Gourmet to go

Papa Joe's, a food emporium extraordinaire located in Birmingham, is where you'll find fresh produce, prime meats, seafood, European breads and other baked goods, such as pastries and cakes. It sports an international deli that features foods from all over the world, as well as an excellent cheese selection. The huge selection of wines is overseen by Bill Schwab, who loves to educate while helping customers choose a bottle or a case. Even the floral department gives a whiff of paradise. The store's popular gourmet section is headed by chef William Hall. Hall has been in the food business for more than 30 years. He was a partner in the original Andiamo and Arriva. He has been with Papa Joe's for about five years, lured by the prospect of being a part of a cutting-edge gourmet-to-go operation.

Metro Times: Other than the mouthwatering displays of dozens of prepared foods, what draws people to your foods? It seems almost as expensive to take home a meal as it is to go to a restaurant.

William Hall: It depends on what you get. It is definitely cheaper than going to most restaurants, depending on what type of restaurant you go to. People complain about going out every night. They can come here and get good food and a bottle of wine and go home and relax. No traffic, no crowds, no babysitter — enjoy the evening. They can come in here and choose from 150 items ranging from vegetables, starches and all different types of proteins, and get what they want. They can plan four or five days of menus. In order to make this work we have to use the best products available and cook them to a safe temperature, chill them, platter them and make it possible for the customer to take really great dishes home and reheat them at their convenience and enjoy them in the comfort of their own home. For instance we use Berkshire pork that costs four times what we could be paying for a lesser product. You can taste the difference. We also try to buy what we can locally. I get organic chicken from a little poultry farm in Frankenmuth. We're looking for those people who are producing food the way it used to be done without chemicals and antibiotics. Another advantage to shopping in an operation like this is that, say you want prime rib. Your wife wants chicken. The kids want something else. Everyone can get what they want. Also there are no leftovers. By the time you get all the ingredients you need and take the time to cook and then end up with three quarters of a bottle of black vinegar leftover that you may never use again, we become less expensive than you might think.

MT: What is the impact of the recent ban on trans fats in New York? Is it going to catch on everywhere? What's next? Are we going to have to stop eating oranges?

Hall: I think it's going to catch on. People want to eat healthy foods. We have an organic section here. It's a tremendously growing segment. The kitchen in our new store could be certified organic.

MT: I heard that you have a new store opening soon in Rochester in February. Westborn has just redone the Berkley store. Vince and Joe's just opened a new store in Shelby Township. Nino Salvaggio's has expanded. Is there enough business for everyone?

Hall: There are a lot of good operations. That's good. It's like having a row of good restaurants. Wait till you see the new store. We've got the whole place licensed as a restaurant. You can actually walk around with a glass of wine while you're shopping. There is a system that holds 300 bottles of wine. For a nominal charge, you can get a taste rather than spend $60 for a bottle.

MT: I've heard that Detroit is a better market than other cities for consumers?

Hall: I've heard that too. The choices in our area are better than those elsewhere. We've had offers to open up these markets all over.

MT: Are there opportunities for culinary arts students are a result of the proliferation of these kinds of operations?

Hall: It's an excellent opportunity. We are working with Schoolcraft College and Michigan Chefs De Cuisine and some other schools to develop an apprenticeship program. We make everything from scratch, even the stocks. When I make it, I know what's in it, know how it's handled. Our catering operation is huge. Our gourmet to go and catering combined is doing eight times the business that we expected to do; 10 times more for the holidays.

MT: Where do you eat when you go out?

Hall: I rarely have a chance to go out to eat. When people ask me for a recommendation, I have to ask my guys where they go, where they've eaten lately. That's another thing about Detroit. There's a lot of great restaurants out there. Guys are pumping out a lot of great food. They're not getting the notoriety that other towns are getting. They're getting a smack in the face. When you look in national magazines, you never see Detroit. We've got a lot of ethnic restaurants that satisfy people's adventuresome palates.

MT: Do you ever cook at home?

Hall: Occasionally, but by the time I get home, I'm ready for bed. I'm lucky to eat when I get home. I'm working about 80 hours a week.

Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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