The JN team gets the inside scoop on BESA from managing partner Mario Camaj and Executive Chef Kyle Schutte.
Videography by Dillon Smith
BESA in Detroit has been open for almost eight months in the historic Vinton Building on Woodward Avenue. This modern-American style restaurant featuring a raw bar and an impressive selection of wines continues to turn skeptics into regulars.
The name “BESA” comes from managing partner Mario Camaj’s Albanian heritage. In times of war, Albanians would often house other people, even protecting them with their lives, and this cultural precept became known as “BESA.” For Camaj, he wants to show the same level of hospitality and honor in his restaurant.
Camaj works alongside Gerti Begaj, who began his culinary career as a server assistant under Camaj at downtown Birmingham’s Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro in 2013.
“Shortly after he [Begaj] became serving manager, he was running Tallulah pretty much every day,” Camaj says. “Then we decided to continue our relationship and he became a managing partner for BESA.”
The menu is modern, with plenty of atypical menu items. The raw bar on the ground level features oysters, beef tartare and various fish.
Executive Chef Kyle Schutte believes BESA’s vichyssoise best represents his style, which he defines as “fun yet sophisticated, innovative yet familiar and humane yet accessible.” The dish is a potato waffle soaked in a potato and leek broth, topped off with leek butter.
“The vichyssoise is one of those dishes that is near and dear to my heart,” Schutte says. “It’s the dish I realized that it isn’t just about concept — it’s about execution. At one point that dish got away from me and it was just about being different. It is a reminder to hone in on fundamentals.”
Schutte struggled with being unable to tap into his creative side while studying psychology in college. He discovered a love for the culinary arts after eating an ice cream sandwich on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Maui.
“When I bit into this ice cream sandwich, it took me back to when I was six years old with my dad after a little league game,” he says. “I wasn’t in Maui — I wasn’t worried about my future. I thought about how the chef has the ability to be creative and make a connection with their guests.”
After experiencing the joy of the culinary arts, he knocked on doors at local restaurants to get hired, eventually working his way up to executive chef.
The innovative style at BESA initially had some diners feeling skeptical. Now, Schutte says that after tasting his cuisine, guests are eager to come back and order their favorite dishes.
“We’re doing things differently — a little out of the box,” he says. “People at first had to get their bearings. It’s Detroit, so everyone here is super friendly and super excited to have a new restaurant.”
With BESA only four months away from its first anniversary, Camaj and Begaj’s goals are best summarized by the restaurant’s namesake.
“Doing what we love, which is taking care of people,” Camaj says.
For more information on BESA, visit https://www.besadetroit.com/