It's not much of a secret to say that Detroit's food scene is undergoing a resurgence. In a city that has had more than its fair share of economic setbacks, a growing group of chefs, restaurateurs and small business owners are making their mark.
Chief among them is Slows Bar BQ. Founded in 2005, it was one of the first restaurants in the city to put Detroit on the national food map. Ask any local and he or she's more than likely spent a few nights indulging in Slows's unique style of 'cue, perhaps in the form of the dangerous Triple Threat Pork sandwich or its acclaimed mac 'n' cheese, which Adam Richman once said has the ability to change your life.
To celebrate Detroit as the newest city on our DINE app, we caught up with Slows executive chef and cofounder Brian Perrone (see his list of favorite Detroit restaurants here) to talk about the state of Detroit's restaurant scene and how Slows ties into it all.
How would you describe the food scene in Detroit right now?
"It's vibrant. It seems like there's a new restaurant opening every week. For a long time, there weren't too many places to go in Detroit—there were some larger places like Michael Symon's Roast in a big hotel downtown; there were casino restaurants from Wolfgang Puck. But as far as small, independently operated stuff, there were a lot of burger bars, pizza joints and that kind of thing, but not a lot of other options. Now there's a broader landscape, a lot more different styles of food being cooked and a lot of young people involved in trying to make it more of a dining scene."
How do you think Slows fits into all that?
"We don't want to become one of those restaurants that just kind of dies off because everybody's gone there so many times. We're trying to really stay relevant and keep the people engaged and keep 'em coming back. Luckily, we've got the strength of the name and the brand now, where we still get a lot of traffic from out-of-towners. A lot of people all over the world have heard about Slows, which is kind of mind blowing that that's a fact, but it is."
There seems to be a pretty tight-knit community among all the restaurant and small business owners in Detroit that's different from other cities.
"Absolutely. Everybody knows everybody else. The thing about Detroit—and that's what's kind of changing now—it used to be that you knew everybody everywhere—you could go to see a show, and the 50 Detroiters that you know are all there. Now there're so many more people, so much more going on, and things are growing at an exponential rate where it's just different. But everybody has the same idea—the idea of growing the pie, not getting a larger slice of the pie necessarily, but just growing the whole pie so everybody gets a bigger piece. That's what I think is cool about Detroit; a lot of people are out to help their friends and colleagues to do it as well.
Phillip Cooley, my partner and co-owner, has donated a lot of his time over the years to help other restaurants get opened by, you know, building tables for them, just doing whatever he can to assist with getting more spots open."
How would you describe Slows's style of barbecue?
"There was kind of this 'urban barbecue' thing that was going on in New York at the time when we were starting out. All these guys were opening restaurants and using different styles of barbecue from all over the country in one restaurant. That's kind of where we were going, but as we went along, we kind of developed our own kind of style. Our pork is reminiscent of what you'd find in the Carolinas, but everything else is kind of it's own thing."
How do you think locals feel about the renaissance going on in the city?
"It depends who you talk to. Some people say, 'I want my old Detroit back,' and then there're people who are more realistic who say, 'I miss it, but this is good.' It's an exciting time to be here; there's definitely a lot of positive momentum. The attention is well deserved. I think it's really just about spreading it around to the whole city and not just the Downtown and Midtown areas that seem to be getting the most focus."
Would you say that the changes going on in the dining scene are interwoven or parallel to the changes going on in Detroit as a whole?
"Maybe. The restaurants that are opening are mostly in those Downtown, Corktown neighborhoods. You don't hear as much about restaurants opening up deeper out in the city away from the Downtown area. In that way, it's kind of a parallel with what's been going on with the city itself. There's a lot of focus on the buildings in this core area, but it hasn't extended to the rest of the city as much yet. Hopefully it will."
Do you have any personal goals for Slows?
"I'd love to be in the kitchen more, but really my goal for this year is to get our retail mail order up and running. We also got a food truck last year, well, actually a trailer, so that's kind of a big focus as well."
How do you see the future of the Detroit food scene unfolding?
"As the city continues to rebound and grow, and the urban core gets stronger, and the schools get better, and that kind of thing, it's wide open; it's a pretty vast landscape. There are chances for anybody who really wants to do a good thing to do well here. We've kind of proven that as long as you provide a good meal at a good price, people will come out for it and they'll love you for it. It would be great if more variety comes in; I think that's definitely something that people who live in Detroit would really prefer, to find some more different styles of food, different ethnic cuisines perhaps."
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