New bistro, EM, moved to planning board

April 24, 2020

Birmingham City Commissioners unanimously approved moving a bistro application for EM, by the owners of Market North, to the city's planning board for full site plan and design review and special land use permit review, at their meeting on Monday, April 20.

The bistro application was submitted for the 2020 year. The initial submission deadline to apply for one of two available bistro liquor licenses for 2020 was October 1, 2019. However, there were no applicants for the third October in a row. A second application deadline for 2020 was April 1.

Applicants Joe and Kristin Bongiovanni, owners of Market North, proposed a new bistro, EM, for “Employee Meals,” a name based on the creative and nourishing meals staff prepares and serves to themselves prior to beginning work to serve others. EM would be adjacent to Market, at 470 N. Old Woodward, in the first floor of a two-story building which previously housed a makeup retailer.

Joe Bongoivanni, in his presentation, said they are looking to open a small, 1,000 square-foot establishment with about 40 indoor seats and outdoor patio seating in nice weather, featuring fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine.

“It'll have a feeling like a little place in Mexico you happened on your vacation – an everyday place,” he said. “We want a rustic, cozy, casual, lively environment.”

He said their staff inspired both the restaurant and the menu, which will not be a taco place, but filled with fresh fish, ceviche, vertically-broiled meats, shrimp. “There'll be a series of entree dishes, but (the menu) will be small… It'll have a little chameleon side. That's our hope.”

Commissioner Stuart Sherman asked if it will be similar to their 24-hour Mexican-inspired diner OWL, in Royal Oak, and Bongiovanni said it will “be more like a seaside Mexican restaurant.”

He said he anticipates price points between $10 and $25.

EM will be open daily from noon to midnight.

“I wish you the best of luck. You repeated several times the size of the bistro, but the concept of the bistro. I only wish it was a little north of Market, or a little south of Market, because the idea is to activate the street,” noted mayor Pierre Boutros. “I read it is self-funded. With this Covid depression, is there any hesitation going forward?”

“We really believe in the city, our guests and to adapt as necessary,” he responded. “We will see a normal again. We're self-funded We're not looking for bank funding.”

Commissioners voted 7-0 to send the EM bistro application, still in concept form, to the planning board for full site plan and design review and special land use permit review. If it receives approvals there and a recommendation to move forward, commissioners would see it again to issue a final approval.

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