Although not Jewish, Matt Prentice “catered” extensively to the Jewish community.
Matt Prentice, a renowned local chef and restaurant entrepreneur, died April 8, 2021, after a short illness not related to COVID. He was 62.
Although not Jewish, Matt “catered” extensively to the Jewish community. At various times, he was the in-house caterer at several synagogues, including Temple Israel, Temple Shir Shalom, Temple Emanu-El and Adat Shalom Synagogue. He founded Milk & Honey, a former dairy restaurant located at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield and handled catering at the JCC.
Columnist Danny Raskin reported in the Jewish News in 2006 that Matt said he opened the kosher Milk & Honey restaurant to give back to the Jewish community that had been so good to him throughout his career.
Matt’s career began in the deli business. His first restaurant was Deli Unique in Oak Park in 1980; he later owned Deli Unique offshoots in West Bloomfield, Bingham Farms and Bloomfield Hills. He often enjoyed working behind the counter at his Plaza Deli in Southfield.
Matt opened and closed restaurants as people’s tastes and the economy changed. Some of these included Sebastian’s, Portabella and Café Jardin at Somerset Mall in Troy, Tavern on 13 and Flying Fish in Beverly Hills, Relish in Farmington Hills, Morels and Shiraz in Bingham Farms, Coach Insignia at the Renaissance Center, Northern Lakes Seafood in Bloomfield Hills, Duet in Detroit and No. VI Chophouse in Novi among others.
“Matt was a tremendous guy,” said Larry Jacobs, a retired social worker from Farmington Hills and a longtime culinary fan. “Matt catered the wedding of Jan and me at Temple Emanu-El and, years later, our son Marc’s bar mitzvah dinner at Morels.
“Matt also volunteered to do a cooking demonstration for my patients at Easter Seals. He helped them prepare a meal and they enjoyed eating it. He was very generous.”
Matt volunteered his services to local charities including the Karmanos Cancer Institute and a myriad of others. His latest efforts were with the Rev. Faith Fowler and Cass Community Social Services, a Detroit-based nonprofit that provides housing, food, health services and job training, and under his direction, the kitchen he created there serves more than 700,000 meals per year. He continued the partnership until his death.
“Matt taught our staff to cook from scratch,” said Rev. Fowler. “He taught me how to recognize hospitality and practice generosity. We are heartbroken by this news, and we will always be grateful to Matt for his friendship and talents.”
In 2019, Matt opened Three Cats in Clawson, a Michigan-centric restaurant. “There is an enormous empty spot at Three Cats,” said his business partner, Mary Liz Curtin. “Matt was a big man with an enormous heart, a loud laugh and a generous spirit. He was a wonderful teacher, a great mentor and an unbelievable cook.
“All of us at Three Cats thank him and are proud to be a Matt Prentice restaurant. We will always serve his favorite recipes, and there will always be mushrooms on the menu.”
A native of Detroit, Matt attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. But on Mother’s Day 2009, Danny Raskin reported that Matt modestly credited his mom Margaret Prentice’s sour cream coffee cake at the original Deli Unique in Oak Park for putting him on the map. She used to make about 300 a week in her home and brought them daily to the deli.
Matt also credited Raskin for giving Deli Unique needed publicity in his weekly “The Best of Everything” column. When it first opened, the deli was struggling. “The Friday the article came out in the Jewish News, we had people lined up outside the door,” Matt said. “We cut up vegetables for the people in line.
“[Danny] introduced me to the Jewish community and that community has embraced me, and I them,” Matt said.
Business partner Mary Liz Curtin and Rev. Fowler have set up a fundraising site Prentice Place to carry on Matt’s efforts to serve people in Detroit’s Cass Avenue area and as a tribute to Matt’s lifetime of charitable efforts.
“You’d have a hard time finding a restaurateur who gave so much to so many people,” said Curtin. “He was generous with his knowledge as well as his money — teaching his skills to many young chefs.
“Matt was larger than life.”
To donate to Prentice Place, go to justgiving.com/campaign/MattPrentice.
Donations in Matt Prentice’s memory can also be made to Cass Community Social Services, 11745 Rosa Parks Blvd., Attn: CR, Detroit, MI 48206, casscommunity.org/donate, or (313) 883-2277 ext. 225.