The restaurant world is a dangerous place. There are so many things you can do wrong as an owner, chef or manager to doom your place to closure; there’s an even wider host of external forces to do so, be they sanctimonious guests or failings at the water department.
Few of us in the industry, though, think about all the ways the world might chance to cause us pain, and fewer still would imagine that a series of seemingly random events could lead to ruin.
Katoi — the Detroit Free Press’ choice for Best New Restaurant of 2016 — was the victim of such happenstance, as many of you will have heard by now. A group of thieves, likely in the midst of a string of break-ins targeting high-end liquor brands and cash drawers, set a fire in the restaurant after breaking, entering, grabbing the booze, and (depending on reports) setting off an alarm or trying to break into a safe.
Regardless of the motivation, the fire burned hot, and Katoi was no more.
There have been numerous pieces written about this situation and the response of the Detroit restaurant scene. Katoi was open on Monday nights, unlike a lot of finer restaurants, and so it was popular not just amongst the average dining crowd, but also amongst industry employees who took advantage of their night off to enjoy some of the best food the city had to offer — and to take a selfie in the “Katoilet” mirror.
The response to the tragic fire was immediate. Other chefs figured out how to hire cooks for a known short-term employment, servers were offered places to land and continue working, and fundraisers for the employees were promptly planned and executed. The love was palpable, the pain real, and the generosity overwhelming and heartwarming.
I don’t know when Katoi will reopen, but when they do, you should make a point of visiting; they’re good people and the food is consistently some of the best in the city — as their accolades show. (Sure, all the comments about them being the hottest new restaurant in Detroit now seem in bad taste, but that’s hindsight for you.)
Instead, what I’ll say to you this week is this: Make time to visit the places you want to go. Come down to the city and eat what there is to eat, whether you hit up well-known Downtown or Midtown spots like Roast or Selden Standard, young and strong restaurants like Gold Cash Gold or Republic, or somewhere more well-hidden like the Food Exchange or Stache International.
Life is too short, too capricious, too cosmically cruel to put off enjoying a good meal. Take your good friends and go enjoy something together.
Leonard Nimoy, in his last tweet — somehow, it’s been over two years since he passed now — said, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
Make memories with your friends, and do it in places that are memorable. The first version of Katoi is no more; we have nothing left of it but memories — and photographs to help us remember the good meals. Long live Katoi.
Zeyn gezunt un shtark — be healthy and strong — until we break bread together again. Eat well.