Would you pay $1.80 for a carrot? This Detroit cafe thinks you will.
A new cafe in Detroit's Core City neighborhood by real estate developer Philip Kafka espouses that everyone should eat a carrot a day for vitality and health.
“It balances your hormones, especially your thyroid,” Kafka said. “It aids in digestion.”
But the cafe’s passion behind its peeled, raw $1.80 carrot has some raising their eyebrows, and others wondering – with other raw food items like a $4.18 half grapefruit with honey or two Brazil nuts for $1.80 – if it’s satire.
“We only want foods that provide you with energy,” Kafka told BridgeDetroit. “Every person should eat two Brazil nuts a day, (they are) a great source of selenium, which is a very essential mineral.”
- In Frankfort, small homes offer big hope in northern Michigan housing crunch
- Romeo embraced its Ford engine plant. After closure, an uncertain future
- Q&A: Ilitch-Ross developers talk District Detroit jobs, housing, tax breaks
Kafka is president and founder of the real estate development company Prince Concepts which developed Core City Park on Grand River Avenue where Cafe Prince is located. After moving to Detroit from New York, Kafka began buying property in Detroit a decade ago. He now owns 17 acres of land, has built 20,000 square feet of new housing, and renovated 62,000 square feet of former industrial property, according to Rethink Real Estate for Good.
Kafka opened Cafe Prince in February, after the former tenant, Astro Coffee, permanently closed. The cafe’s tagline and mission is to give energy, and not take it, he said.
“It’s kind of a critique on everything else that you go and see,” said Kafka, pointing to other cafes that he said sell day-old croissants made with canola oil.
“The idea is we serve absolutely nothing that has ever touched the factory floor. We believe in simplicity, purity, harmony and wholeness, and it’s about the quality of ingredients,” he said. “It’s about the people that touch them, and it’s about what they do to your body.”
The menu at Cafe Prince is based on the philosophy and diet advice of Ray Peat, a biologist who studied hormones and earned his Phd from the University of Oregon.
Reid Walborn, food manager at the Eastern Market Partnership and a Southwest Detroit resident, visited the cafe this week to see what it was all about. He bought a coffee and two carrots.
“I’m all for eating more veggies, and sometimes it takes creativity to market them as more than a vegetable,” Walborn told BridgeDetroit. “However, after trying the ‘raw, nude, chilled carrot’ I’m not convinced I wasn’t just an extra in a Portlandia sketch,” he said.
“Two dollars for a large carrot from a local organic farm might not be unbelievable after you factor in city water, labor, transportation, and the expenses of running a café, but this was definitely a conventional carrot from the grocery store,” Walborn added.
Kafka counters that the cost isn’t the point.
“I’m not gonna say the carrot is expensive or inexpensive,” Kafka said. “I would much rather spend $1.80 on a delicious raw carrot to create good healthy habits than $5 on a two-day-old croissant that’s cooked in canola oil and garbage ingredients that are ruining our world.”
Rad Kauf, one of several Cafe Prince employees who lives across the street in the Prince Concepts-owned “True North” or “The Caterpillar” units, said he eats a carrot every morning.
The cafe has sold 50 pounds of carrots since opening six weeks ago, he said.
Currently, the cafe sources its carrots from local farmers and Whole Foods, according to Kafka.
Kafka said his team just planted carrots across the street on land that he owns, but said they won’t be ready to harvest for a few months.
He said he’s primarily a real estate developer and is “in the business of making public space.” To that end, Kafka said he won’t make a profit from Cafe Prince because of the high cost of the renovations, furniture and aesthetics of the cafe.
Everything is organic at the cafe and the honey and maple syrup are local. Other featured items include the only authentic Neapolitan pizzas in Detroit, after Southwest pizzeria Pizza Plex closed, Kauf said. The pizzas are made in an oven brought over from Naples, Italy, that heats to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit and bakes the pizza in 60 to 70 seconds. In the future, the cafe plans to add sandwiches, baked to order, with in-house made bread.
Nick Parente, who works in an office in the same building as Cafe Prince, has gone to the cafe several times.
“I really love having a space to come grab a coffee and have conversation with neighbors, it’s a very friendly space,” he said. Parente said he likes the pizza, too, calling it “expensive, but worth it.”
Kauf said, “I think people are starting to understand that we’re a serious place. That we mean to do good and that we want to establish in the neighborhood. We love to be here, we love Core City.”
But others, like Midtown resident Kay Cirocco, question the benefit that the cafe is providing for longtime Detroiters.
“It’s an insane concept. Core City is a food desert,” Cirocco said. “It’s kind of mocking those who occupy that area and already struggle to find a grocery store. Core City is being redeveloped but at what cost to their neighbors and the people who have occupied the space for decades?”
Added Cirocco: “The park that they paid for is a glorified gravel lot and I’m not sure how much it’s benefiting the community over there.”
Kafka vehemently disagrees.
“On a nice day, the park is full of people with dogs. It’s a public space,” Kafka said. “Public space is the most beneficial thing that anyone can build, that our society has totally forgotten.”
Kafka cited other examples of how his development has benefited the neighborhood, like adding a bench at the bus stop across the street that didn’t have one, but it has since been removed by the city, he said. Kafka said his team also has planted more than 100 trees in five years and created pervious surface, which allows water to soak into the ground instead of contributing to stormwater runoff and flooding, in addition to reusing old building material to construct the park.
Detroit resident Bianca Garcia said Kafka’s cafe doesn’t meet the needs of neighbors and that she’s concerned about legacy residents there who struggle to access fresh and affordable food.
“I’m definitely disappointed to see this go into that space,” she said. “Carrots are one of the few vegetables spared by inflation and cost 15 to 20 cents a pop at most grocery stores. Why are they charging such a high markup?,” said Garcia, who has worked at local Detroit food establishments over the years.
“Owner Philip Kafka is notorious for being tone deaf about development in our city,” she argued. “The way they are trying to be conceptual completely defeats the purpose of a food business especially in an area that could use more options for groceries and dining. The menu is ridiculously overpriced for items one could pick up at a corner market if they had the option.”
Kafka said he agrees that the neighborhood needs a grocery store or corner store. “I don’t have the skills to do that right now,” he said, “and eventually we will, but we’re not there right now.
“It just takes time and we have to go slowly,” he added. “I really believe in our work.”
Kafka said he hopes that people can focus on the bigger conversation, which is “that we are killing our Earth” and “we are killing the human species with garbage things that we’re putting into our body.”
Even if the cafe sold 10 carrots a day, he said, it would still be less profit than their electricity bill for a month.
“The carrots are not on the menu to make money, they are to communicate a belief,” he said.
“Our cafe is more public and community space than anything else. You can sit in our park or our space as long as you’d like without spending a dime.”
Covering the intersection of business and policy, and informing Michigan employers and workers on the long road back from coronavirus.
- About Business Watch
- Share tips and questions with Bridge Business Editor Paula Gardner
Thanks to Business Watch sponsor:
Support Bridge's nonprofit civic journalism. Donate today.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!