Restaurateurs pitch ideas seeking coveted Birmingham bistro licenses


A rendering of renovations made to the Whistle Stop Diner on Eton in Birmingham. The diner was one of six restaurants to apply for a bistro license through the city. (Photo: Courtesy of the City of Birmingham)

Four new concept restaurants and a longtime Birmingham eatery are up for one of Birmingham’s coveted bistro licenses for 2021.

The Birmingham City Commission reviewed applications for bistro licenses for next year during its meeting Monday and moved along five restaurants to the planning board for its review and recommendation of which eateries to grant the city’s two bistro licenses.

Those new eateries that will be reviewed for such licenses include: 

  • Bloom Birmingham, a proposed plant-based restaurant at 239 N. Old Woodward
  • Sushi Japan, serving up Chinese and Japanese fare at 176 S. Old Woodward
  • TINO’s, a Mexican-style restaurant at 344 Hamilton
  • Vinewood Kitchen & Cocktails, a modern, casual American eatery at 724 N. Old Woodward

In addition, one existing restaurant, the Whistle Stop Diner, 501 S. Eton, also applied for a bistro license for its current establishment in the city’s Rail District. 

More: Church brings massive pumpkin patch to Birmingham as fundraiser

More: Secondary students finally have return dates for face-to-face classes in Birmingham

More: Birmingham voters to decide on new $11.2 parks and recreation bonds in November

Under the city’s ordinance pertaining to bistros, the city can issue up to two licenses a year to new establishments and can issue up to two licenses for restaurants that have operated in the city for five years or more, said Jana Ecker, the city’s planning director. 

Those eateries with bistro licenses can obtain a liquor license so long as several conditions are met, including a cap on the number of seats inside and outside, as well as at the bar.

Seeing six restaurants apply for the licenses, said Commissioner Clinton Baller, was a surprise to him, especially given the current climate with COVID-19 affecting dining out.

“This blows me away that we have this many people wanting to invest in our city in the midst of a pandemic, but go figure,” he said. 

The planning board will take up the petitions and make recommendations back to the city commission, which has the final say on granting the licenses.

Restaurant concepts

The types of restaurants applying vary in nature of cuisine, one of the factors the city commission took into account when each restaurant’s representatives presented during the city commission meeting Monday. 

Vinewood Kitchen & Cocktails was one of two concepts proposed by Chris Backos for a bistro license: Backos also brought a concept to the commission called Rustico Kitchen & Cocktails, another American restaurant. He told the city commission he was planning to go with just one.

“We’re proposing one or the other,” he said. “I have the ability to take either space.”

Officials opted to move the Vinewood pitch forward.

Bloom Birmingham would serve up plant-based cuisine and would aim to bring in a diverse customer base. Los Angeles-based chef Matthew Kenney, a consultant working with the restaurant, said they would not use the word “vegan” on their website, instead touting Bloom’s options that could appeal to the masses.

“We really feel like we can compete with non plant-based restaurants,” he said. “Over the last 5-6 years, it’s really become fashionable.”

Sushi Japan, despite the name, would serve up primarily Chinese fare. Its owner Ximing “Charlie” Yu currently works as a sushi chef at Kona Grill and plans to bring a new concept to downtown Birmingham. Dishes such as ramen and sushi will also be a part of the menu.

Kelley Allen, a petitioner representing Yu, told the city commission he was ready to begin work on the restaurant and move forward.

“Of all your applicants tonight, Charlie’s ready to go,” she said. 

TINO’s would be a new restaurant concept but would replace 7 Greens, which currently occupies the space on Hamilton Row. It would continue to be owned by Birmingham resident Kelly Schaefer, who opened the restaurant in Birmingham four years ago. 

She said she’s grown an appreciation for Latin American cuisine and wants to bring a higher-end Mexican eatery to downtown. Doing so may keep her in Birmingham; she said she’s not sure the city is the right space for 7 Greens, which also operates in Detroit. If the bistro license is not approved, she expects 7 Greens to remain, but wasn’t sure for how long.

“I love 7 Greens, but I just don’t think Birmingham is the right place for it,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll remain for the next decade.”

The lone existing restaurant to apply for the bistro license would see changes come to a longtime restaurant. The Whistle Stop Diner plans to renovate the space, add more seats outside and potentially offer alcoholic drinks for brunch. The rest of the menu and the hours would remain the same.

J. Patrick Howe, an attorney representing the diner, said the owners have seen a draw for drinks at brunch at their other location in southeast Oakland County and want to bring that concept to Birmingham as well.

“It’s really out of the owners’ recent experience acquiring a diner in Pleasant Ridge,” he said. “They have found there is a demand and there is a trend for a limited number of alcoholic beverage during the midday brunch and breakfast crowd.”

Contact reporter David Veselenak at [email protected] or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.

Read or Share this story:

Source Article