Born And ‘Bread’ In Detroit
Eli Boyer launches a new restaurant concept in Corktown.
Creating a successful restaurant is a tough nut to crack. Eli Boyer knows it. Like the growing landscape of restaurant entrepreneurs in Detroit, he relishes the opportunity to cook up a new restaurant concept that can raise the bar in his hometown.
In December 2014, the 20-something entrepreneur opened Gold Cash Gold in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood alongside several other partners, including Phil Cooley, founder of the famous Slow’s Bar BQ in Corktown. Gold Cash Gold’s vision is distinctly Detroit: “Conscientiously sourced, carefully crafted, uniquely Detroit farmstead fine food with a nod to the South, rooted in old world tradition.”
Each month, the restaurant partners with a charity focused on improving the education and welfare of Detroiters.
We caught up with the grandson of the late Jewish News writer Bill Carroll to get inside the mind of today’s millennial entrepreneur, part of a growing group of young adults bringing the skills they honed in cities like Chicago and New York City back to their hometown.
DJN: How were you involved with the community growing up?
EB: My family are longtime members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, where I attended Sunday/weeknight religious school through high school graduation. I was also a longtime camper and staff member at Camp Tamarack, as well as a member of BBYO/AZA in high school. I was also a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi (a Jewish fraternity) at University of Michigan
DJN: How do you see yourself as a part of the new energy of young people returning home and contributing to the city?
EB: I hope I can be an operator that delivers the kind of restaurant concepts that Detroiters are able to enjoy in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, etc., but in their own backyard. I want people to visit for the holidays, come to Gold Cash Gold and beg for that kind of restaurant in Williamsburg, the Gold Coast or the Mission District.
DJN: What led you to move back to Detroit and pursue Gold Cash Gold in your hometown?
EB: The day I left for Chicago — where I learned everything I know about restaurants — I made a commitment to return and share what I learned, when I was ready, in the city of Detroit. Like many other young people who’ve returned in recent years, I went to a city that was well-established in my discipline so I could hone my skills and eventually seize the great opportunities we have here in Detroit. There are still plenty of unexplored niches in the food and beverage industry here.
EB: I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I just didn’t know what. I’ve also had a deep love of food/cooking for as long as I can remember, so it intrigued me. In college, I landed a management internship with Myriad Restaurant Group in NYC (Nobu, Tribeca Grill) that really cultivated my love for restaurants.
DJN: How long have you been interested in the restaurant industry?
EB: 15 years or so? I’m currently 29.
DJN: How did you choose the location for Gold Cash Gold?
EB: A few of my partners chose the location. They’re heavily invested in Corktown, owning several other businesses on the same block. The building is large and was empty for a long time, making it a magnet for crime/blight. They saw an opportunity to not only revamp an iconic building that was priced to sell with retail and residential, but also improve the comfort and security of our growing community at the same time.
DJN: How did you come up with the name Gold Cash Gold?
EB: The name speaks to the gigantic signage that used to front Michigan Avenue, which was an advertisement for the pawn shop (Sam’s Loans) that was here for so long.
DJN: What is your current role with the restaurant? Are you focused on the day-to-day operations?
EB: I’m the managing partner. Along with Chef Josh (Stockton), who’s also a partner, I provide a daily ownership presence in the restaurant, which manifests as a combination of high-level/long-term planning and attention to the details that make this place so special.
EB: I try to “touch” as many guests as possible on a daily basis. I’m usually here an hour before we open for lunch and stay well into dinner so I can observe and interact with staff and guests on both shifts. Like any new small business owner, my day is consumed by making tweaks, putting out fires, making sure my staff is prepared (and happy!) and getting the word out as much as possible.
DJN: How did you become affiliated with the other partners involved with the restaurant?
EB: I first called Ryan Cooley (one of the partners who is also an owner of Slows BBQ and O’Connor Realty) when I was still living in Chicago to talk about available real estate for a restaurant in Detroit. We began talking in-depth about the business, and our philosophies and goals meshed very well. He was looking for someone of my background to join the project, which was still very much in its infancy at the time, and I was happy to be that guy. We hope to do a lot of projects together in the future.
DJN: What has been your impression since the restaurant opened last month?
EB: We expected to be busy from day one, but the outpouring of support from the neighborhood and greater community has been overwhelming. This is my seventh restaurant opening in five years, and it’s been the smoothest one yet. I have to give credit to our staff. Everyone told us it would be difficult to find good people, but I guess we lucked out.
DJN: What has been the biggest challenge over the last year?
EB: For me personally, I became very accustomed to the way we opened restaurants in Chicago. We developed a system and everybody had their roles. I moved to a new city with a very different small business climate and started working with people that have different skill sets than I was used to. It forces you to take off some hats and put other ones on, which can be tough at first, but it’s the only way we grow.
DJN: How do you think Gold Cash Gold can most impact the community’s success?
EB: I hope we bring more eyes to the city and visitors notice some of the other creative and like-minded bars, coffee shops, clothing stores, etc., that exist in Corktown. I strongly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. Our hopeful success should breed success for the dive bar next door or shawarma joint down the street.
DJN: Do you have any favorite items on the menu?
EB: Anything that’s been pickled. We’re a seasonal, from-scratch kitchen, so when our local farmers grow something that’s really delicious, we pickle it or preserve it in some way so we can enjoy it year round. We offer a daily batch of seasonal pickled vegetables on our menu. But our fried chicken marinates in pickle brine, and some of our desserts and drinks even have pickled fruits as a component. There are pickled items wherever you look on our menu!
DJN: Are there any other Detroit-based restaurants that you particularly admire?
EB: I love Katoi, which is inspired by Thai street food. You can find it at Two James Distillery Tuesday through Saturday right now, but they’re opening their own brick-and-mortar restaurant just down the street from us on Michigan Avenue.
EB: I love that the restaurant community is extremely supportive of each other, which is a tendency in most cities but even more so in Detroit. We all recognize that success breeds success, so I hope that every single place that opens in the city is able to not only survive, but thrive. The more creative restaurants that put serious deep thought into their concepts, the better!
DJN: What are your long-term career goals?
EB: I hope to get to a point where we’re opening a new restaurant concept in the city every six to nine months. Something that a neighborhood a can really rally around, much like Gold Cash Gold. My great-grandfather Morris Samuels owned a deli/cafeteria in Eastern Market — called Samuels Bros. — for more than 50 years. My uncle on the other side of the family owns Star Deli in Southfield. So deli is literally in my DNA. Maybe that’s next.
DJN: What would be your advice to another former Detroiter looking to start up a new project in Detroit?
EB: Now is the time. Don’t miss the kind of opportunities that exist here. The risk is worth it. In many ways, Detroit allows you to be exactly what you want to be. All of my close friends — who I’ve known since childhood — left to Chicago, New York, Boston, LA, etc., after graduating college in 2007. With the exception of one, they’re all back in Detroit, have been able to work on projects that would be near impossible in those other cities and have found incredible success doing so. The opportunity is real.
By Adam Finkel, Special to the Jewish News
Gold Cash Gold
2100 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Bar: Tuesday–Sunday: 11 a.m.-close.
Lunch: Tuesday– Sunday: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday: 5-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday: 5 p.m.-midnight.
Entrees run from $10-$21.