Why this Detroit cafe sells ‘nude raw carrots’ for $1.80

Core City’s Cafe Prince is the latest development from Prince Concepts, a firm known for its playful, out-there ideas

Apr 20, 2023 at 7:54 am
click to enlarge Cafe Prince has a simple menu featuring items like grapefruit, figs, diced mango, kefir, and its signature “nude raw carrot,” which it sells for $1.80. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Cafe Prince has a simple menu featuring items like grapefruit, figs, diced mango, kefir, and its signature “nude raw carrot,” which it sells for $1.80.

A new cafe that moved into the former Astro Coffee and Ochre Bakery space in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood called Cafe Prince recently caught our attention, boasting that it’s “Home of the nude raw carrot 🥕,” which it sells for $1.80.

We wondered if this was some new hipster thing we were unfamiliar with.

People on Twitter also recently discovered this curious menu item, and did what people on Twitter do best. “This feels like something from @TheOnion,” one user wrote. Another posted a GIF of Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development saying, “It’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost? 10 dollars?”

“I need to taste what a $1.80 carrot tastes like,” another user wrote. “It’s probably good; probably not $1.80 good.” Others told Bridge Detroit that they thought the price was especially “tone deaf” because there are no grocery store options in the neighborhood.

We recently stopped by Cafe Prince to investigate, and can report that it is indeed exactly what it sounds like — a large, raw carrot, peeled, chilled, and served wrapped in a thin piece of paper.

Speaking over a shared lunch of carrots, coffee, Neapolitan pizza, and diced mango, Cafe Prince owner Philip Kafka tells Metro Times that he was genuinely surprised by the response on social media.

“I was so flabbergasted,” he says. “The last thing I ever thought was people were going to complain about the prices.”

He describes Cafe Prince as more “like an art project” than a typical cafe.

“This is a perfect representation of what we’re trying to do,” he says, holding a carrot. “It’s fun, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, it’s energizing.”

Kafka is head honcho of the development company Prince Concepts, which is known for its playful, thought-provoking projects. He earned buzz about a decade ago after paying for billboards in New York City urging people to move to the Motor City, emblazoned with cheeky messages like “Detroit: Just west of Bushwick.” In recent years, he’s transformed an area in and around Core City along Grand River Avenue into a sprawling campus that includes a community of steel Quonset huts, Argentine-inspired restaurant Barda, offices for boutique ad agency Lafayette American and the language education company Duolingo (among others), and Core City Park, which features public art nestled among about 100 trees. The projects earned Prince Concepts the title of “Best of Practice” developer in the Midwest by The Architect’s Newspaper in 2021.

Kafka says his background is in philosophy, not business, and cites influences like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Joseph Campbell, specifically the latter’s quote urging people to “follow your bliss.”

“It changed my life, it changed my spirit, it changed my work,” Kafka says. “I don’t want my life to be slavery to something that I don’t want to do, you know what I mean? I want to have fun with this stuff.”

When Astro and Ochre moved out and the Detroit Institute of Bagels moved into part of the space, Kafka decided to turn the rest into a small cafe. He inherited an espresso machine, but otherwise it’s a sparse room with no real kitchen, aside from a small pizza oven.

He defends the $1.80 price point for the carrots, saying that it’s “a matter of individual values.” Sure, you can buy an entire two-pound bag of organic carrots at Meijer for about the same price, but Kafka points out that people will pay 50 cents for a gumball from a vending machine and even more for a coffee. He also adds that while it may be a humble carrot, labor was put into it.

“It’s such a simple thing, but it’s so pleasant to have a cold, peeled carrot,” he says. “People don’t often do it for themselves.”

click to enlarge Philip Kafka describes Cafe Prince as more “like an art project” than a typical cafe. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Philip Kafka describes Cafe Prince as more “like an art project” than a typical cafe.

Kafka says he chose carrots over typical cafe fare like “pastries filled with trans fats” following the advice of nutritionist Ray Peat, who recommends eating raw carrots daily for help with digestion. The Cafe Prince menu also includes items like the “Ottoman Secret,” a Brazil nut tucked into a dried fig, and an “Immunity Shot,” or goat kefir and honey. (Both are also sold for $1.80.)

There is also another important matter to consider in the pricing: vibes.

“You have to acknowledge some sort of thought or effort, not in this intrinsic thing itself, but in everything that surrounds it,” he says, sounding like an artist.

Kafka says a major driving force of Prince Concepts is creating public spaces, and he views the $1.80 carrot as a sort of nominal “entry fee” for people to come enjoy the cafe or nearby park, similar to how people will spend $4 on a coffee to hang out at, say, a Starbucks. (Of course, people are welcome to hang out at the park for free, too.)

“We always want to soften the blow of commerce with public space,” he says, adding that Cafe Prince is subsidized by his company and that he does not expect it to make money.

Prince Concepts also recently broke ground on a new development featuring 10 townhouses surrounded by trees that Kafka aims to rent for $1,000-$2,000 per month. He says he also plans to expand the wooded public park, and is in talks to bring an art gallery, a casual sister restaurant to Barda, and a possible bookstore to the neighborhood as well.

Kafka admits most of Cafe Prince’s customers are people who live in or work in Prince Concepts developments, but he says he also gets visitors from nearby Woodbridge, where lots of young people live.

He knows not everyone will get what he’s trying to do. But some will.

“Some people love the idea of coming here with their friend and getting two carrots and two coffees, and spending less than $10 and being able to sit in the sun for an hour,” he says. “They like that value that they’re getting for $1.80.”

He thinks the pizzas ($15.27) are good enough to make Cafe Prince a destination, and also plans to host what he calls “Irreverent Lunch” on select days, which will feature dishes made up from whatever ingredients are on hand.

But Kafka seriously believes the raw nude carrot could be his legacy.

“If the raw carrot takes off and becomes a normal thing at a cafe, the price of it will go down inevitably because there’s more demand,” he predicts. “And if people are now getting a carrot in a cafe instead of a two-day-old cookie, the world will be a little bit better — like, just a little bit, you know? And I’m hoping that happens. I hope I can make people think a little bit about what they’re consuming.”

Location Details

Cafe Prince

4884 Grand River Ave., Detroit


Coming soon: Metro Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Detroit stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter