David Kraus and Executive Chef Rafael Esparza
David Kraus and Executive Chef Rafael Esparza

David Kraus’ illustrious culinary career has taken him to New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago, but his roots are firmly here in Metro Detroit.

Now, as a successful restaurateur who’s left his mark across the country, Kraus, 45, has returned home as the new co-owner and operating partner of Maccabees Traders (formerly Maccabees Midtown) located at 5057 Woodward Ave. in Detroit, which opened March 6.

Kraus, who grew up in West Bloomfield, spent his youth attending Hillel Hebrew Day School, B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and, like most kids in his neighborhood, went to Tamarack Camps. He graduated from West Bloomfield High School and Michigan State University,

Food has always been a common thread throughout Kraus’ life and career over the past 30 years. At age 14, his first job was at the Burger King on Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills. But the biggest influence came from his parents, Eva and Gerry, and working in the family business, Kraus & Company, an Oak Park-based wholesale food flavoring manufacturer for products like ice cream and beverages.

He recalled a conversation with his father about his interests and how they might translate into a career, and Kraus realized working with and around food was fun and allowed for creativity.

“I always enjoyed making and creating things — something I learned from my parents — and, over the years, it has evolved into concepts, menus, hospitality and overall experience for my customers,” he said. “At the end of a meal, having customers stop and thank me for their dining experience — that’s what energizes me and brings me tremendous satisfaction.”

Over the years, he’s held a variety of positions ranging from chef and manager to consultant and owner, and his work has earned him numerous accolades across the country.

Much of his early success came in Chicago, where he was general manager of Monsoon, named by Bon Appetit as best new ethnic restaurant; and he opened Parlor, which won several awards on both the local and national levels. In 2014, he helped launch smoke.oil.salt., which quickly became a nationally recognized Spanish restaurant in Los Angeles. Most recently, he served as the restaurant consultant for the opening of Shibumi, which was named as the second-best restaurant in all of Los Angeles last year, and last month, he was nominated for a James Beard Award for the Best New Restaurant in the country.

It was on the West Coast where Kraus met Chicago native Rafael Esparza, the executive chef at Maccabees Traders. With a shared love of Asian cuisine, they revamped the menu, which is defined as “Asian-inspired with a Detroit flair.” It features sharable starters and sides, salads, sandwiches and entrees with prominent Southeast Asian influences such as Vietnamese fish-sauce chicken wings, vegan, pork or duck buns, shrimp bahn mi, green papaya salad, chicken and jasmine rice dumpling soup with several nods to Detroit, including Vernor’s glazed thit kho (pork belly) and grilled tofu steaks with zip sauce.

Watching the burgeoning food scene happening in Detroit, the opportunity to bring his expertise here came when a mutual friend introduced him to Maccabee’s Midtown owner Peter Berishaj who was looking to bring new life into the restaurant. Berishaj, who also owns the famed Gateway Deli in Troy and Detroit, met Kraus and it clicked.

Returning to Detroit is a defining moment for him professionally and personally.

“I’ve worked in many major cities with established food reputations like L.A., Chicago and Las Vegas, and now Detroit is right up there as a dining destination. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it,” he said. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now, surrounded by my family and lifelong friends, working and representing this city. It’s everything to me.”

Michael Isenberg Special to the Jewish News

For more information, visit www.maccabeestraders.com or call (313) 831-9311.