Photographs by Paul Hitz
Michell Danell was born in Mexico City during the height of the smog crisis and lived in that polluted air for her first three years of life until her parents moved the family to the cleaner air of Grosse Pointe Park in 1985.
That early experience with pollution is what inspired her to live a healthful lifestyle, says the young woman who takes care of her own well-being as well as that of the customers who come to Greengos, her vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free café in a sliver of space on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, a cheery spot with flowers hand-painted on the windows, a bike rack, and a few wrought-iron tables out front.
Greengos, which has a capacity of just 24 inside under a silver-painted tin ceiling, opened in spring 2011 — Earth Day, appropriately. Since then, it has built a loyal clientele (most of whom Danell knows by name) who come for the organic juices, fair-trade coffee, fruit smoothies, and from-scratch soups, salads, sandwiches, and giant chocolate-chip cookies.
The back room, which served as an office for previous tenants, is now a greenhouse, where sunflower sprouts and wheat grass for the popular juice drinks are grown.
Danell, a strong believer in the benefits of wheat grass, calls herself a flexitarian, although she says her own diet is 90-percent plant-based. The fare at Greengos, however, is pure vegetarian, some vegan, about 90-percent organic and all gluten-free. While she says she will occasionally indulge in her favorite Avalon bread, the flour for the muffins, cookies, and breads she makes are custom blends of garbanzo and fava beans, soy, and buckwheat.
She’s not just dedicated to local ingredients — oranges, lemons, and avocados being the notable exceptions — but also to supporting local businesses, like the nearby lumber yard that cut the wood for the two rustic counters in the front windows made from a piece of a giant elm that fell in the neighborhood two years ago. The gardener’s work table on one wall, painted in a soft, weathered gray, was picked up at a local estate sale, and many of the renovation supplies came from the hardware shop down the street, now semi-famous as “Clint Eastwood’s favorite hardware store” during the filming of Gran Torino.
When in season, much of the produce comes from local Michigan farmers, and the cheeses are from the Traffic Jam in Midtown Detroit. Carryouts are packed in biodegradable containers.
Danell credits Facebook with bringing in customers who might not know about the low-key location. “I can put ‘Blueberry muffins just came out of the oven’ on Facebook, and pretty soon people will turn up,” she says. Because of the slim profit margin at the shop, she doesn’t accept credit cards.
Danell brings a varied résumé to the project. She’s bilingual (Spanish and English), studied art and photography at Wayne State, and worked as a freelance photographer and jewelry designer. She spent two years as a Spirit Airlines flight attendant and then was an executive assistant at the Music Hall. She’s also active in the urban-farming movement — and she won’t be 30 until next month. Credit her youth, or that healthful diet.
Greengos, 15104 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park; 313-432-2373, urbangreengos.com. 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.