When Chef Omar Mitchell speaks about Table No. 2, the white-linen restaurant he opened in the spring of 2019, he’s beaming. “We always like to say we’re a ‘wow-factor’ restaurant with a Walt Disney approach,” Mitchell says. A trip to Disney World, he says, is a memorable experience that sticks with a person for the rest of their life. “That’s exactly what I’m doing with Table No. 2. We’re creating a fine dining restaurant that gives a lasting impression through impeccable guest services and amazing food.” His voice jumps an octave as he talks about his staff and the impeccable service they provide diners.
There’s just one detail you almost lose sight of as Mitchell waxes poetic about his culinary passion project. The doors at Table No. 2 have been closed for six months. He speaks in the present tense about the restaurant because for Mitchell, Table No. 2 is merely on hiatus as it seeks a new home.
Mitchell cut his teeth at Golden Mushroom, which would eventually become Steve and Rocky’s in Southfield. It was there, under the tutelage of chefs Milos Cihelka and Steve Allen, that he developed an affinity for fine dining. “Taking a kid from the urban community in Detroit to a fine dining restaurant, I was totally enamored,” he says. Though he went on to launch casual restaurants, such as the former Great Lakes Burger Bar in Detroit, as well as Craft Creative Catering, the parent company for all of his culinary entities, Mitchell was determined to open an upscale establishment in the city. “There are a lot of great restaurants here in Michigan, but I wanted to bring that authentic fine dining back to the area,” he says. “With technology, nowadays folks are accustomed to everything being quick and convenient. My opinion is that we should be using today’s technology and trends without forgetting old-school methods.”
Mitchell looks back fondly to a time when waitstaff knew diners by name. When they remembered birthdays and anniversaries and jumped through hoops to accommodate guests by any means necessary. And so Table No. 2 was born. In April 2019, Mitchell opened the upscale eatery where bananas Foster was flambéed tableside and shrimp was cooked in front of guests to release the aroma of garlic throughout the dining room. “If you go to a restaurant, the first few bites should be ‘amazing,’ ‘incredible,’ ‘flawless.’ If they’re anything short of those power words, there’s room for growth,” Mitchell says. “Folks are coming to your restaurant to dine and to be entertained, so let’s give them that elevated experience.”
Chef Mitchell remembers the good old days at Table No. 2. “To this day, I can’t read my Google reviews without getting emotional, because it’s such a remarkable thing to hear the experiences that folks have had,” he says. Diners flocked to the restaurant for its surf-and-turf-forward menu. Crispy Southern fried chicken was piled high in mason jars and pierced with sprigs of rosemary. Tomahawk steaks rubbed in verdant herbs were carved tableside, and Alaskan king crab legs and lobster were served on tiers of crushed ice.
In addition to great food and wow-worthy dish presentations, Mitchell says his staff went beyond the call of duty to offer diners a comfortable and enjoyable experience. “We try to make sure that we are exceeding every single guest’s expectations, and I think we do a great job with that — Walt Disney World never, ever forgets guest services.” Mitchell tells the story of a time when a steak that a guest wanted wasn’t on the menu. Instead of suggesting another menu item, an ambitious staffer went out to buy the diner’s cut of choice. He recounts times when valet attendants escorted guests to their cars with oversized umbrellas during spring showers. Washrooms were stocked with a range of perfumes for women. The way he reminisces about his days at 18925 Livernois Ave. is endearing. It’s as though he’s wearing a chic pair of rose-colored glasses as he looks back on a time that might otherwise be deemed a period of perpetual turmoil.
Location can make or break a business. Mitchell looked to restaurants like Selden Standard, the now uber-popular establishment that opened in Midtown before the neighborhood became the bustling hotspot it is today. “I give Selden Standard a lot of credit because when they first opened, a lot of things downtown were not there,” he says. “They opened up their fine dining restaurant with empty lots to the left and right of them, and they were quite successful.” Mitchell followed their lead with what he calls a “build-it-and-they-will-come” approach. “I said, ‘I’m going to drop this fine dining restaurant right in the middle of the urban community and see what happens.’”
