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Danny and Jen Martinez


When Danny and Jen Martinez met over 15 years ago while working at the iconic Fox and Hounds restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Danny waited until he stopped working at the restaurant to ask her out. Since that time, the Detroiters have not only become partners in life but in the restaurant business as owners of Alley Cat Café in downtown Pontiac.


Jen grew up in West Bloomfield and attended Andover High School, and was immersed in the restaurant industry as her parents owned the former Fox and Hounds restaurant. She started working in the restaurant at an early age “answering phones, working the coatroom,” and saw firsthand how a couple can successfully run a restaurant business together.


Danny grew up in southwest Detroit, and started cooking as a teen. He graduated from Oakland Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute and is certified both as an executive chef and pastry chef. He has worked in Boston and Washington, D.C. and, locally, at the London Chop House and Meadowbrook Hall. He has also been teaching in the culinary arts program at Dorsey College in Pontiac since 2010.


“I’d pass through downtown Pontiac on my way home from teaching and think ‘what a great little town’ – it was full of vacant gems, and I could see the possibilities,” said Danny. In 2015, the couple acquired one of those gems – a character-rich, century old property on North Saginaw Street, and Alley Cat Café was born.


Alley Cat Café encompasses a variety of offerings. The café is open for coffee, breakfast, and lunch while the restaurant focuses on evening fare. The venue also includes Paissa Wine Cellar, which hosts wine dinners and private events as well as a catering division called Moonlight Catering & Events.


“Each area has a different feel with lots of wood and brick,” says Jen. “The café has a laid back, comfortable, welcoming vibe. The bar downstairs has a bit of a speakeasy feel. And the wine cellar area was previously a wine club with wine lockers, so it has a unique look and feel.”


While Danny focuses on the creative culinary aspects of the business and teaches, Jen focuses on the café and much of the business end of the partnership. Jen says, “Even though Danny is my husband, I am still constantly blown away by his talent. It amazes me that he really can do anything with food and events.”


Danny adds, “Jen holds everything together. She has encouraged me to keep going with our restaurant business during the low points. There have been a lot of challenges recently that cause you to rethink your business, especially the service end of it.”


Of course, the pandemic has caused many obstacles for the restaurant industry and Alley Cat Café has not been immune from the effects of the initial shutdown, slow restart, and continued staffing shortages.


“Pontiac is such a great downtown community, and everyone is trying so hard to succeed. We see positive signs that the downtown is coming back,” says Jen.


“It’s a hard, demanding industry, but we are in love with our business. So much of yourself goes into the business, but our regular customers and staff are like family and keep us going,” explains Danny. “In a restaurant environment, you are dependent on each other to have a good night and succeed.”


Alley Cat Café (alleycatcafepontiac.com)


Story: Tracy Donohue

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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