EastEats founders Lloyd Talley, PhD, Nygel Fyvie, Kwaku Osei-Bonsu. Credit: Jimmy Goldfingers
Kwaku Osei-Bonsu is a current Detroit resident and former middle-school teacher who changed course with an uncommon entrance into the food industry. He made a major splash when he cofounded Detroit Black Restaurant Week several years ago, which is returning this Friday through April 18.
In October, he opened EastEats with Chef Nigel Fyvie and fellow Howard University grad Lloyd Talley. The vegan-forward domed dining establishment — located on a vacant lot by Osei-Bonsu’s home in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood — was an immediate hit with people looking for pandemic-friendly dining in colder weather, regularly selling out seatings.
More than a restaurant
At EastEats, they expand on Detroit Black Restaurant Week’s mission.
“I’m very adamant about making sure I represent and shed light onto not only other Black-owned restaurants, but also chefs, caterers and food trucks who don’t have a brick-and-mortar,” Osei-Bonsu said. “We’re really looking to make this a hub for the community where it goes much further beyond food.”
That’s meant opening up the space for others, like a collaboration with native Detroiter Imani Battle’s Nourish Ramen pop-up.
Meals are prepared at BlackCloud.Kitchen, a nearby “cloud” commercial kitchen that was also cooked up by the EastEats founders. They leased the kitchen space after the restaurant struggled to meet capacity with an on-site food truck and briefly closed due to a city COVID-19 safety violation in December, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. Now, BlackCloud.Kitchen allows them to open their facilities to other chefs without their own spaces, meet pandemic demand for carryout and delivery and potentially expand to additional “dining club” spaces similar to the EastEats model.
Osei-Bonsu’s thoughtfulness and focus on sustainability extended to the design of the EastEats domes, which involved extensive upcycling, including tables made of shipping crates and covered with vinyl sourced from nearby nonprofit Arts & Scraps, stools made of wire spools and mattress foam and former church pews found on Facebook Marketplace.
“Even the platforms that the domes are sitting on are made out of pallets,” he said. “I think that will be consistent with the spaces we hope to bring to the city.”
The blank canvas of the geometric domes are offset by warm fabrics, patterned pillows, plants and fairy lights.
“I kept thinking, ‘Would I sit in here?’” Osei-Bonsu added. “It wasn’t until my answer was ‘yes,’ did we stop furnishing.”
Celebrating Black chefs
Before he had his own space, Osei-Bonsu was looking for ways to uplift Black restaurants, founding Detroit Black Restaurant Week in 2017 with Lauren Bates. Their first year, they featured 12 restaurants. This month’s event includes more than 30, and will recur later this year to make up for last year’s pandemic cancelation.
The week is designed to celebrate and bring attention to restaurants (and food trucks, caterers and independent chefs) new and old, from Baobab Fare and Jed’s Detroit to Floods and Sweet Potato Sensations.
During Restaurant Week, EastEats will host pop-ins from the chefs behind Fried Chicken and Caviar and Jerk at Nite, as well as virtual cooking classes.
Getting out and ‘showing out’
Osei-Bonsu’s schedule might be jam-packed, but he takes time out for other projects, including making hats and starting to explore leather work. He spent much of the winter reading and getting outside, working with former students on gardening and visiting Belle Isle.
“Once you run out of things to watch on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, it’s like, ‘let’s go outside!’” he said. “[The pandemic] is causing us to get more in touch with ourselves and the environment around us, and really having a better understanding of what Detroit has to offer.”
Osei-Bonsu has a neighborhood plot at Detroit Abloom, where he planted exclusively purple vegetables and flowers last growing season. This year, he plans to transform his backyard into a garden.
Opening a successful business during the pandemic was no easy feat, but Osei-Bonsu has stayed motivated while experiencing personal tragedy by a desire to make his parents proud. His mother and father both contracted COVID-19, and his father died the day before EastEats opened.
“He knew we were working on it, but he was on a ventilator when we got it going. So that’s definitely part of my motivation — that if he were here, he would have been proud. And I want to make my mom proud. If you know anything about African parents or even Caribbean parents, they’re very strict when it comes to their expectations of you when it comes to grades and your career choices,” Osei-Bonsu said.
“My friends who are Western African are doctors, lawyers, nurses…so when I said ‘restaurant owner,’ my family was like, ‘Oh, you better show out.’ I’m trying to make everybody proud, and outside of that, it’s these kids. When I left education, I was like, ‘I have to do it for my students.’ I think they’re in awe that they’re seeing someone who was their teacher fulfilling their dream.”
Find forthcoming updates on Detroit Black Restaurant Week’s Facebook page and make your reservation for the ultimate tiny dining experience at EastEats through Tock. Three tips from Osei-Bonsu: “Don’t wear heels, don’t bring your dog, and feel free to bring decor.” Curbside pick-up and delivery available through BlackCloud.Kitchen. For the latest updates, follow them on Instagram @easteatsdet.