When “chef to the stars” Maxcel Hardy opened the doors of his Rosedale Park eatery River Bistro just short of a year ago, he was aiming to offer residents of the community a higher level of culinary creativity than what was currently available.
He achieved that and more. River Bistro won critical acclaim from local food media, plus national recognition for his role in the city’s first Black Restaurant Week, a model that’s playing out in cities across the country that encourages consumers to support black-owned businesses.
What the good press and energy have failed to achieve, at least for now, was to get enough feet in the doors to justify holding full-time dining hours. That said, River Bistro is dramatically cutting dining service and will instead move forward as a weekends-only brunch spot while Hardy focuses more energy on special events and corporate catering.
“Being from Detroit, being from that area, it’s great to come back there and have something of that caliber in the community,” Hardy tells Tostada Magazine. “I think we definitely deserve to have good, quality food that’s affordable. Do I know that the community necessarily is ready for that all day, every day? No. I think we have enough working-class folks, enough people that understand food and travel the world and know chefs and know dining, I just don’t know if it’s enough to sustain a business model of that caliber every day.”
The change will also allow Hardy — who gave himself the moniker “chef to the stars” early in his career only to go on to make it a reality — to turn more of his attention to his latest venture, COOP Detroit.
Set inside the newly-launched Detroit Shipping Company food hall/gallery/bar made of repurposed shipping containers, COOP hones in on Hardy’s ability to blend his family’s Bahamian and “low country” roots. This time, his menu centers around a variety of globally-influenced street food such as locally-sourced chicken wings marinated with a blend of Caribbean and Asian flavors like garlic, ginger, sour oranges and scotch bonnet peppers; his take on a roasted elote; and spicy breaded cauliflower bites.
Hardy tells Tostada that he is continuing to develop a third restaurant, more of a sit-down African-inspired restaurant to open in the District Detroit, the entertainment area surrounding Little Caesar’s Arena. He says his Hardy Hospitality Group is currently seeking investors for that project.
Aside from private events and catering, he says he will also make the River Bistro space available for the occasional pop-up so aspiring chefs can test out their concepts before taking the plunge into ownership.
While Hardy does not view the reduction in service hours at River Bistro as a setback, he does acknowledge that the idea that more creative dining establishments can and should be available in the neighborhood still hasn’t seemed to resonate with enough residents for its to make business sense.
He points to several lower-priced fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and a neighboring fish-fry spot all within close proximity to River Bistro as examples of what folks are more accustomed to in the area.
“You see our kids walking around or our friends and family walking around with $300-$400 shoes on, but putting shit in their body every day, that’s just where we’re at, not just in Detroit but in urban areas across the country,” says Hardy. “We’ll spend money on things that make us look cool and have glitz and glamor, but we won’t spend money to take care of our bodies.”
To shift eating habits toward healthier or chef-driven menus will require education and constant community involvement, he says.
While that’s an effort he looks forward to, in the meantime, Hardy says he’ll focus on the work that makes the most sense to keep the business thriving while finding ways to satisfy the folks who’ve enjoyed his culinary talents thus far.
This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.
Author: Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is the co-founder and head chingona of Tostada Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit and specializes on the intersection of food, identity, and culture.
Find her on Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!