Oh, how things have changed in the few short years since restaurateur Mindy Lopus opened her first restaurant -- the high-end, vino-focused Tallulah in Birmingham.
"Never in my life did I expect to have, 15 minutes before we opened, 25 people lined up in the parking lot to get in. It was great," she says of last week's opening night at the more casual Red Crown, the first of three spots she plans to unveil in Grosse Pointe Park this year.
She says Tallulah was "slammed" at its opening, "doing crazy numbers too, but not to the extent that we are here."
Slammed might be something of an understatement when it comes to Red Crown's opening week -- after opening on March 6 to the aforementioned lines, the restaurant canceled its second night of service to deal with the craziness. When it reopened a day later -- Friday night -- Lopus says they served up nearly 400 dinners.
"It's kind of a testament to people really wanting something different and out-of-the-ordinary for Grosse Pointe," she says. "There's a lot of great restaurants here, but they're fairly well-known, traditional restaurants. There's not anything that's kind of funky and different."
Housed in a former Standard Oil gas station on Kercheval, Red Crown is more relaxed and family-oriented than Lopus' Birmingham efforts. (She also ran Bella Piatti, which has since been sold and retooled by its new owners.)
It marks a new frontier for Lopus, who even purchased a home in the Pointes in the fall. "It's the opposite end of town and it's a very different clientele than Birmingham, particularly in Grosse Pointe Park. We're right on the edge of Detroit, literally two blocks," she says. "It's a much more urban part of Grosse Pointe than anything else, and it's much more eclectic. It has a little taste and feel of Ferndale, Royal Oak, plus a little feel of Grosse Pointe kind of all rolled into one."
Red Crown will soon be joined in the Silver Pig Restaurant Group by a second Tallulah location and a bakery that will have a retail operation as well as supply artisan breads to her other restaurants. For now, Lopus is focused on keeping Red Crown running smoothly and adding lunch and brunch service to its initial dinner hours. We caught up with her in the midst of opening-weekend chaos.
Could you describe the Red Crown concept?
It's farm-to-table, and we do as much sustainable, all-natural, organic foods as we possibly can. Everything is made from scratch in-house, all of our sauces, everything with the exception of ketchup and mustard. We're doing basically American comfort food that has a little bit more of a Southern twist to it. We put shrimp and grits on the menu, and we're doing beer-battered fish and chips, but it's all perch since this is perch country. ... I have two bartenders and we have a big, heavy artisan craft cocktail program going on that's fabulous. We also have the first still-tap wines in Michigan. ... Our beer program is all Michigan beers with the exception of PBR.
Detroiters have a lot of great barbecue options, and there's a lot on your menu. What sets Red Crown apart?
We have the very first Little Red Smokehouse in the state of Michigan, which is this box that looks almost like an old bank safe. It's about 6 feet tall and about 4 feet wide, and it's painted bright fire-engine red. We smoke everything in that. It's all wood-fired. The grill is totally wood-fired. ...
The stuff that's coming out of it is amazing. We're primarily doing barbecue, but we're not dubbing ourselves a barbecue place because it's a little bit more.
The menu and the vibe are extremely different from what you have at Tallulah in Birmingham and formerly at Bella Piatti. Did moving away from the white-tablecloth world make you nervous?
I'm definitely having fun doing something besides fine dining. It's very different for me because I jumped into Tallulah never having any kind of restaurant experience except for waiting tables and being a cocktail server in a bar in college, and my only experience so far has been fine dining.
To jump into this has been really fun and it's kind of a churn-and-burn kind of thing, which is different, but still -- a lot of my servers have worked for me either at Bella Piatti or Tallulah and they still have kind of a more fine-dining mentality. So people are getting that service without it feeling stuffy.
What will Red Crown add to Detroit's brunch scene?
I spent my whole adult life ... living all over the country, and Sunday brunch to me was the cap to the weekend. And we've got this big, beautiful patio and just kind of a cool space that it seemed like it would be a cool fit for it. And here there's not a lot of brunch places that have that kind of cool cocktail mentality as well, and we seem to be doing this nice crossover with families and single people that I think it's going to be a nice fit here.
With the opening of Red Crown and Bona Fide Baking Company and a Grosse Pointe Tallulah on the way, are you worried that you're biting off too much?
The bakery was in the works before the whole split of Bella Piatti came about. I was starting to look for a space. But in Birmingham, to have a bakery, I don't need an expensive retail space for it. And the deal that I was able to put together here and to have things so close together -- because literally between Red Crown and where Tallulah is there's two buildings, two storefronts, and then the bakery is right next to where Tallulah is going to go and they have a shared kitchen.
The whole structure of the whole thing just worked so beautifully here it just really made sense.
More Details: Red Crown
15301 Kercheval Ave.
Grosse Pointe Park