Ferndale’s Patchwork Culinary Project to Serve Food, Community

From the former owners of Rock City Eatery, Patchwork Culinary Project will be part-bodega and part-training center for immigrants aspiring to go into the culinary field.
Photograph by Jessica Imbronone Sanches

A new Ferndale nonprofit restaurant and education program from the former owners of Rock City Eatery aims to serve great food and serve local immigrant communities.

With just a dozen seats, Patchwork Culinary Project will provide a New York bodega-style dining experience, “a cross between a deli and a general store,” with grab-and-go items like sandwiches, pastries, or coffee, in addition to small groceries, co-owner Nikita Sanches tells Hour Detroit.

Planned to open in May or June, it will occupy the former Hilton Road Cafe building on Hilton Road. So far, Sanches and his wife, co-owner Jessica Imbronone Sanches, have covered their own costs and done much of the renovation work themselves.

Besides food and drink, Patchwork will offer education and resources for immigrants interested in culinary work or entrepreneurship. This could include pop-up training sessions, free ServSafe certifications, and perhaps, eventually, funds for aspiring owners to open food trucks or trailers.

Patchwork will also host monthly fundraising dinners highlighting a diverse lineup of guest chefs and cuisine, “especially from places that people might not be familiar with, just to introduce them to a new flavor profile from somewhere else.”

In 2021, the couple closed their Detroit restaurant, Rock City Eatery, amid the pandemic. It was an unfortunate end to an unpretentious place that served incredible food for eight years. The eatery started in Hamtramck in 2013 and moved to Midtown in 2015.

“After we closed, I told everyone I will never, ever open up another restaurant because it was such a tumultuous, pain-in-the-ass process,” Sanches says. “But after taking a couple of years off from the industry, you start missing it a bit.”

During his time away, he did something he’s been meaning to get around to for a while: In January 2023, Sanches became a naturalized U.S. citizen (His family immigrated from Russia in 1997; he’s lived in metro Detroit since age 12). During his ceremony, his judge, who was the grandson of Italian immigrants, said something that helped him come up with the name for his new business.

“He was saying how he hated the concept of a melting pot because everyone just boils down to the same thing; it comes out identical,” Sanches says. “He preferred to use an analogy of a patchwork or quilt: Folks from different cultures, countries, they come together into one cohesive thing, but they’re completely different. And that kind of registered with me.”

The kitchen line requires grit, but it’s also a place where people can come as they are and grow, no matter where they come from. When Sanches first moved to the States, he had seen a few American movies, but he was still learning English, as well as the social customs and traditions that his schoolmates took for granted.

“It’s a culture shock,” he says. “It’s tough, especially at the age of 12, 13, 14. Kids can be pretty mean to each other.”

Then, at 15, Sanches got his first kitchen job at a company that provided meals to a Jewish assisted living facility in West Bloomfield. As he learned the ropes of cooking, he also began to form friendships with the older women who resided there, many of whom were immigrants from Eastern Europe.

“They didn’t really know Russian, but they would still remember some of the words, and we would shoot the shit a little bit — they were tough, but loving critics,” he says. “There’s this narrative out there that immigrants are coming into this country and taking things over; that they’re horrible human beings. I want to open an establishment that is a restaurant, but also provides a social good as well.”

Sanches is no stranger to Ferndale. In 2011, his business Rock City Pies became a vendor at Rust Belt Market. He looks back fondly on his time there as it’s where he met many of his day-one regulars that followed him to Rock City Eatery. Speaking of which, Sanches says a few of the old Rock City Eatery favorites like their signature mac and cheese or Brussels sprouts could be available once a week at Patchwork.

“I seem to be getting a lot of positive feedback from folks that live in the Ferndale area,” Sanches says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting.”

Patchwork Culinary Project will be located at 3150 Hilton Road in Ferndale. For more information, visit patchworkculinaryproject.org.