With a background in automotive engineering and project management, Nya Marshall always knew that one day she would return to her native east-side neighborhood as an investor. Having moved out of Detroit well over a decade ago, Marshall settled in Farmington Hills to provide her young son with access to an excellent school district. But once her son had graduated high school and was college-bound, Marshall found herself seeking the one thing she never found in the suburbs — a sense of community.
Jefferson Chalmers is a neighborhood on the rise. Buoyed by fresh residential and retail development supported by the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Framework as well as the work of developer, EJDevCO. The neighborhood, which was featured in our On The Ground series last year, has history and deep roots.
A native east sider, Marshall moved back to Detroit and purchased property in the area seven years ago, ahead of its resurgence. The adjoining buildings at 9215 E. Jefferson Ave. in East Village were abandoned and dilapidated. “When I bought the property, there was no front facade,” Marshall says. “The buildings were covered in ivy. When we finally began the renovations, time and time again we would pull the ivy out and it would come right back. The resilience of the plant truly inspired me.”
The ivy plant was one of the earliest crops in this part of Detroit back when the area was marsh and farmland. In the late 19th century, the plant was used for medicinal purposes. “At the library, I read that no new ivy had been planted in this area in over a hundred years. These were essentially the same leaves, that just kept coming back.” The ivy leaves that once adorned the building inspired the name of the restaurant.
Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails' new American diverse menu is curated by Marshall and her executive chef, Devante Burnley. Pasta dishes are prominently featured, as well as seafood and chicken dishes like the Buffalo chicken sandwich — a hearty portion of chicken breast dousedin Buffalo sauce, topped with ribboned carrots and celery and charred Gorgonzola cheese. The menu also features unique dessert items including a decadent chocolate mousse.
“It was important to me to design menu items that I thought the community would enjoy,” Marshall explains, “Everything. Literally everything here was designed with this community in mind.”
Prior to deciding to enter the restaurant industry, Marshall was unsure of what she would do with her investment properties. She approached neighborhood organizations, condo boards, and community members about what they wanted to see in the neighborhood. The consensus was clear: fine dining.
Lester Gouvia, who opened Norma G’s in nearby Jefferson Chalmers, had a similar experience. Residents, many of whom are seniors, wanted somewhere nice to sit and eat where they didn’t have to pay to park or feel like outsiders. Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails adds to the growing list of local dining options.
“I want to cultivate a really good dining experience,” Marshall explains. Along with the upscale comfort food, the space itself is designed with customers in mind. The color palette of royal blues and rich golds evoke warmth, while the custom pearlized paint by Barbara Johnson of Walls of Virtue add a high-end effect.
Marshall credits her automotive background for her entry into the restaurant business. The 2008 automotive crisis raised existential questions. While she didn’t experience any job loss, she still found herself pondering how much control she wanted to have over her own life. Ten years later, she has given up her day job to work full time for herself. “It was a planned and purposeful exit,” she says, “I was fortunate to have earned well and saved well, because I always lived beneath my means.”
That savings allowed Marshall to buy the buildings on Jefferson outright. The only loan that she has is on her liquor license. Further, all of the renovations for the restaurant came out of her own pocket. “While this is a growing neighborhood, my business plan didn’t include a residential component,” she says, “because of that, I was not eligible for a lot of the funding that is coming into this area.”
In fact, Marshall asserts that any funding toward her concept was challenging, especially with the scale of her project versus million-dollar developments. “I find that it’s just more difficult being a minority, and especially a female to get restaurant funding.” As a part of the entrepreneurial community in Detroit, Marshall met a lot of business owners and heard about their projects. “You have to understand,” she explains, “a lot of these concepts cost up to a million dollars. It became very clear to me that there is a lot of disparity in the funding.”
Despite the challenges, like the ivy plant, Marshall kept fighting back and despite the long process, the restaurant is finally open to the public. “I’m most excited to be open, to be providing jobs and opportunities to people in this community," she says.