After Winning The “Oscars Of Street Food” What Do You Do? Open Up In Detroit

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This summer, Detroit will add a new member to its growing list of restaurants. The newest arrival, Calexico, a New York City-based Mexican restaurant, will open in the One Campus Martius building (1040 Woodward Avenue).

The 4,000 square-foot restaurant and bar will occupy the space that formerly housed Olga’s Kitchen. It will seat about 130 people and will be open seven days a week serving lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends. Construction is expected to begin in April, and Calexico is slated to open sometime this summer.

The Calexico restaurant chain was founded in 2006 by brothers Jesse, Brian, and Dave Vendley. They started with a food cart and served family recipes from that, but as their cooking started to gain a large following, they expanded to brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Calexico has earned two Vendy Awards (considered the “Oscars of street food”) and now includes three food carts and four restaurants across Manhattan and Brooklyn.

This restaurant in Detroit will be the chain’s first outside of the New York City area. When asked why they chose Detroit, Peter Oleyer and Dave Vendley answered, “We’ve become big fans of Detroit. We see lots of similarities between Brooklyn and Detroit.”

The Q-Line streetcar is being constructed right out front of the new Detroit Calexico location - Daily Detroit Photo
The Q-Line streetcar is being constructed right out front of the new Detroit Calexico location – Daily Detroit Photo

“Detroit is known across the country as one of America’s hot food cities, and we look forward to adding to that already impressive reputation by bringing our California-Mexican fusion cuisine to the Central Business District,” said David Vendley, one of Calexico’s founders. “We’re blown away by the energy and excitement downtown and we love the fact that the restaurant is close to Campus Martius Park, so many vibrant office buildings and their thousands of active and hungry workers. This new Calexico location will be at the center of it all.”

The small business opportunity in the hospitality industry was another draw. Dave said they were excited to be part of the growth of such an important American city. “We’ve been excited to expand our brand outside of New York City and expose new people to it. We relate to Detroit, and we think folks are going to respond well to the food.”

Speaking of food, the way Dave and Peter described Calexico’s entrees, the restaurant should hold top spot on your list of Detroit places to eat this summer. The menu features appetizers, salads, bowls, entrees, side dishes, and sauces, all made from scratch daily, including Calexico’s sweet, smoky “crack sauce,” served with burritos, beer bettered fish, quesadillas, tacos, and more.

They stated that they’re not trying to be a tradition Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant. “We take a lot of liberties with food,” Peter explained. “We’re creating the food we want to eat. So if we had guests over, what are we going to eat? Well, we’re pulling pork shoulder out of the over, throwing tortillas on the table, drinking beer, and hanging out. We’re creating a festive atmosphere.”

Dave elaborated, stating that they’re forging their own culinary trail. “We’re not trying to be authentic to any one cuisine. Our food is initially based on the town of Calexico, about two hours east by car from San Diego.”

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However, over time, the flavors used in the restaurant’s dishes have changed a little, and they’ve created something new and unique. “When you’re on the border an hybridizing and sharing cultures, there are always going to be areas of it that are reminiscent. Now, 10 years after starting Calexico, that hybridization has continued, including New York City inspiration and inspiration from all over.”

And when Peter said that they create food they want to eat, he wasn’t kidding. “Dave and I eat Calexico five days a week. Sometimes more.” Heath-concious people needn’t fear, either. “The nice thing about the menu here is that we’re a scratch kitchen and the food is reasonably light. It’s sustainable and relatively healthful. We’ve been eating the stuff for 10 years, and we haven’t tired of it.”

As for your dining experience, expect to have a good time in a relaxed, festive atmosphere. “We serve the food we love to eat and create a restaurant that we’d love to hang out in. Our point of view is translated in the food we serve and the music we play.” They may play their music a little louder than most places, and the food may taste a little bolder, but that’s the way they like it.

Dave and Peter are excited about Calexico’s expansion to Detroit and their chance to engage with the city. It seems they’ve fallen in love with Detroit and wouldn’t change a thing.

“We’re not trying to bring New York to Detroit. We want to be a part of Detroit.”

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