West McNichols Road has really started to fill up lately—at least along the stretch near Marygrove College and the University of Detroit. In April, the Neighborhood HomeBase community center opened its doors there.
And in the last few years the strip has also seen the arrival of the Detroit Sip coffee shop and the Detroit Parent Collective, a co-working space that also offers childcare services.
Adding to the emerging development, a new barbecue joint and soon-to-be-opened cluster of businesses, including a bar, promise to bring a flurry of new activity to the neighborhood.
Owners of T-Mo's barbecue restaurant build for the future
The new barbecue place just arrived on McNichols this past May. Owned by married couple Tito and Monica Dotson, T-Mo’s BBQ Pit is a southern pit-style barbecue restaurant with a menu that offers smoked ribs, pork chops, and several styles of chicken dinners, as well as rib and pulled pork sandwiches and a variety of sides and desserts.
Monica primarily runs the business, while Tito divides his time between the restaurant and his work as a truck driver. T-Mo’s isn’t the Dotsons' first business venture; prior to opening the restaurant, they ran a combination barber shop and record store called Def Cuts in the Seven Mile-Evergreen area of Detroit. Their barbecue business, though, grew out of a side gig.
“We started out with a tailgate. … Once it started catching on, we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we try catering gigs,’ ” says Tito. “We started doing it a little steadier and decided, ‘Well, let’s get into the restaurant business.' ”
Attracted by its proximity to the Avenue of Fashion, the Dotsons chose a property at the corner of McNichols and Prairie and ended up purchasing it in a city tax foreclosure auction in 2015. Local residents tell Tito the previous owners had tried to run a BBQ restaurant at the spot as well but had to quit before they got it up and running. By the time the Dotsons got the deed, the place was basically falling apart.
“When we purchased the building it was in really bad shape," says Tito. "We had to gut everything down. Rebuild everything. So we built it basically from scratch.”
Over the last few years, the Dotsons have spent more than $200,000 of their own money fixing up the place. During that time, they’ve transformed the once-dilapidated 1,500-square-foot facility into an attractive red and tan building with a rustic wooden interior. Although T-Mo’s is primarily a carry-out establishment, there is a small dine-in area that can seat about eight people.
Since T-Mo’s opened two months ago, business has been good for the Dotsons. In fact, at times they’ve been so flooded with catering requests that they’ve had to turn down some of them.
While owning a restaurant is a new venture for the Dotsons, Tito is starting to like the work and is hopeful about what may be in store for the business. They plan to give back to the community by supporting educational opportunities for kids in the neighborhood and donating to local events.
“It’s challenging. You have a lot of moving parts, but it’s pretty enjoyable,” he says. “So let’s see what we can do for our future. We want to build a sustainable future for our family.”
Detroit Sip owner branches out with new businesses
Ernest Smith and his fiancée, Jevona Watson, are developing a new cluster of businesses on McNichols between Pennington and San Juan Streets. Watson is an attorney who lives in the area and owns the Detroit Sip cafe. Smith works in the construction and property management industries, and his family at one time owned the Studio 54 club in downtown Detroit.
This development will be anchored by a new bar and restaurant called Sips On Six—a name that alludes to both to Detroit Sip and the fact that McNichols is also known as Six Mile Road.
The bar’s home will be housed in a 6,000-square-foot building that in the past has been used as an events hall. It’ll feature a 40-foot-long bar, large kitchen, and spacious bathrooms.
“The ambience will be similar to Detroit Sip,” says Smith. “The countertops are being done by someone in Detroit. The chairs and tables will be restored by a group that does restoration here in Detroit. A lot of the build-out was previously there, so we’re just adding to it and giving it a little more spunk.”
As for the food, the owners surveyed the neighborhood to see what they’d like. They also want to offer something beyond the fast food and coney island fare that’s prevalent in the area, so while the menu is still under development, customers should expect to see items like salmon and lamb chops on the menu. Plans are also underway to have a variety of different entertainment options at the venue including jazz and poetry.
In addition to the bar, the two developers are also renovating five other buildings on the block that they own, including one that was once home to Winkleman’s department store. While details are still being finalized, a salon, yoga studio, cooperative workspace, and another restaurant are all being discussed as possible tenants on the strip.
“We’re trying to broaden the horizons of what can be over here,” says Smith. “We want to make sure we can give everything we can give, 110 percent, so the McNichols neighborhood can come back to life."
If all goes well, Sips On Six and several of the other new businesses should open their doors by early fall.
This article is part of a series where we revisit stories from our On the Ground installment and explore new ones in the Live6 area. It is supported by the Kresge Foundation.
Photos by Nick Hagen.