In addition to being motivated to open a first of its kind in the neighborhood, Mitchell also wanted Table No. 2 to serve as a resource for inner-city individuals who are otherwise overlooked in the job market. “Ninety-eight percent of my employees are single moms, single fathers, convicted felons, high school dropouts, or African Americans who were just never given a chance,” Mitchell says. “It was important to me to make sure that Detroit residents had a place where they could say, ‘I was looking for a job, but I love this place, and now this is my career.’ To put a fine dining restaurant in the hood was an honor and a pleasure for me, and I don’t regret one second of it.”
And while Mitchell had the right idea to open Table No. 2 in an up-and-coming business district, the outcome could only be described as right place, wrong time. Within weeks of the restaurant’s opening, the city broke ground on a construction project that would upend Livernois Avenue, disrupting foot traffic and parking and, ultimately, business for Table No. 2.
Soon after the streetscape project came to a close, the pandemic struck, and Table No. 2’s landlord decided to sell the building. Rather than halt his business, Mitchell felt his entrepreneurial spirit kick into overdrive. In the month leading up to its closing, Table No. 2 introduced 50 percent off carryout service. “Since people weren’t going to get the full guest service, I decided to whack the price in half, and it took off like wildfire. It also allowed me to keep a lot of my staff throughout the pandemic a little longer.”
Mitchell has this supernatural ability to see the bright side of the perils along his journey. In May, Table No. 2 vacated its Livernois home. Within a year, Mitchell watched the development and demise of his empire, but instead of dwelling on the series of unfortunate events, he zeros in on the small-business loans he received amid the pandemic and the unemployment his employees were able to collect and the locals who clamored to help his relocation efforts. “When I put the word out to the community to see how I could get into a new location, the amount of support was astounding,” he says. An abundance of supporters reached out offering vacant buildings across metro Detroit. “People all over the world hear all the bad things about Detroit, but they don’t hear when Michiganders come together like this.”
With nearly 40 options for a new location on the table, Mitchell sat down to evaluate what he’d need for a new space that could weather the demands of an unpredictable pandemic. “I was looking for at least 150 seats, a great location, great landmarks, and a place that could entertain folks and at the same time cater to corporate clients that might want to host different events,” he says. In October, he found a match.
The second iteration of Table No. 2 is expected to take over the former Monroe Street Steakhouse in Greektown. The deal, brokered with Dan Gilbert and the Bedrock team, takes the restaurant from a 2,000-square-foot space to a 6,500-square-foot multipurpose duplex. “Every single person that has direct messaged, text messaged, called, or emailed has said the same thing — everything we’ve gone through was a blessing in disguise, a silver lining, all the great phrases.”
The new space allows Mitchell to bring to life the elaborate fine dining experience of his wildest dreams, with a pandemic-friendly twist. “You know when you go to fine dining restaurants and you see that one table sitting in the corner roped off with crushed velvet curtains and a fireplace inside? That table everybody wants? I’m trying to copy and paste a lot of those in the restaurant for tables for two so guests can have their own little private dining experience.” Upstairs, he says, is where he’ll host parties once gatherings are permitted again.
Still, the fate of Table No. 2’s second act hangs in the balance as the pandemic persists. “If we don’t flatten the curve, it’s only going to put us in a deeper hole, and so I hope that happens because most of us restaurants — if not all of us — are on life support, and we can’t afford to be on life support,” Mitchell says. “We need to breathe on our own, but we can’t breathe on our own if the circumstances are getting worse.”
In November, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implemented a three-week lockdown suspending all indoor dining, which would postpone the opening of Table No. 2 by another two months. No matter what, Mitchell is determined to give Table No. 2 the shot it deserves. “I decided to stick with Table No. 2 because of trial and error. I know the people love the concept, and I’m doing exactly what my guests and my employees want me to do, and that’s to continue Table No. 2.”
Table No. 2’s Timeline
April 2019 – Table No. 2 grand opening
April 2019 – Streetscape construction on Livernois begins
March 2020 – Pandemic strikes, closing indoor dining
March-May 2020 – Mitchell launches 50 percent carryout service
May 2020 – Table No. 2 vacates building
October 2020 – Mitchell signs letter of intent for new dining space in Greektown
January 2021 – Anticipated grand opening for Imaginate, Mitchell’s experiential dining restaurant taking over the former Bistro 82 in Royal Oak.
February 2021 – Anticipated grand re-opening for Table No. 2