For as long as I can remember, Howell-area foodies have whined about the town’s lack of an upscale, gourmet restaurant; a destination, something to draw diners from near and far.
Howell’s downtown, one of only a handful across the U.S. to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, lacked that signature eatery that other area small towns have. There’s the French Laundry in Fenton, the Holly Hotel in Holly and the Common Grill in Chelsea. The Root Restaurant & Bar was going to be Howell’s big draw.
Now, things have changed.
Howell took a big punch to the gut this weekend when word spread that The Root wasn’t moving forward with its plans to open a second location in Howell.
The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake, named 2012 Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press, purchased the Howell Theater earlier this year with the intent of creating a downtown dining destination.
Why it chose Howell for a second location is a great story: Executive Chef James Rigato, who grew up in Howell, could see the theater’s marquee from his bedroom in his mother’s Clinton Street home.
While Rigato was the “driving force” behind opening a second location in his hometown, he said the numbers for opening in Howell didn’t add up for owner Ed Mamou, who decided to concentrate his time and dollars on growing his recycling business.
But I wouldn’t count The Root out completely, not just yet; after all the restaurant bounced from signing to open in the Heart of Howell project to buying the theater.
I am guessing the logistics were complicated and the cost of transforming a theater into a restaurant was a whole lot, both perhaps greater than owner Mamou had anticipated. On top of that, parking for the restaurant would have presented a challenge in the theater location.
Would another location for The Root in Howell prove more suitable?
When I think about what I’d do if I won the lottery, I always set aside some of my jackpot to open a great Italian restaurant at the former Steve Brown Used Cars property that’s for sale just west of the intersection of Grand River Avenue and National Street. It’s a cool looking building, it’s got plenty of parking, entrances on both Grand River Avenue and Clinton Street, and a cool area I’d set aside for dining al fresco.
While I’m waiting to win the lottery, that site would be a great location for any other upscale restaurant or small market. (That’s a huge hint to Trader Joe’s or Hiller’s.)
A bit further west on Grand River Avenue is the recently closed Mr. D’s, which is also for sale.
If The Root is abandoning Howell altogether, it would be really sad. Maybe I am just wishfully thinking, but maybe we’ll hear sometime soon that The Root is going to open in another location in Howell, one that is easier to transform suitably into an upscale restaurant.
While I wait, I’m crossing my fingers and buying myself a couple lottery tickets, too.