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3 metro Detroit food staples make list of '100 Restaurants America Can't Afford to Lose'

Posted at 6:55 AM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 06:55:57-05

(WSYM) — Michigan restaurants received yet another blow this week, learning they won't be allowed to offer dine-in service until February 1 at the earliest. The previous MDHHS epidemic health order limiting indoor dining was set to expire Jan. 15.

In the midst of the industry's darkest hour, three metro Detroit staples are getting some national attention, all in an effort to keep them afloat.

Esquire recently published "100 Restaurants American Can't Afford to Lose," in which it named a beloved Dearborn bakery and Detroit's most iconic Coney competitors.

We checked out Shatila Bakery's Dearborn location, which Esquire described as "a glimpse into paradise" for any lover of sweets.

"..But for Dearborn’s sizable population of families with roots in the Arab world, the colorful displays of cookies and cakes at Shatila represent something more: a bedrock community center, a village square for customers old and young, as well as a living link to the flavors and textures of the Middle East," said one of the editors.

Mahdi Salah met our crew inside.

“I mean there’d usually be a crowd in here," he said. And it's not hard to understand why. Shatila bakes the flavors of the Middle East into each flaky bite of pastry it sells.

“We were really honored," Salah said of the recognition. He said staff there is doing the best they can and trying to roll with the punches, but said he's eager for when people are able to safely shop at Shatila the way they used to - often shoulder-to-shoulder.

"Everybody would be coming in, interacting with each-other again," Salah told Action News.

Also on Esquire's list -- arguably the City of Detroit's two most famous Coney spots, which have shared the same downtown corner for decades. They've been made famous by their distinct yet familiar taste and a story of fierce competition that's hard to resist. But the drama behind the legend is exaggerated said American Coney owner Grace Keros.

“It’s a myth, there’s no rivalry," she said. "First of all, we are better.”

You know by now that of course we're talking about American Coney and Lafayette Coney.

“Lafayette is number one here," said Ali Alhalmi, the manager of Lafayette Coney Island.

When it comes to what makes their Coney dog the perfect one, these folks practice a different religion. But there's something they share right now aside from a nod from Esquire.

“There’s no events downtown. There’s no reason for people to come downtown, the offices are empty," Keros told Action News, standing in the restaurant's empty dining space.

And with no sporting events and take-out only, both staples are bringing in a mere sliver of the business they had pre-COVID.

Alhalmi guesses sales at Lafayette are down around 35 percent.

“We’re doing the best we can to make everybody happy," he said.

Theirs is not a unique story. Justin Winslow with the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association called the state's delay in returning to dine-in service unacceptable, and said of the industry in general in Michigan:

"It’s hanging on by a thread," Winslow told Action News.

He released this statement following the announcement that the health order would be extended:

"The governor’s continuation of this pause without a plan—now expanding to 75 days—is without parallel in the nation in terms of its unwillingness or inability to provide leadership to a decimated industry and its workforce. There are more than 100,000 unemployed hospitality workers and thousands of small operators on the edge of bankruptcy all waiting for hope and direction, and once again it did not come. This is unacceptable and we should all demand more accountability.

Michigan’s restaurants have been closed for more days than any other state since the onset of the pandemic and Michigan stands alone as the only remaining statewide closure of dining rooms without a discernible, data-driven path to reopen and fully reintegrate in the economy. This, too, is unacceptable and we should all demand more accountability."

The MRLA reports Michigan's hospitality job loss is twice the national average "measured as a percent working in the industry today compared to February 2020."

"Those downtown cafes that really rely on people congregating in large amounts in downtown areas you’re seeing those struggle really maybe more than most," Winslow said.

Legacy spots like Shatila Bakery, American Coney, and Lafayette Coney are all hoping their celebrated reputation will keep them afloat until restrictions are eventually lifted. Keros said she's determined, albeit frustrated with the state's current re-opening pace.

“You can’t open up the mall and have people eating in the food court and yet not allow me to put 10 people inside to sit down. Give us something," she said.