Maccabees Traders, located kitty-corner from the Detroit Institute of Arts, just went through a relaunch that kicked off Monday.
They’re pivoting toward an asian-inspired concept, and we stopped in last week to have a taste of some of the new menu items and talk to David Kraus.
He’s from the Metro Detroit area but has made a name in Los Angeles consulting with the James Beard-nominated Shibumi as well as the critically acclaimed smoke.oil.salt. He’s a partner in Maccabees Traders.
The responses have been edited lightly for clarity.
Daily Detroit: You’ve done projects in other cities across the country. What was the moment where you decided, all right, I’m going to do this in Detroit?
David Kraus: That was actually pretty easy, although it was stressful but it was easy. I grew up here. I grew up in the suburbs here. I had not lived here permanently for many years, but a couple years ago I was sick and I was doing some recuperating. Some good friends of mine that I grew up with invited me to stay with them in their house, with them, with their whole family. It was really great to get your friends to bring you into their house, them and their children, and really nurse you back to health is a pretty awesome thing.
Near the end of my time here, when I was getting ready to go back to Los Angeles, and I was doing better and it was time to go eat and drink and do the things that friends do. We came downtown, we went to Central Kitchen that night, and I was just blown away. I freaked out. I was like I love this place.
Personally, I still love Central Kitchen. I think it’s awesome. I think the food is awesome. The atmosphere was great, but it felt like Detroit in there. It didn’t feel like anywhere else in the world. I’d been to a lot of places. This is what I do all over.
Feeling like I was in Detroit, I’d never felt more at home in a restaurant environment than I did that night.
A couple days later, someone tricked me into meeting with someone who was interested in a project. We started talking. I was still going back to Los Angeles, so I did. I went back to Los Angeles and then continuing my rehab and then I kept on that conversation about do you want to come back to Detroit? Do you want to open up a place in Detroit? There was just that moment.
Believe it or not, It was an 85 degree day in Santa Monica and I started thinking about it and I was shaking my head and then I said “Oh, God. I’m going to do this, aren’t I?” Then, yeah. I knew that at that point I was coming back.
If you do what I do, which is you’re thrilled by just opening up restaurants and being involved in that excitement, this is the city you want to be in, no matter where you are in the country, no matter where you’re from. That’s why Chef [Rafael Esparza] is here, not because he has any ties to Detroit. He recognized that this is the place to be doing it in right way. From that perspective, that was the easy part is knowing Detroit and restaurants belong together and me too.
Daily Detroit: To you, what makes a place feel Detroit to you? What are a couple of the qualities that call out?
David Kraus: You can’t try and be Chicago or New York or Paris. In Detroit, people see through that. I always tell people in all my travels the greatest commodity that Detroit has is Detroiters. They aren’t falling for smoke and mirrors. You have to give them a quality product and the atmosphere has to be comfortable. It has to be not overbearing, not spoon-fed.
You know where you are. It feels like the city. It feels like suburbs I grew up in. It feels like it’s all happening together at that same point, the music, the lighting, the people. I don’t know that I have the word that explains it. It’s just it’s Detroit.
Daily Detroit: When folks come here, what should they be looking for? What is something that you’re really proud of?
David Kraus: Well, I would say from an atmosphere perspective, the one big change we did is we opened up the windows facing Woodward. When that happened, we let the light come in and let us outside, so to speak, behind the glass. From an aesthetics perspective, we feel like we’re right on Woodward, and that’s awesome. From a food and beverage perspective, I think what they’re going to see are unique flavors but very much product that is not scary. It’s something we’re all familiar with. When we started talking about the menu, the first item we talked were these Vietnamese fish sauce chicken wings.
That was where it all started. We all know chicken wings. I love chicken wings. From that perspective, it’s very comfortable and it’s very approachable. I think that that’s what the whole menu derived from is comfort, approachability, but very strong, very full flavors.
From a drink perspective, you’re going to see very similar things. Nobody’s coming here and making 12 ingredient cocktails. We’re making three ingredient cocktails with stuff that people know like stuff from down the road, too, like Two James and Valentine.
Detroiters support Detroiters and that’s what we’re here to do, too.