Chef Ben Bebenroth wasted no time closing his farm-to-table bistro Spice Kitchen at the onset of the pandemic. It wasn’t because he knew precisely what to do next; it was because he was certain that he did not.
“We were trying to navigate in the middle of a dust storm,” Bebenroth told Scene a year ago. “And if we pick a direction right now, we could end up somewhere we do not want to be because we can’t see clearly.”
But just as one door was closing, another larger one was opening. Spice Hospitality
already was in the process of converting a 10,000-square-foot building in Detroit Shoreway into a new Spice HQ consisting of a production kitchen, tasting room and offices. With catering business still struggling, Bebenroth, along with Chief Culinary Officer Jonathan Bennett, began plotting the company’s next big move.
“We needed a way to leverage our expertise in this industry to out-innovate the challenges that exist right now,” Bebenroth explains. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for fine dining to come back to life. I am not interested in that in the least.”
Even as the pandemic was laying waste to his beloved restaurant and catering industry, Bebenroth focused on the positive. When discussing the death of Spice and the likely future of fine dining, the prescient chef pointed to “a return to quality of life, to family, to cooking at home” as encouraging signs of change.
Now, one year later, he seeks to preserve those positive changes and build a new business around them. The outcome: Spice’s newly founded Keep The Change Kitchen Collective
, an umbrella group that will spin out multiple virtual eateries for curbside pickup and delivery. This “virtual food hall” will launch with three distinct concepts, with others waiting on deck.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry over time,” says Bebenroth. “We’ve also seen a lot of changes in our personal lives over that time, and evaluating what’s important to us as chefs, as employers. We’ve been expecting unrealistic things out of ourselves and our teams for too long. We’re excited to keep many of those changes.”
In mid-March, Keep the Change will unveil Winner Winner™, a family-friendly menu starring spatchcocked Ohio chicken, roasted vegetables and homestyle sides like butternut squash mac and cheese and cornbread. Winner Winner™ Wing Shop needs little by way of description. And then there’s Leif, a salad and grain bowl concept described as “burly,” with “no wimpy, lightweight salads.”
A month or so later, those concepts will be joined by a seasonal rice and noodle venture called Woo! Noods & Rice. Further down the road, the team expects to launch a “bad-ass” sandwich menu and frozen breakfast line.
Unlike other multiple-concept ghost kitchens, this one will allow cross-platform ordering, so diners can combine dishes from more than one menu in a single order and delivery. The hope is that customers will think about future meals as opposed to just the next meal.
“There are 21 meal parts in the week,” says Bennett. “How can we be part of all of them?”
Orders will be available for pick-up in Detroit Shoreway and delivery within a certain zone, but Bebenroth envisions a preorder process for once-weekly deliveries farther east and west.
Keep the Change practices what it preaches by offering living wages to its team members, making medical benefits available to all full-time employees, and limiting the work week to a reasonable 40 hours. In that spirit, Keep the Change eateries will be open dinner-only Wednesday through Saturday.
“We are all operating differently from where we were a year ago,” adds Bennett. “How do we keep the good parts of this change to provide us with financial stability, work-life balance and a better future for our staff. We all need to provide a better future for this industry.”