of these concepts is Punch Bowl Social, a craft cocktail bar, scratch kitchen, and entertainment venue all rolled into one. With eight bowling lanes, upscale comfort food, private karaoke rooms, and its namesake artisan punch bowls, the 24,000-square-foot concept is slated to open this fall and bring an estimated150 new jobs to the city.
Though Detroit’s population has declined steadily over the past 60 years—falling from 713,000 in 2010 to roughly 701,000 as of April 2012, according to the U.S. Census—Punch Bowl’s founder and CEO Robert Thompson says people are now flooding back into downtown Detroit. “There are a lot of young professionals who want to work and live in an urban environment, as opposed to a more generic suburban setting,” he says.
But Detroit isn’t just attracting newcomers and first-time restaurateurs; the city also boasts established concepts that have weathered its many years of ups and downs. Andiamo Restaurant Group opened its Andiamo Detroit Riverfront location in 2004, and seafood concept Joe Muer in September 2011.
“We’ve been here when it wasn’t so exciting to be downtown, but now there is buzz about having a business in downtown Detroit,” says Andiamo Restaurant Group owner Joe Vicari, adding that Joe Muer pulled in $9 million in revenues in 2013. “Detroit has seen a resurgence, and probably too much, with restaurants opening all over the metro area.”
While Vicari says labor and the ability to recruit staff has been an issue for his concepts—thanks in part to a city tax imposed on workers in Detroit—Thompson and Mullen say operating a restaurant in Detroit presents far more opportunities than challenges.
“Downtown Detroit is surrounded by beautiful architecture, and retrofitting these old, historic buildings with fresh ideas and building a restaurant that you can’t get anywhere else [in the area] has been a huge attraction,” Mullen says. “There are a ton of people down here, a ton of daytime workers, a ton of nighttime activities, and—coupled with the character of the city—it’s so attractive.”
Michigan estimates 100,000 more people will live in the Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint metro area in 2020 compared to 2010, bringing the total to 5.6 million.