Detroit’s legendary Hygrade Deli is retiring and passing the torch
Hygrade Deli, the iconic southwest Detroit institution on Michigan Avenue on the west end of Corktown, has a new owner.
Stuart Litt is retiring after 50 years behind the counter as proprietor. Litt announced the sale of the business and building last March. The deli originally opened in 1955 and Litt’s family bought the business in 1972. It’s known for its high-pile corned beef sandwiches, soups, chili and breakfasts.
“The last 50 years have been a blessing and I couldn’t be prouder of this amazing restaurant and dedicated staff,” Litt said in a press release. “I’m so glad I found someone who cares about our restaurant as much as we do.”
Litt passes the torch to Chuck Nolen, 17-year owner of Cutter’s Bar and Grill in the Eastern Market area. Cutters is known for its burgers. Nolen also chairs the Neighborhood Legal Services of Michigan and the Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance. He owns the Butcher’s Inn building in Eastern Market, which he plans to use as a cigar lounge.
The sale of the deli was completed in December.
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“I congratulate Stuart Litt on running a great restaurant for so many years,” Nolen said in a press release. “I can’t thank him enough for entrusting me with this landmark in Southwest Detroit. I look forward to offering the same great food, quality service and the best corned beef in town.”
At 11 a.m. Friday, the deli at 3640 Michigan Avenue will celebrate Litt’s retirement and introduce Nolen as its new owner. Mayor Mike Duggan, Councilwoman Gabby Santiago-Romero and other dignitaries are expected.
Litt, who spoke by phone Tuesday morning, said he wasn’t sure if he still had mixed feelings and that things still feel the same. He plans to stay until March to help with the transition.
“It’s been a long time… 50 years,” he said. “It was something I had been planning for a year or two. I planned an exit strategy. I’m glad it’s bearing fruit.”
Litt said he has no immediate plans and vacation plans are in the future.
“I’m going to relax, take it easy, heal my body and decompress the brain,” he said. “What will I miss about it? I will miss the camaraderie I have developed with clients over the years.
Aside from some cosmetic upgrades, customers can expect the same from the new owner, Litt said, including his signature chili and corned beef.
“I’m passing on my knowledge, the recipes, how we cook and cut the corned beef,” Litt said.
The deli uses Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef, now by EW Grobbel at Eastern Market.
His Reuben is the deli’s signature sandwich.
Before owning Hygrade Deli, Litt said his father owned Billy’s Deli from 1955 to 1971 in Livernois along Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion.
“Billy’s was like the Stage Deli on Orchard Lake Road back then,” he said.
Litt is happy that the new owner has asked his staff to stay.
“My crew is knowledgeable enough to keep the trend going,” he said.
Nolen is planning a few cosmetic updates but said it will keep the “old historic charm” as well as the menu.
“It’s part of the marketing extension of our grocery store. “I thought it would be a good addition to what we have at Cutter’s. Also, I think it’s historical and iconic in the community. When opportunities arise, how do you miss them? “
Nolen, who previously worked in the auto industry, noticed it when it was first put up for sale.
“When I saw the article, I contacted my real estate agent and made a bid on the building,” Nolen said.
The more than 2,700 square meter building with its blue and red facade is located north of the Michigan Central station. A few years ago, Ford Motor Co. bought the depot and is renovating it. Bernie Litt, Stuart’s father, bought the deli in 1972. In February, the deli celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Named one of five “Great Corned Beef Sandwiches” by the Free Press, the Hygrade Reuben features sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and a sweet Thousand Island dressing on rye.
In January 2021, Food and Wine magazine named Hygrade Deli’s Reuben its best sandwich in any state list.
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“Before hanging out in Detroit came back in style, you’d be at the classic Hygrade Deli on Michigan Avenue, just behind the deserted train station, and sometimes you’d be the only customer, just you and your big, nice Reuben sandwich or plain old Corned Beef on rye with mustard that reflects on life and America and the emptiness that swirls around you,” the magazine said of Hygrade’s.
The deli had scenes in the short-lived series Detroit 1-8-7 on ABC, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the 2016 film The Pickle Recipe.
The sale also includes real estate and the business. There are two units, the deli and Luckenbooth, a retail store that sells herbs, incense, oils and tarot.
Contact Susan Selasky, food writer for the Detroit Free Press, and send food and restaurant news to: 313-222-6872 or [email protected] Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.
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