As tired as I am of Miss Rona and how she’s upended our lives, hearing about strong Black people regrouping to make the best of the circumstances never gets old. For Chef Nigel Fyvie, Dr. Lloyd Talley and Kwaku Osei-Bonsu – the organizers of Detroit Black Restaurant Week – their new restaurant is more than just an innovative approach to COVID-safe dining. EastEats is an example of what it looks like when an entire community embraces a project.
“This started on a whiteboard in Kwaku’s office – and, from there, it just exploded into all of this,” Fyvie says. “It’s bigger and better than what we imagined.” EastEats is in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, one of the oldest in Detroit, occupying a formerly vacant lot behind Osei-Bonsu’s home.
Inside the wooden gate, 10 geodesic igloo-style domes sit on pagodas surrounded by succulents and strung with fairy lights. According to Osei-Bonsu, the furniture inside each dome is crafted from recycled or repurposed material. Shipping crates and thread spools have found new life as loungers and tables.
Osei-Bonsu says, “It’s crazy how quick this all came about. I think we put this together in three months. We wanted to upcycle as much as we could from local areas, and give people a nostalgic feel for when we could go and be comfortable around others without stress.”
On Oct. 9, EastEats held a grand opening for a limited number of guests. It was chic, friendly and, most importantly, mindful of COVID precautions. My party sat in a partly enclosed dome that was just far enough away from others to be safe and intimate, but close enough for us to feel included to the scene.
Sipping a Modelo and listening to Jazmine Sullivan, I felt like I was at a downtown or New York café patio, pre-corona. But it was better, because I was on the east side, and the vibes were real and amazing.
“I have to give Lloyd credit for the dome idea. My original concept was a school bus café but needs changed, and we had to adapt with the times,” Osei-Bonsu says. Every aspect of EastEats minimizes risk for patrons and staff. Reservations and orders are placed beforehand on Tock, and server interactions are limited to brief check-ins. Cooking is done in an onsite food truck.
Fyvie, a restaurant aficionado who most recently managed Cooking with Que, says the menu offerings were curated for flavor, accessibility and safety. They do “tiny dining” with a rotating seasonal street food menu. The current focus is tacos, wraps and bao-type dishes.
“It’s the east side to the Eastern hemisphere. The first stop was Asia, but this winter, we’re traveling to the Bangladesh-India-Yemen areas,” Fyvie says. “And it was important to have delicious vegan and vegetarian meals for people like me with diet restrictions at prices that lets everyone experience something fresh and new.”
EastEats was almost entirely put together by hand by the community, and the excitement is through the roof. When I was there for the opening, a stream of cars and pedestrians stopped by to show enthusiasm and congratulate the owners.
The best part (aside from the food) was getting to meet the Costons, a group of neighborhood siblings and cousins led by Chandlar Coston and Kaleb Brewster. The kids took it upon themselves to assist with EastEats after construction began simply because it looked fun and they wanted to help.
“We really liked doing stuff with our hands and building stuff anyway, like making a house out of a pool one summer. This was way bigger, and it’s cooler because it’s right by our house, on our street and we get to be part of making it. I’m so excited,” Chandlar says.
The Coston kids are featured on a gorgeous mural painted by Ijania Cortez who’s done work for Murals in the Market and collaborated on projects with Sydney G. James, such as The Girl with the D Earring. “They just walked over like, ‘Y’all need help?’ And we were like, ‘Actually, yeah – we do!’” Osei-Bonsu says.
“They never stopped coming and didn’t even really want to be paid. So, I decided to dedicate the mural to them because not only did they deserve it but they’re truly the future of this community. They’re who this is for.”
1018 Navahoe St., Detroit