Detroit's Eastern Market
A guide to Detroit’s Eastern Market vendors and historic businesses.
If you’re going to visit Detroit, make sure you’ve got your trip planned over a Saturday to soak up Eastern Market at its liveliest. It is truly one of Detroit’s best gems, not just because of its vast selection of vendors and rich history, but simply because Detroit is void of many grocery stores and fresh produce. Ok, we’ve got Whole Foods but the true Detroit resident could never afford the luxury of shopping there daily, let alone once.
Contrary to what many believe, Eastern Market is open 6 days a week. While the outdoor and indoor farmer’s markets pop up on Tuesdays and Saturdays, there are many wonderful retail specialty stores and ethnic food shops located on the 43-acre plot of land. Shed 3 is the most magnificent architecturally, but don’t miss Shed 2 (outdoor) or Shed 5 with some of the up-and-coming vendors. A full business directory can be found here, but to really appreciate the experience you should go back in time…
Back in 1841 the Detroit Farmer’s Market was set up in Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit before moving to its present location in 1891. The present location is where General Ulysses S. Grant, George Cluster and John J. Pershing were headquartered to march troops forward. It’s also the same location the Underground Railroad ran beneath through to the Detroit River and onto Canada. Built on a site of an early hay and wood market, (formerly a Native American burial ground before it turned into a farm in the 1700s), Eastern Market became the first brick & mortar farmer’s market when it constructed the first shed. Its popularity grew, expanding with two more sheds in 1922 and 1929 when the Great Depression hit. Business continued to soar until after World War II when pre-packaged items and the modern supermarket came to be. It didn’t help that the Purple Gang, yep those rum runners during Prohibition, lurked behind the boarded up storefronts forcing local merchants to pay for protection. Their name was courtesy of the shop owners who didn’t think they were like other boys their age, but rather tainted, off-color. Hence Purple Gang.
Now over 70,000 tons of fresh produce is hauled to Eastern Market annually and on any given Saturday some 45,000 people will show up to see the 250 independent vendors. I kid you not I have seen some of the best produce prices of my life. Michigan bushels of asparagus for $1.50! Fresh from the farm! Unheard of!
The market brings people of all different backgrounds together, bridging the racial tensions within the city. It’s where many now-beloved businesses got their start, cue Detroit Institute of Bagels, who now hand roll in Corktown and McClure’s Pickles.
You won’t be able to eat at all establishments in one go so I’d recommend having a read and bookmarking your top choices. Grab a coffee from either Cairo Coffee (inside Savvy Chic) or Urban Grounds (cart inside Shed 2) and stroll around the market at least once before settling down!
Pizza, Deli, Nuts, Ice Cream, Ribs, Coney Island, Juices & more...
For Pizza ~ Supino Pizzeria
Opened in August of 2008 by Dave Mancini who found himself skimming cookbooks instead of his physical therapy textbooks during his time at Wayne State University, Supino remains one of the city’s hottest destinations. Named after a small village outside of Rome, this tiny pizza joint is guaranteed to have a long line out the door at its opening time at 11am. But the 650° ovens whip up the thin-crust slices quickly, favorites being Bismarck (mozzarella, prosciutto, egg) and Verdure e Funghi (mushrooms, mozzarella, smoked gouda, parmiegano-reggiano). Quite the change to the beloved Detroit-style pizza from Buddy’s and deep dish from PizzaPapalis downtown.
For Ice Cream ~ Mootown Ice Cream & Dessert Shoppe
This cute little dessert/gift shop opened in 2011 by two sisters Chris Kelley and Leslie Hayden made for the first ice cream shop ever to hit Eastern Market. Even Grandma works in the back, selling hand-made greeting cards, apparel and more. The creamery serves Michigan-made Hudsonville Ice Cream, with flavor names sticking true to the mitten: Michigan Deer Trax (peanut butter cups and thick chocolate fudge with vanilla ice cream; Mackinaw Island; and Sleeping Bear Dunes Bear Hug (chocolate ice cream with chocolate-covered cashews swirled with thick caramel).
For that Corned beef Craving ~ Russell Street Deli
Opened in 1989, the deli took on a different look in 2007 when owners Ben Hall and Jason Murphy took the reins. The guys have turned this local deli into a brand, selling the majority of their sandwiches at Ford Field during Lion’s games. Enjoying a sub on the field may even be your best bet as wait times on Russell St. can be upwards of 45 minutes for breakfast, fresh soups, salads or sandwiches. Worth the wait? Yes definitely for the home-cured meats and local produce.
For Traditional Detroit Food ~ Zeff’s Coney Island
What’s a “Coney Island Restaurant” anyway? Generally Greek-owned, they are similar to Greek diners which are known for their all-day breakfasts, gyros, and cheap diner food. You’ll see them all over Metro Detroit as this is where the Coney Island Dog was born. One Coney Island Dog calls for a grilled wiener (from Michigan), runny meat chili (beanless and usually made of beef hearts), chopped raw onions, yellow mustard and a steamed bun. Why the Coney Island name? Well, it’s probably to honor where hot dogs were born (as a result of German immigrants moving to NYC), but the “Coney sauce” originated in Jackson, Michigan in 1914. While the Detroit staples for Coney Dogs are Lafayette and American, Zeff’s family-owned shop since 1973 is the go-to for the East side.
For Costco Lovers ~ Rocky’s
Rocky’s has me like a kid in a candy store. Probably because it is a candy store <eyeroll>. No trip to Eastern Market is complete without a visit to Rocky’s. Where else can you find jaw breakers and flying saucers? They have spices (lols chicken crack), nuts, seeds, coffee and candy in bulk so it’s a cheap way to stock up on kitchen essentials. And who doesn’t love the man greeting you at the door with a handshake. It’s pure class.
It first opened as Rocky’s Peanuts in 1958 after Jack Russo went from door-to-door selling produce off the back of his truck in 1931. His son, Rocco (Rocky) worked with him and after fighting in the Korean War, came back to take over the business. Rocky and his brother Dominic partnered up and in 1957 decided to expand their father’s business into a wholesale produce distribution company. In 1969 they purchased a peanut roasting business that supplied bagged peanuts to the Detroit Tiger’s Stadium and local street vendors. The nut business expanded and in 1971 they moved to Eastern Market.
For Health Nuts ~ Beyond Juicery + Eatery
Yes it’s one of those healthy juice and smoothie places, but actually they serve up some of the best orange juice I’ve ever had. Join on of their yoga workshops too.
For Nut Lovers ~ Germack Pistachio Company
If ever you’re in doubt of what to bring a Michigander when you go to their home, Germack’s is a safe bet. We all love a good nut and chocolate selection made right here in Detroit. Having now expanded the range to include toffee, peanut butter and ice cream sauces, there are plenty of free samples to help persuade you. The roaster next door is yet another extension of the business and a cosy spot for some freshly roasted beans and snacks.
John and Frank Germack, two brothers who had made the long journey over the Atlantic and through Ellis Island at the ages of 12 and 7 (respectively) decided one day to open a traditional food import business. Based in Brooklyn, they began importing olives and olive oil, spices and nuts, of which pistachios were the most expensive. They were quite the delicacy in the Mediterranean but new to the U.S. As Detroit became a booming industrial town, Frank stationed himself here to roast the imported pistachios while John acquired Zenobia (another nut company) and moved back to NYC. Frank decided to forget about the oils and solely focus on the nuts. Was he nuts? No, especially since he had the clever idea of dying pistachios a bright red color. Why? To 1) make the nuts look more pleasing, and 2) to cover up the naturally occurring stains that the outer husks would leave on the pistachio shells. These red nuts could also be found in vending machines during the Depression so that even the poorest could treat themselves for a penny. The company continued to sell “normal” pistachios” while the red ones, termed “Red Lip” became the face of the company. By the 1950s and ‘60s, Germack’s was importing 20,000 tons of pistachios (40% of the entire crop of 3 exporting countries). It all came out of their Eastern Market factory which used to be just up the road from the current shop.
For Detroit Fashion ~ Detroit VS Everybody
Think back to 2012 when Detroit was on the brink of bankruptcy. Tommey Walker Jr. was driving down Jefferson when he thought all of a sudden, “This isn’t fair what’s going on. It’s Detroit versus everybody.” He then designed a logo and the rest is history. It’s become a nationally known brand showcasing the need to contribute back to the city and how it’s the responsibility of everyone to rebuild it. Support the city. Take it with you.
For Karaoke & Ribs ~ Bert’s Marketplace
Come in the summer and you’ll be pulled in by the wafting smells from their outdoor BBQ. They’re known for their ribs which simply fall off the bone. But this multi-functional space is more than just a finger-licking experience. Founded by Bert Dearing in 1968, it’s a canteen, jazz bar, Motown lounge, large-scale event venue, boutique, and simply a work of art. On weekends you’ll hear the bellowing sounds of the karaoke singers mimicking their Motown idols who might very well make an appearance in the Motown Room. With booths dedicated to the singers of soul and a Hitsville U.S.A., the walls are lined with original Golden Records.
