The owners of a popular Mexican supermarket and restaurant in Pontiac will open a dine-in and carryout restaurant in the heart of downtown Detroit late next week, featuring food cooked on site from scratch and served in minutes.
The new Carnival Fresh Mex restaurant in the Penobscot Building, at the corner of Fort and Griswold, will seat about 50 and serve from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, as well as opening for weekend events, says Jason Ayiar, who owns Carnival with his brother, Joseph, and father, George, all of Farmington Hills. Family friend Danny Bally of West Bloomfield is also a partner.
After high-quality food, speed is the second-most-important consideration for downtown workers deciding where to eat, says Ayiar, so the new Carnival will have three registers for taking orders plus an expediter to check them for accuracy when customers pick up their food.
"The goal is to fill orders in 5 minutes or less," he says. "If we can let customers sit down for an extra 5 minutes to enjoy their food, we are happy for them." Guests can choose their own salsas from eight selections at the self-serve salsa bar, and in a few weeks, they will be able to buy bags of the house-made chips and containers of salsa to take home.
The open kitchen -- just behind the registers -- will be visible to customers inside, and passersby on Fort Street can watch the action through a large storefront window beside the restaurant's front door. The window is "a highlight of the kitchen -- a bonus," Ayiar says. "They can see us cooking. We don't hide a thing."
The restaurant grew out of the success of the mostly carryout restaurant inside Pontiac's Carnival Market -- a modern, spacious, supermarket the Ayiar family opened at 1101 E. Walton in 2009.
It features a full line of Hispanic food and grocery products, including fresh produce; meats cut and marinated by in-house butchers; fresh breads, rolls and pastries baked from scratch in-house daily, and an extensive line of house-made prepared food items.
Products range from cooked carnitas (tender shredded pork) and carne asada (marinated grilled steak) sold by the pound to ceviche, hand-made tamales and 15 kinds of fresh salsas. The chips are fried fresh daily, and the store will soon add a tortilleria to make its own tortillas, starting from dried corn kernels.
Long before opening the Pontiac store, the family spent months learning about the Hispanic grocery business at supermarkets their cousins owned in San Diego for almost 30 years.
"But the biggest part was, they gave us all their recipes" for the marinades, seasonings, salsas, breads and prepared foods that have been successfully used there for years, Jason Ayiar says.
If the recipes and flavors weren't authentically Mexican -- at least as it's defined in southern California -- the Ayiars knew their food wouldn't be accepted. In Pontiac, that hasn't been a problem. Business has grown steadily since the store opened, mostly by word of mouth.
Having a restaurant wasn't part of the Ayiars' original plan, however.
None of the San Diego stores had places for shoppers to sit and eat, but the Ayiars put in a few seats anyway. "We kind of followed Costco with that," Ayiar says.
The original menu had barely a dozen items. But when more and more non-Hispanic shoppers began coming into the store and ordering tacos and burritos, "we started adding more and more to the menu -- more restaurant-type food as opposed to supermarket-type food," he says. "We somewhat fell into the restaurant business."
The Pontiac menu now has dozens of items. The Detroit menu will feature burritos, tacos, tortas (sandwiches), tostados, nachos and combos that come with rice and beans. Breakfast will include breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros and huevos Americanos. The menu will be online soon at www.carnivalfreshmex.com. (645 Griswold; 313-223-1400)
Contact Sylvia Rector: 313-222-5026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SylviaRector