Angela Rutherford and Ping Ho were both working high-powered corporate jobs in Manhattan that were starting to pall. And four years ago, just about the time they were seriously exploring getting out of the rat race, they began reading about the exciting comeback of downtown Detroit.
So when they started putting together the plan for their own business, the opportunities they saw in the Motor City beckoned. Since both love wine, the idea of something related to the noble grape started to take shape.
And where better than downtown Detroit, now not just the center of the city, but a place where more people were deciding to live? Amenities such as a wine shop/wine bar were lacking, however. “On the premise that wine is an everyday essential,” as Ho puts it, the idea for The Royce began to form.
They started looking for a location in August 2015, first exploring Capitol Park, but then found the space on the ground floor of the Kales Building on Grand Circus Park. Since the Albert Kahn-designed building was being redeveloped as an apartment with ground-floor retail, it offered an opportunity to mold the space to their specifications.
“I’m excited to be in Detroit,” says Ho, who was born in Singapore. “It feels like there’s a lot more challenge and opportunity.” And, she adds, “Detroit affords entrepreneurs more flexibility. It’s more welcoming and it’s easier to secure financing from a local bank.”
The women were indeed able to secure a small business loan from a local bank.
Rutherford, a Michigan native who lived in Flint and Lapeer growing up, learned to love wine while living in Spain.
That’s the genesis of The Royce Detroit, the wine bar/retail wine shop named after Rutherford’s grandfather that opened in August. The balconied setting can accommodate 40, some on the mezzanine overlooking the first floor.
While there isn’t an extensive menu — after all, there is no kitchen — The Royce offers plenty of sustenance in a menu that includes Avalon bread and oil with truffle salt; an array of gourmet cheeses including manchego, triple cream, and gouda; cured meats such as prosciutto, chorizo, and serrano ham; and anchovies, tinned mussels, and sardines. Olives and Marcona almonds round out the list — enough to make a satisfying dinner.
All are served handsomely on hand-crafted walnut and maple cheese boards made by Kyle Huntoon, who also created a large table. Steven Johnson provided the ceramics used as serving bowls. Philip Apollonio, along with Huntoon, is the craftsman who did most of the carpentry work, including making the bistro tabletops.
Fourteen wines by the glass are offered, served in stemless glasses, even Champagne, and rotate every two weeks. There are more choices with 350 different bottles. Guests may put together their own flights of three wines or opt to choose any bottle from the retail shelves for a $10 corkage fee. Bartenders Jimmy Johnson and Maggie Pilous also whip up gin and vodka cocktails with Wolf Moon mixers.
House “rules” include no tipping. If patrons insist, the money collected goes to charity at the end of each month.
Every Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m., there is a tasting of 3-4 wines — at no charge.