Most impressive, however, are the murals by Curtis Lewis II (coincidentally a former student of my aunt who taught at Pershing High School). Each mural displays black icons throughout the city of Detroit. The Joe Louis Mural depicts black history including the Black Bottom neighborhood (so named by the French for the black topsoil, and the Gotham Hotel which was used predominately by the black population as a result of segregation. Ask nicely and they may just let you see the whole thing.
For Art Lovers ~ Signal Return
Even if you have zero interest in printmaking, this warehouse store is a beauty. They’ve got some amazing 19th century presses that still churn out wonderful work—something anyone interested can take part in as the studio offers multiple workshops throughout the year. On Saturdays they sell work of local artisans. Lynne Avadenka, the Creative Director and Interim Operations Director, was kind enough to show us around. And if you don’t think that’s something special, her work can be seen at the New York Public Library, The Jewish Museum (NY), the Detroit Institute of Arts, The British Library, The Library of Congress—I mean the list goes on.
Deli, Music, Bars, Antiques, Butchers, Imported Goods
For a hangover cure ~ Vivio’s Food & Spirits
Their Bloody Marys are world famous as they are made with a hand infused vodka. But bloody hell…don’t consume those on an empty stomach. Not when there are plenty of mussels and burgers to go around, oh and brunch, and shuttle buses that run to downtown Detroit’s major events (aka major games). Get that drank on without the guilt.
It’s actually Eastern Market’s oldest bar. Opened in 1967 by John and Shirley Vivio, this couple pretty much left what had already been: Meyfarth’s Hall. Back then Meyfarth’s Hall’s bar on the first floor with a social hall on the second floor serving the surrounding German community. The third floor was residential space for the family. When the Vivio’s took over, they opened up the northern half of the first floor, making this one of the oldest continuous bar spaces in Detroit.
For Cheese Lovers (bonus if you like music) ~ DeVries & Co
If you’re missing a bit of Europe, Devries is the perfect place to go. With over hundreds of different cheese varieties and quality meats, it’s one of the best delis in the city. They also have plenty of treats from around the globe which you’d have trouble sourcing anywhere else. Take a trip up the open elevator to the third floor where you’ll find plenty of great gifts and Louie’s Loft where on Saturdays Louie plays music for anyone to come and listen.
Formerly known as H.R. Hirt, Devries is still a family-owned company. In 1887 Rudolph began selling butter, eggs and cheese throughout Detroit before he hand-built the store in 1893 on 2468 Market St. His son, Clarence, took over in 1924. It was always an old general store that sold great imported products (which were brought in by ocean liners in the 1920s) and they are well known for their plethora of wicker baskets now sold on the 2nd floor (where the family used to live. If you look on the door, Mom and Dad’s names are on there.
For the Antique Lover ~ Eastern Market Antiques
I am no fan of antique stores as I find them to be chaotic, jumbled, and poorly organized. But then I walked into this shop. Maybe because they sell items more along the lines of vintage and retro…I don’t know. All I know is that the first floor has some beautiful antique furniture—mostly wooden filled with trinkets, jewelry, lamps and more. The green staircase leaves you 2 options: do you take the left staircase, or the right? I usually turn left and make the first right to head into the old furniture section. They’ve also got old suitcases and a bunch of Coca Cola products (lamps, Tupperware, etc…). I’m always drawn in by the beautiful sets of China found here. The rest of the top floor houses many similar products, as well as women and men’s apparel, shoes, toys, canvases, and household items.
For Mezze ~ Gabriel Importing Co.
Walking into the small store you are greeted by Michael, the owner, who loves to talk about the amazing selection of Mediterranean food, and his wife who quickly maneuvers herself through the thin aisles to be the ever-hospitable hostess. She offers an abundant amount of free samples and even goes over how to make certain dishes. Michael, who is half Greek and half Lebanese (please let me be right on that one), swears by the Mediterranean diet. He believes that the olive trees in Greece produce the best olives because of the many volcanoes that have overturned the soil for years. Definitely get the garlic dip, tabbouleh, yogurt cheese balls and green falafel.
If you’re interested in getting to know more about the market and sampling food, definitely check out Feet on the Street Tours Detroit. Not only do they do an Eastern Market tour, but they cover a variety of historical walking tours around the city. This is exactly how I became so knowledge about the market. $29.
In addition, every Saturday at 10am May-September there is a Preservation Detroit Eastern Market Tour. $12-$15.
And if you are in the mood to bike around, Eastern Market Tours by Wheelhouse Detroit put on custom tours of different parts of the city, including Eastern Market. $30/$40.