Curtis Nordeen was the managing partner at the Capital Grill in Troy for six years before leaving to start Crust, the pizza and wine bar, and then Fleming's, the latest addition to metro Detroit's many steakhouse choices.
Metro Times: For the last several years, I've heard more people claim they're eating less meat. Yet there's been a proliferation of steakhouses meeting with apparent success. Given this would-be avoidance of meat and all of the local competition, what draws you to this business now?
Curtis Nordeen: People are eating a ton of meat. I don't think it ever went away. It just slipped out of fashion for a while. This was actually one of the original five markets that we wanted to come into with Fleming's. Back to the inception of the company, we felt that Oakland County is a tremendous place to be. It clearly has the income, the sophistication and the culture for people who want this type of dining experience. I think it's widely viewed as having been underserved for a long time. If you go to downtown Chicago, there are 40 steakhouses. Granted there's more population, but it's the Midwest. A great steak is a great steak.
MT: How does Fleming's differ from the Capital Grill?
Nordeen: I think that there are a number of things we do that are different. We're after an urban sophisticated look, more of a contemporary look and feel. Our food is a much more contemporary interpretation of standard steakhouse fare, but in the end a steak is a steak. Are you buying great quality steaks? Are you cooking them properly? Are you getting them to the guests the way they order them or the way that they believe they ordered them? The other accoutrements that go along with that, besides the salads and the desserts, those are the things that we have really put a much more modern interpretation on, and I think we've done that very well. We have a much broader variety in all of those categories. In a lot of ways, I think they're more interesting. The genesis of steakhouses all goes back to the original Delmonico's in New York in the mid-1800s. A great steak is a great steak. I think they showed the world way back then what it can be if you're gonna do it the right way.
MT: I heard that you are involved in Crust, the pizza and wine bar in Rochester and Bloomfield Hills.
Nordeen: I was, but I'm getting out of that now and stepping back into this. That was a startup I did with my partner, John Scherer, and my brother, who has been in the business for a long time. It was a great concept that the three of us came up with. Great concept, great pie, lots of fun. It's doing very well.
MT: Detroit is a serious pizza town with Buddy's considered Detroit pizza, home of Domino's and Little Caesar's, two of the nation's largest chains, Jet's, Hungry Howie's and a slew of other independents. What attracted you to this market?
Nordeen: Whatever you're doing, whether it's a steakhouse, a pizza joint or a chicken joint, you better believe in what you're doing and that it's bringing something to the table that's meaningful. You can't pay that much attention to what everyone else is doing. If you believe that you're creating something that will be of value to people and you're confident that you can deliver actual value and that you are going to deliver it with service, ambience and flair, then that's what you do. I don't think you build your business on a model of what everyone else is doing.
MT: Our area has seen a number of restaurant closings and heard rumors of many restaurants in trouble offering all kinds of special pricing to attract customers.
Nordeen: Any time there's an economic squeeze, the very bottom and the very high end of the market price-wise are not going to be affected. It's the middle that gets squeezed very hard. People who are feeling the pinch on their pocket will always be willing to trade down for what they perceive is a value, and that value can go from a quick service restaurant to a mom and pop joint that serves a turkey and mashed potatoes open-faced for $8.95. A lot of them do that great. The opposite end is the high-end steakhouse and restaurants. People will still have special occasions, business dinners and high-end entertaining.
MT: Does Fleming's serve only prime beef?
Nordeen: We are prime beef. We wet age our beef to keep the price down and because we feel that the flavor is better. When you dry age prime, your yield is 35 percent to 38 percent of your original weight.
MT: What about your wine selection? A great steak begs for wine.
Nordeen: We have 100 wines by the glass. You can come in and sample. You're not going into your bank account to do that. The price ranges are from wherever you want to go to wherever you want to go. A ton of variety; the list is ordered progressively so it's meant for people who may not have as deep an understanding, but it's accessible to people who do. It gives you an opportunity to have fun with it. It's meant to not be threatening to anyone.Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]