Chartreuse Owner Sandy Levine Comes From A Family Of Restaurateurs
A lot of newcomers have recently jumped on the burgeoning restaurant bandwagon in Downtown Detroit, but Sandy Levine, owner of Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Midtown, had his plans set a long time ago.
“I’ve always been a fan of Downtown since I worked there in restaurants when I was young,” said Levine, 39. “The clientele in the city is my favorite because it’s diverse and brings everyone together. We have everyone in Chartreuse from people dressed in formal wear coming from the DSO, to casual students from Wayne State University and everything in between.”
Levine is excited to be a part of the growing renaissance in Detroit of places to eat and enjoy art and culture, and he plans to stay and perhaps expand in years to come.
He and business partner chef Doug Hewitt have made a name for themselves in just over a year at their Park Shelton location on Kirby Street and Woodward Avenue, with Chartreuse’s colorful, open design (think San Francisco) and imaginative, farm-to-fork menu.
“Our signature made-to-be-shared standouts like the twice-cooked egg, poached and fried, with Brussels sprouts and warm shallot vinaigrette; and the glazed spare ribs with raw potato seaweed salad are examples of the menu that’s farm-fresh and changes often, sometimes daily,” Levine said.
The cocktail bar offers the namesake’s rare varieties of green and yellow Chartreuse liqueur like Genepi de Peres — a legendary “elixir of long life” made by monks near the Chartreuse Mountains in France since 1737 and a personal favorite of Levine’s. The Chartreuse liqueur is made from a secret recipe of 130 herbs and plants — sort of the Da Vinci Code of drinks that lends itself to some playful mystique.
Like everything at his restaurant, Levine carefully vets his wine list, highlighting red, white and sparkling wines from California, France, Spain and Italy, including naturally made biodynamic offerings.
“Space is limited here. As a result, every item we serve has to be memorable and the best quality we can offer,” Levine said.
Levine is also the owner of the Oakland Art Novelty Company, an award-winning cocktails-only modern speakeasy (There is no sign for the bar. You need be in the know to find the location) in Ferndale.
“I originally wanted to open the Oakland Downtown, but the opportunity in Ferndale worked for us, and it’s another great community to be in,” he said.
The Oakland showcases show-worthy cocktails with spirits acquired abroad like Glenfiddich single-malt Scotch whiskey and Ypioca Cachaca rum. Even David Wondrich, one of the world’s foremost cocktail historians, was in awe during his visit there.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Sometimes you’re just born into a livelihood that becomes your passion. That’s the case for Levine, he says, even though he graduated with a degree in psychology from Kalamazoo College.
His family has owned restaurants in the Metro Detroit area for 60 years, and he began washing dishes for them when he was 11 years old. “My grandparents, Jack and Harriet Goldberg, started the Stage Deli in the 1960s, originally in Oak Park and now in West Bloomfield,” he said. It was the first place of its kind where you could expect to see celebrities canoodling in a corner booth listening to the sounds of live jazz and noshing on chopped liver. Owner, Jack Goldberg, liked to describe it as “a delicatessen meets fine dining.”
Other family members now run the Stage Deli that’s going strong as ever and is a local institution. “We’ve always been about being loyal to the area,” Levine said. He grew up in the northern suburbs, and he and his family were members of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
Levine and his staff are eager to give back to the community by participating in charitable events like Regenerate Detroit — donating time and effort raising money to help pay tuition for culinary students — and Deja Food, a Dec. 11 event benefiting Detroit Dog Rescue.
“I guess you could say the restaurant business is in my blood, and the truth is I don’t think I am cut out to do anything else,” Levine laughingly confesses. Today he brings his own family — wife, Heather, and two young children — into the business with him. “Heather is a partner, also, and I rely on her for every great decision we have made.”
Chartreuse may very well become another Detroit institution, and Levine says his parents and grandparents would be proud he’s carried on the family tradition.
“I know it may sound cliche, but if you find something you love as much as I love bringing a unique dining experience to the great clientele we have coming in, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
By Susan Peck | Special to the Jewish News