Aaron Haithcock is a kid in a candy store. His Midtown emporium of sweets is a grown-up version of what he dreamed of while munching on his favorite gummies as a boy in his hometown of Waco, Texas.
Texas is in his rearview mirror now, of course. The Detroiter — he moved here in 2007, a year after his graduation from the University of Michigan — put his childhood fantasy into effect last fall when he opened Melt at the corner of Cass Avenue and Willis Street and became part of the Midtown upswing.
And like many transplants and converts, he is deeply devoted to his adopted hometown and says he much prefers it to Chicago where he lived for a year right after college, because “Detroit has more personality.” Not to mention more potential.
While the colorful shop isn’t literally a candy store — its prime focus is Illy espresso and other coffee drinks, and gelato in such offbeat flavors as Guinness, green tea, and blood orange — candy lovers will find a trove including chocolate-covered almonds and M&M’s as well as pretty little pastel French cookies, chocolate almond croissants, and other sweets from Matt Knio’s Golden Wheat bakery.
Haithcock did his candy and ice cream apprenticeships first in Chicago, at the Windy City Fruit and Nut Co., and then after coming to Detroit, at the Rowland Café in Detroit’s Guardian Building. He also worked briefly at Joe Muer Seafood. He says because he chose an Italian brand of coffee as his house brew, he decided to go with the Italian-style ice cream as its companion piece. The gelato is not an import, however. He found a company that makes it in the classic manner here in Michigan, Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto of Fennville.
Melt is a good fit with its neighborhood. It’s just a couple of doors away from La Feria, the new tapas restaurant, and Nora, the housewares boutique. It’s also around the corner from the chic Shinola, Nest, and City Bird shops, putting it right in the heart of Midtown boutique retail.
And who can’t use a cappuccino or latte or a scoop of gelato after browsing the racks and shelves? The contemporary but not slick décor, all pure white with one contrasting red wall, reflects Haithcock’s attention to detail — for instance, the bottles containing French syrups. They are actually Finlandia vodka bottles. For months he saved the good-looking, clear glass vodka bottles and now uses them for the syrups because he feels they are more aesthetically pleasing than the original syrup bottles.
With just 14 seats, Melt will double in capacity when the patio opens this spring. And its gelato choices will continue to evolve. Palazzolo’s offers 600 different flavors, which means Haithcock won’t run out of options very soon.
Melt, 4160 Cass Ave., Detroit. 313-833-4223; Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.