Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bummer of the Week

The bummer of the week this week is most definitely not that YouTube video I posted a couple days ago of that girl trying the high jump. It's one of those things where every time I watch it, I have a reaction that includes laughing. Maureen accused me of laughing so hard about it with my family the other night that I peed in my pants a little bit. I vigorously deny peeing in my pants while laughing about that video, so that is also not the bummer of the week. If I did pee in my pants from laughing too hard, this would have easily been elevated to the bummer of the week.

No, the bummer of the week comes out of the downtown Detroit restaurant scene. Over the past several years, restaurateur Frank Taylor has been developing and running a series of relatively swanky restaurants downtown. These restaurants were a part of his Southern Hospitality mini-empire, and included some pretty prominent locations. Among these locations - Seldom Blues in the RenCen (formerly the Freep's restaurant of the year), Sweet Georgia Brown, The Detroit Breakfast House and Grill, The Detroit Fish Market, Magnolia, and maybe another one or two that I can't remember. Most of these places were some variation of downtown Detroit fine dining, with either a unique concept or upscale service, location, and/or food. As each of these restaurants opened through the years, I thought to myself "who is this Frank Taylor guy, and why is he so cool opening so many nice restaurants in downtown Detroit?" Each of the restaurants was greeted by pretty strong reviews and was considered "the place to be seen" when they opened (particularly Sweet Georgia Brown in Greektown). At one point or another I tried to make it a point to get downtown and go dine at these establishments to enjoy a nice evening, but more importantly, to support the downtown dining scene. With each new place under Frank Taylor's umbrella opened, I had a growing admiration in my heart for the guy as it seemed like he was legitimately trying to raise the level of dining options in downtown Detroit through good food and a little style. The restaurants were not cheap and at least some were probably overpriced (Seldom Blues in the RenCen, for example, was pretty expensive, but the view could not be beat and the live music was unique touch for Detroit), but sometimes you're willing to overpay for the city experience.

Earlier this week, I was quite saddened to read about the likely demise of the entire restaurant empire. Without knowing who is right or any of the details beyond what is reported in the news, Frank Taylor and Co. seem to be in the process of being sued out of existence. The specific claim is that revenues from The Detroit Fish Market are being funneled to his other property's to pay the bills. Because of this, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is claiming that he owes them money because the rent he owes them is based on his revenue at this establishment. Essentially, he's accused of playing the shell game with his cash to keep his expenses artificially low.

The downfall has been slow but consistent. A few years ago Sweet Georgia Brown went through some financial and legal difficulties and declared bankruptcy. Last year, Seldom Blues declared bankruptcy and shut down. This year, the wheels appear to have come off and complete game over can't be that far away. This is sad for a couple reasons, but the real reason for the failure isn't completely clear. Was there some fishy business going on here? We'll probably never have definitive evidence. If there was, well then it's less sad - somebody didn't follow the rules and got in trouble. Either way, it'll go down in the books as more proof that downtown Detroit isn't friendly for business and, especially, fine dining restaurants. That is a shame, and as usual Detroit comes out looking bad.

I guess all that anyone can do or recommend is to support your Detroit (or otherwise local) businesses. Consider heading downtown, and if you don't feel too safe doing that, consider lingering before or after a sporting event or concert when there are way more people down that way. Otherwise, there will always be a bummer of the week.

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