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Booming culinary scene could help revitalize Detroit

Jan 12, 2016

Sarah Welch, executive chef at Republic Tavern in Detroit
Credit Sarah Welch

A recent Washington Post story declares that “one of the country’s poorest cities is suddenly becoming a food mecca.”

It highlights the growing scene of young chefs and restaurateurs setting up shop in Detroit.

Sarah Welch is one of them. She’s the executive chef at Republic Tavern, located in the restored castle-like Grand Army of the Republic building in Detroit.

In his story for the Washington Post, writer Mark Guarino says, “Detroit is in the middle of a culinary transformation,” an assertion with which Welch agrees wholeheartedly.

“I think it’s made evident in the number, the saturation of restaurants opening in Detroit right now,” she says, calling to mind six or seven that opened within the last eight months.

Welch believes Detroit’s booming culinary scene is the result of a natural cycle. She explains that when cities go through a great outflux, young artists and chefs are usually the first groups drawn back in. The artists need good places to eat, which attracts the chefs, and “from there, you’re kind of building back the basic needs of a city,” she says.

According to Welch, one of the big movements in the city’s culinary scene is establishing a network of local suppliers.

“I think most of us right now are really focused on either training or partnering with farmers to get their product into Detroit until the more immediate Detroit scene is able to sustain the number of restaurants that are wanting to open in the area,” she says.

Welch thinks that Detroit’s expanding food scene could play a major role in revitalizing the city.

She tells us that when people think of Detroit, they tend to think of the downtown area. And while there is a lot of promising development happening downtown, she believes that we need to shake that mindset before Detroit can become a true “food mecca.”

“I think that what I would really love to see is just spread of the businesses that are cropping up in Detroit. People going further out,” she says. “And I think that with that, with those businesses growing outside of that really tight framework downtown, other amenities will crop up there as well. They’ll need stores, they’ll need Whole Foods, they’ll need … lights in the streets, they’ll need safe parking. And I think that just the cropping up of those restaurants further out will just extend the amount of attention that those areas in Detroit are getting in terms of just basic amenities.”

While Detroit is certainly in the midst of a culinary boom, Welch is quick to clarify that it’s always been a great town for food, and that she and her peers can’t take credit for that.

“New restaurants aside, there has always been a reason to come to Detroit for food, and that reason is just the rich ethnicity,” she says. “I think it was [a food mecca] before, and I think if anything we’re just adding a different face to that spectrum.”

Sarah Welch tells us about her journey in the culinary arts and shares more ideas for how the food scene can help Detroit flourish in our conversation above.