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Lea Hunt ’13 and her husband Kyle opened Gather, an eatery in Detrioit. Kyle Hunt | Courtesy

When Lea Hunt and Kyle Hunt opened Gather, a restaurant in Detroit’s Eastern Market bringing together people and local ingre­dients, in May 2017, they ful­filled a dream that first started growing nearly a decade before.

“I had always wanted to open a coffee shop or some­thing of my own,” Lea Hunt Hunt ’13 said.

High-school sweet­hearts, the two cel­e­brate their 12th year together this month and will have their fifth wedding anniversary in August.

After the two com­pleted summer intern­ships in college, Kyle expressed interest in opening a restaurant, to which Lea Hunt quickly agreed.

“We went from there and sent ideas back and forth throughout college,” Lea Hunt said.

Kyle played bas­ketball at Lake Superior State College and Lea Hunt played bas­ketball at Hillsdale College while majoring in mar­keting man­agement, saying the courses that she took made business more approachable.

“I feel like all the business courses that are inter­twined in that degree really helped lay the groundwork for being able to wrap my brain around what we wanted to do,” Lea Hunt said.

As restaurant co-owners, food has played a large role in their rela­tionship.

“Wanting to open a restaurant, we always would go out to eat at restau­rants and try to find inter­esting places, places that are our style,” Kyle said. “A lot of the time we would go to four dif­ferent restau­rants and get one dish at each restaurant. It’s been a fun time trying to try out new restau­rants, but obvi­ously doing it with Lea, but expe­ri­encing dif­ferent cities and restau­rants.”

The name, Gather, comes from gath­ering food from the market and gath­ering people together, Lea Hunt said. Also, the verse in the Gospel of Matthew which says, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I also.”

“The name hit a lot of stones for us,” Lea Hunt said.

Kyle said their style is “minimal,” which reflects the aes­thetic of their restaurant.

The restaurant has found ways to reclaim lots of pieces for the fur­niture around the restaurant with items such as school chairs, table legs, and even the façade of their bar.

“Every­thing we try to do is sus­tainable, from places here in Detroit or else­where,” Kyle said.

A large part of their approach, however, is locally sourcing sea­sonal ingre­dients for their menu.

“There are a lot of farmers right in our backyard,” Lea Hunt said. “We source as much as we can from a lot of Detroit farms, and then Michigan. In the city here, there’s a big urban farming resur­gence. So it’s really cool to support our neighbors who are trying to do some­thing as well.”

GROW Eastern Market and Keep Growing Detroit are two com­panies that help Lea Hunt and Kyle to con­tinue to bring local produce to their restaurant and ensure con­nec­tions with local farmers.

“I think Detroit right now has a really strong undertone of working together, a com­munity type feeling because everyone is trying to make the city better, and it has that hope that is coming along,” Lea Hunt said. “We are able to source locally, and have a com­munal table, so just overall the com­munity feel rings pretty true.”

The 30-seat restaurant focuses on being an “everyday” stop that brings people great food at great prices. Lea Hunt said their mission is to be a neigh­borhood place that people can enjoy and come together to do things for the com­munity.

One way the restaurant cul­ti­vates a rela­tionship within the com­munity is through “Burger Wednesday.” Part­nering with local non­profits, Gather sells $5 burgers, which aren’t on their normal menu, when people bring in a donation.

“It’s a neat way to spot­light local non­profits as well as get them a little bit of momentum in the goods they are col­lecting,” Lea Hunt said.

Their sea­sonal menu changes several times a year. They are cur­rently on their second winter menu and will debut their spring menu the first week of April. In order to source ingre­dients properly, Lea Hunt said that they have had to get cre­ative. A current favorite on the menu is a yam dish, which is a confit of sweet potato, pickled pearl onion, maple and brown sugar aioli, nori dust, and sesame seed.

Exec­utive Chef Jessi Patuano said in an email that she enjoys working with fer­men­tation and dough devel­opment throughout the menu, and that she is slowly expanding menu items that would include these flavors. While not exclu­sively, Patuano brings many Mediter­ranean and Middle Eastern flavors to the Gather table.

Late in the summer of 2017, a friend intro­duced Jessi Patuano, a Long Island-raised chef who had worked in several Detroit restau­rants, to Kyle and Lea.

“It was love at first sight,” Patuano said.

Since then, Patuano said that working with Kyle and Lea Hunt has been like a dream come true.

“They are sup­portive, con­sid­erate, and respectful owners,” Patuano said. “They are by my side day in and day out and make me feel like an important part of the team.”

For Lea Hunt and Kyle, their approach to own­ership is hands-on. During the day, Lea Hunt works on books and accounting for the restaurant while Kyle fin­ishes any odds and ends. In the evenings, Lea Hunt is often hostess or helping with serving while Kyle bar­tends.

“We wanted to create jobs for our­selves, not just create a restaurant, we wanted to work in it,” Lea Hunt said.

Lea Hunt will speak on campus at the “Unleash the Entre­preneur” pre­sen­tation on Monday spon­sored by the Career Ser­vices Office and the 1844 Society.

“It’s def­i­nitely a dream come true and it is neat to realize how much planning and working hard can make that happen, obvi­ously with a lot of support from friends and family,” Lea Hunt said.

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Josephine von Dohlen is a junior from Minneapolis, Minnesota who appreciates the communicative power of journalism and the community that it fosters. A graduate of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., she has previously interned with Catholic News Service. At Hillsdale, she is part of the Dow Journalism Program and a major in American Studies. Email: jvondohlen@hillsdale.edu