When Matt Prentice walked in to the former Macaroni Grill restaurant building on Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills, he knew he had found something special.
"Restaurateurs tend to look at restaurants as a man looks at a woman," he said. "This restaurant is a perfect 10."
Prentice closed a deal with the building's owner over breakfast late last month, and he expects to open the restaurant's doors sometime between March 15 and March 31. Around the first of March, he'll start hiring to staff Morels, to the tune of 100 jobs.
Prentice had been scouting locations for the re-opening of Morels, a Bingham Farms restaurant he closed in 2006 after a 16-year run, because of Michigan's flagging economy. The restaurant was located in an office complex that was 100 percent full when Morels opened in 1990, and just 20 percent full when it closed, he said.
He said he has since closed other restaurants, but when he announced that he would open Gastronomy: A Modern American Bistro in Southfield early this year, "the phone's been ringing off the hook." The Detroit News reported last week that Prentice also has plans this year to open a gourmet deli in Milford and a kosher restaurant somewhere in southern Oakland County.
Desingers are working on the interior of the Morels building now. Prentice said the restaurant will be "very affordable" but still "very much a fine dining experience", Prentice said. And every dish will have some kind of Michigan tie.
"We will focus on Michigan products," he explained. "Of course, in March, that's much more difficult, but every item on the menu will have some kind of Michigan tie. You may see seafood garnished with some sort of Michigan ingredient ... and we will focus on Michigan wines."
Recreating Morels, "probably the most famous restaurant" he has ever opened, is very much a personal experience for Prentice. "When I had to close it due to the Michigan economy," he said, "it broke my heart."
The new version has him clearly excited and anxious to open the doors. Morels will have the spirit of the old place, combined with food Prentice said will be "more hip".
"Cooking styles have changed in the last 22 years," he said. "So will Morels."