Nearly a year into business, a popular Eastern Market restaurant is finally welcoming customers to dine inside. At the same time, the owners have changed the cuisine completely.
The Chinese dishes they served carryout over the past 11 months or so — salt-and-pepper tofu, biang biang lamb noodles, wonton soup, bao buns and more — have all been shelved to make way for a brand new menu featuring cuisines the two chef and owners say better reflect their personal backgrounds.
For Jennifer Jackson and Justin Tootla — who cooked Chinese food for a while at Chicago restaurant Thank You and later helmed the kitchen at seafood restaurant Voyager in Ferndale — something more personal means dishes inspired by the American South, India and South Africa.
“Jen and I were obviously really excited to pick up where we left off cooking Chinese food back in Chicago and we definitely enjoyed our year cooking it. We just felt very dissociated with it … we just got to a point where we weren’t expressing ourselves through the food, which was the point, but we didn’t realize the effeit would have on us creatively and personally.”
Tootla says that the Chinese menu, which was served takeout only, was apropos for the pandemic when dining rooms were closed much of the year and carryout was very popular. Now that the dining room is open, though, the two chefs felt they “needed to put our voice back in our food.”
Tootla’s family is from northern India and his father is from South Africa. Jackson’s cooking is influenced by West Africa and the Caribbean and she grew up in the American South.
Diners may see a variety of these influences all in one dish on the new Bunny Bunny menu, like the lump crab salad with black eyed peas, cilantro, house-made vinegar and a crunchy and spicy Bombay mix or the dish of wok-seared okra and raw collard greens with vadouvan, an Indian curry.
The new offerings are listed a la carte like dim sum, says Tootla, with each choice running $7-$16. It makes for a more streamlined interaction between guests and employee. With this new menu and service model (inside service only as opposed to carryout only as it was before) Bunny Bunny will continue to pay staff members $20 an hour plus tips, insurance and vacation time.
In addition to a focus on paying employees a fair wage, Tootla and Jackson also want to give back to the community once the restaurant is cash positive. In the spring they were a part of a nationwide effort to raise funds and awareness for local Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations. Bunny Bunny’s string of carryout dinners, a collaboration with other local restaurants, raised $12,000.
The chefs appear as excited for opening their dining room for the first time as they are about this new, unique menu.
“It’s been amazing to see some of the old regulars,” said Jackson. “I think people are happy to be in the space again. I think it’s exciting for them to see the space and see what we’ve done here.”
For now Bunny Bunny, 1454 Gratiot in Detroit, is open for dinner service at 5 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Hours may expand in the future. Besides rolling out a new menu, they’re also catching up from losing all their inventory when they lost power for three days following the recent storms and floods.
“The storm was a couple days but it’s going to affect this restaurant for a month or more … it was a complete reset for the restaurant,” said Tootla.
Bunny Bunny also hosts a carryout-only pop-up from Big Girl burgers and biscuits on Sundays. Reservations for Bunny Bunny’s Thurs.-Sun. service can be made through Resy.com, but walk ins are welcome, too. Follow the restaurant on Instagram @bunnybunny_detroit for updates.