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.