The Detroit restaurant scene has heated up over the past few years, earning the city a reputation as a foodie’s paradise destination. Hazel, Ravines & Downtown, a relative newcomer, has stood apart from the competition since it opened in late 2018. Offering a unique concept—three separate styles of cuisine under one roof—the restaurant gives executive chef Emmele Herrold an opportunity to showcase her range and provides a cozy neighborhood vibe where just about anyone can find something on the menu to delight them. Feel like a classic grilled cheese sandwich? Sure thing. A French taco from Morocco? They do that, too. And did we mention cocktails expertly poured by a robot?
We spoke to Hazel, Ravines & Downtown co-owner Beth Hussey to learn more about the inspiration behind her singular menu concept, and what she enjoys the most about owning a restaurant.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the food service industry? How did you get your start?
I grew up in the restaurant business, so it’s in my blood. I am the youngest of seven and all but one of us are in the restaurant business and have been our whole lives.
What inspired you to start your new restaurant, Hazel, Ravines & Downtown?
I’ve had a couple of restaurants before this one where I was an operating partner and had a silent financial partner. I was able to create a few of my own concepts, but I never truly felt like they were mine because I was working with someone else’s money. Even though I was given full creative power, I still always felt like I was working for someone else. That is sort of what led me to this, where I could have my own restaurant.
What is the story behind the name?
Actually, it was my cell phone that named the restaurant. I was taking a bunch of photos of the building and my phone was geo-tagging Hazel, Ravines, and Downtown. I thought it would be a fitting name since the building is located where these three neighborhoods all overlap and our goal is to be a very neighborhood-focused restaurant.
I understand that you have three unique menus.
Well, there is one physical menu, but unlike a traditional menu that is broken up into categories like appetizer, soup and salad, and entrées, ours is divided by cuisine. Emmele, my business partner and chef, likes a lot of different styles of food, so that turned into the concept.
Hazel’s food is very familiar and comforting, the type of food you can find at every restaurant in America: burgers, chicken wings, salad. Ravines’ menu concept is well-traveled. When anyone asks Emmele what her favorite food is to cook, she says it’s not one specific cuisine, but international food in general, so Ravines’ food comes from all over the world. Our third menu, Downtown, is stuff that’s trending right now. The simplest way to describe our menu is that there is a little something for everyone. If someone isn’t adventurous, they can get a steak and potato. Or, if they are, they can try something from our Downtown menu.
What does “something for everyone” mean as a restaurant genre and what challenges does that present versus having a single-cuisine focus?
People love the creativity, because there are not a lot of restaurants that are trying to be three concepts in one. However, our biggest challenge is describing the concept to the guests. I think we and the servers have done a pretty good job, but that’s the biggest challenge because it’s so unique.
What are the best-selling items on your menu?
From Hazel it’s our cheeseburger. It’s very simple but delicious and is the best burger around. Chef Emmele has won lots of competitions and awards for her burgers. She was even invited to compete in the 2014 World Food Championships and came in fourth place for best burger. This is her masterpiece, I think.
On the Ravines’ menu, it’s one of my favorites — the Georgian cheese bread. It’s almost like pizza dough filled with cheese and cooked in a pizza oven. It’s unique and people are going crazy for it.
The most popular item from the Downtown menu is the vegan cauliflower steak. It’s getting tons of attention because vegan food is really trending these days. It’s served with walnut chorizo and cashew cheese and the flavors are very unique. Vegetarian and vegan food is often an afterthought on the menu so people are thankful to have a really great option. Emmele marinates it and grills it like it’s a steak; you need a fork and steak knife to eat. It just feels like a special entrée.
You have a lot of variety on the menu. Does that also translate to the type of customers who dine with you?
All walks of life come to our restaurant, which is really cool. The year we opened, the Detroit Free Press included us on the list of the 10 best restaurants to open in that year, and it gave us tons of exposure to people outside of the community. So, we get locals, foodies, brunchers on the weekend, and the elderly. I love it, it’s really cool to see all ages and all types of people coming in.
I hear you have a built-in highball machine. Can you tell me what that is and how it works?
It’s a Jim Beam highball machine. Essentially, it’s a robot bartender that was designed to deliver the perfect pour every time. It chills the spirts and highly-carbonated soda, then precisely measures the bourbon and soda so there is the perfect ratio. We think it’s special. It’s the only one in Michigan, and it really does make the best highball.
What is your favorite part of being a restaurateur?
I love the guests, and also being able to create a positive culture for the employees, who I truly believe are our biggest asset. If employees are treated with respect and compassion, and have fun and love where they work, that will ensure that guests have a good experience. That’s not the case in every restaurant. Many owners have a hard time keeping staff, but for me it’s easy. You just need to find the right people, treat them well, pay them enough money, and you won’t have trouble.
What is the biggest challenge?
What keeps me up at night is the desire to always remain relevant. It’s such a competitive industry, especially in Detroit, where there is a bit of a restaurant renaissance. We are becoming known as a foodie city, and sometimes called the next Chicago. Every day there is a really cool restaurant opening. So, the question is, how do you stay relevant in people’s minds when there is so much stiff competition? It’s really exciting to think that I’m a part of it, that’s fun, but it’s also a little terrifying that there is so much awesome stuff happening around us. Hopefully, we will be able to stand the test of time.
What have you learned in the years since operating the restaurant that you wish you had known back when you first bought it?
How important it is to manage the money and to be business savvy. If you manage the pennies, the dollars will add up. I’ve learned so much over time about how to be profitable and run a good business, the dollars and cents of the business.
Have you experienced challenges along the way as a woman in the restaurant industry?
It’s funny because for me, I really haven’t. It’s actually been the opposite because we are more of a big fish in a small pond not vice versa. I think we get a little more attention because we’re women-owned. It feels invigorating to know women in the business, it’s energizing. It is male-dominated, especially in the kitchen and especially with chefs. Emmele might say she has experienced some challenges, but that’s not been the case for me.
How has your partnership with Rewards Network helped your restaurant grow?
Definitely the marketing. It’s been number one in helping me get butts in seats which for a new business is so important. Anything I can do for exposure helps the bottom line and it boosts the morale for employees to have people to wait on. Even though we are giving some of the money back when cardholders come in to dine, the bigger benefit is getting bodies in the building that servers can wait on. Because we were able to get money upfront, we were able to pay off some of the construction bills and pre-opening expenses. It gave us the freedom to not worry about money and focus on creating.
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