When restaurant and jazz club Soul of Detroit opened at Lakeside Circle in February this year, the venue set out to deliver a “taste of the city” to the Macomb area. With specialties like fresh fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie on the menu, along with regular jazz performances and comedy nights, the new business looked set to do just that before COVID-19 forced its closure.
Metromode talked Maurice Ford, head chef and co-owner with Talisha Watts-Ford, about the reopening of the Sterling Heights restaurant and how they are navigating a new venture through global pandemic.
Metromode: You opened just four weeks before COVID-19 closures, how did that initially impact Soul of Detroit?
The restaurant was built as an entertainment venue for the community of Macomb County, and we were forced to revert to a carry-out style format. During our closure, the restaurant lost many of our employees, who have since moved on to other endeavors.
What kind of impact on your revenue are you looking at because of the pandemic?
Since the closures, and with the revenue we'd forecast, we are currently running at 65% below our estimated margins due to the pandemic, while operating the venue at 50% capacity.
What has helped keep your business running during this time?
Soul of Detroit received a modest [Paycheck Protection Program] loan to assist employees during the initial shut-down, but we did not receive the much-needed small business relief funds to assist in reopening the business, and to assist in lease payments during the pandemic. While the business is a new venture, we were not impacted any less than established entities.
Now that businesses are reopening, what's been the biggest hurdle for you?
Currently the biggest challenge while reopening is toeing the line between hiring staff and spending while operating at 50% capacity. With no economic relief assistance, we are forced to strategically increase much needed staff assistance while closely monitoring customers readiness to resume dining out.
How has the community responded?
The community has been a great source of inspiration for us. Well wishes have poured in and the community has definitely embraced our concept and are eager to get in here and enjoy some live jazz as restrictions are lifted.
What’s inspiring you in your business right now?
The number of people who call and verbalize they enjoy both the ambiance and the food gives us hope that, while we are in a unique time currently, our concept was dead-on and that we can be successful in this venture.
What will the rest of the year hold, in your opinion?
For the remainder of this year, our hopes and prayers are that the community remains safe and healthy as we reopen. The health of the community is vital to the survival of small businesses, and as healthcare workers, this is the number one priority of my wife and I. When it is deemed safe, we want everyone to come out and get a great meal while singing karaoke, laughing on our comedy night, or tapping their feet to the beat during our live musical performances.