Front of the House

Combined gourmet markets and restaurants are the latest dining trend in metro Detroit.
Gourmet markets that combine with restaurants are a huge trend in metro Detroit. Photo by Nick Hagen

Dining as entertainment has a place in the restaurant industry, and so do grocery stores that offer an array of prepared foods that can be pre-ordered or taken to go. Now, more gourmet markets are operating restaurants alongside their wine, cheese, and charcuterie displays.

“When people come into the store and smell the aroma of food being prepared, it rounds out the experience of being in a bustling marketplace,” says John Fallone, co-owner of Cantoro Italian Market and Cantoro Trattoria in Plymouth Township. “People come in and dine at the restaurant, and then they often shop at the store, or vice versa. The store and the restaurant feed off one another.”

Among the first to offer a combined gourmet market and a restaurant in the regional marketplace was Toasted Oak Grill and Market, accessible from a large oak door next to the lobby of the Baronette Renaissance Novi Hotel near Twelve Oaks Mall, or via a separate entrance from the parking lot.

The bistro-style store includes a deli counter offering prepared meats; jars of pickled vegetables, bacon caramel, or lavender honey; and a display of wines and craft beers sourced from Michigan producers. The restaurant, which includes an outdoor patio, offers everything from mushroom risotto to roasted squash, steak frites, and coq au vin.

There’s also Papa Joe’s Market in Birmingham, which operates Bistro Joe’s restaurant on a mezzanine level overlooking the bustle of the store and Woodward Avenue, as well as J.B.’s Smokehouse, a 170-seat eatery located in the recently opened Busch’s Fresh Food Market in Canton Township.

But Cantoro Italian Market and Cantoro Trattoria, located at Five Mile and Haggerty roads, took the concept of combining grocery items and restaurant fare to another level. “The restaurant was something we added at the last minute. We thought it would be good for the store, and now between Cantoro Trattoria and our banquet space, they generate 35 percent of our overall revenue,” says Fallone, who is joined in the business by his father, Mario, and his brother, Mike.

“My dad has a food supply company where we bake bread and supply 100 restaurants in the area, and we understand things from the vendor side,” Mike says. “So we hired a seasoned chef, and a general manager and a sommelier (combined position), and all of the other people you need to operate a restaurant.”      

In the 53,000-square-foot store and eatery, abundant cheese, wine, and meat displays take  up most of the first-floor space. Off to one side is a long kitchen bar where diners can watch their orders being prepared, or they can pass through a dedicated entrance to the restaurant that features a double-sided fieldstone fireplace, rustic finishes, and a bar stocked with fine liquors, wine, and craft beer.

Above the restaurant and store is a mezzanine level that offers space for up to 200 people attending a private event, a conference, or a wedding. It also serves as an overflow area when the restaurant is busy. A lower level includes a butcher shop, a cheese cellar, banquet space, and a storage area.

“We average between four and six events a week, and we also do off-premise events such as graduations or celebrations,” John says. “There never was a set blueprint until the very end, because we kept changing things as we came up with new ideas or saw something at one of the food shows around the country or in Italy.”

Periodically, Mario and Mike travel to Italy to source new grocery and menu offerings such as buffalo mozzarella, which comes from a small creamery near Naples. “We always go to different spots in Italy each time we go,” Mike says. “It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of
the store.”

Next up, the family is building an enclosed patio attached to the restaurant that will offer year-round seating for up to 90 people. It’s scheduled to open by Labor Day. The family also operates Cantoro Italian market in Livonia, which opened in 1973.

“When we saw more people moving west (from Livonia), we opened in Plymouth Township,” John says. “We’re looking to add a store in the Ann Arbor area if we find the right location, and also in the Milford or Brighton area.”