Spread Deli more than a restaurant for revitalized Detroit community

 Spread Deli more than a restaurant for revitalized Detroit community

Owner makes heartfelt commitment to give back to eatery’s neighbors

Midtown Detroit’s Spread Deli & Coffee, located at 4201 Cass Ave., is aptly named because it spreads heaping helpings of good food and infinite servings of heart-warming goodness to one of the Motor City’s most-revitalized areas.

The engineer of the goodness is Spread Deli owner Arbeiri “Radar” Perkaj, who moved to Detroit with his family from The Bronx, New York when he was 6 years old.

When first-time visitors to Spread Deli ask Perkaj for meal suggestions, he counters with his own question: Hot or cold?

“If they say ‘cold’, I recommend the Big Al,” said the 35-year-old Perkaj, who has worked in some level of the restaurant business since he was 14. “It’s our most popular sandwich. It shows the quality of the ingredients we use and the quantity we give out. Our sandwiches are all pretty big.

“If they want hot, I say take the Reuben. We get our corned beef straight from Eastern Market. We cook it ourselves and slice it ourselves. A lot of work goes into it, like all our food. It’s delicious. It melts in your mouth.”

When Perkaj’s family moved to Detroit, the area his restaurant currently resides was cold — as in “stay away from there” frigid. It is currently one of the hottest sections of Detroit to visit, even if only for a massive sandwich.

Spread Delis Kristjan and Arbeiri Perkaj

“When I first moved to Michigan I grew up at Chene and Mack,” Perkaj explained. “To see how Midtown is now compared to then, it’s a 180-degree difference. Back in the day it was called the Cass Corridor. We weren’t allowed to go there. If your parents found out you were in the Cass Corridor, they knew it was for a bad reason.”

How times have changed … for the better.

VisitDetroit.com described Midtown this way: “An area of the city sandwiched between two Detroit neighborhoods with their own unique personalities – New Center and Brush Park – Midtown is the perfect connector. Home to the majority of Detroit’s cultural gems, Wayne State University and a revitalized retail and restaurant district, Midtown has quickly grown into a stop for tourists and locals alike to grab a five-star meal before a show or spend the night bar-hopping between old dives and new patios.”

One of the most-enduring lessons Perkaj learned from his hard-working parents was to give back to the community in which you reside.

“We’re technically located on Wayne State’s campus, so we give back to the sororities and the fraternities,” Perkaj said. “This month anyone who is part of a fraternity or trying to join a fraternity gets a discount at the deli. Last month we did an event with the sorority, giving them 10% of our proceeds from one weekend.

“If you’re going to be part of a community, you can’t be there and not give back. We’ve donated meals to churches in Midtown and in other parts of Detroit.”

Perkaj also collaborates with a Detroit priest who manages a program that helps released prisoners transition back to normalcy.

“We start by employing them as dishwashers to help them get back on their feet until they can move onto something better,” Perkaj said. “When we see one of our dishwashers come back and they’ve secured a good job in their field of knowledge and they tell us, ‘Yeah, you really helped me during those three to six months when I worked here’, it makes us feel good because they have their life together, they’re happy and healthy.”

Perkaj, who estimated roughly 80% of his customers are regulars, said he’s thought about opening more restaurants in Detroit, but they’d be distinctive from Spread.

“I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants because I feel they lose their individuality and quality,” he said. “If you open a second one, you basically tell them, ‘This is how to make it, have fun. I gotta’ go the other restaurant.

“We like to cultivate our employees that will be there for the long haul. If we’re confident enough in them that we can put them in charge as a general manager of, let’s say, Spread Deli, then we’d be more willing to open another restaurant.”

Perkaj said he’s the epitome of a hands-on owner.

“I’m there every day, all day,” he said, smiling. “Even on my days off, I can’t not go in for a while just to check on things.”

Spread Deli’s fans include the two-legged and four-legged variety.

“One day I saw someone walking by our deli while walking a dog,” Perkaj recounted. “I went out with a little deli meat and asked the owner if I could feed it to the dog. It kind of started a tradition.

“It’s gotten to the point now where if a dog sees our doors open and they see me, they just sit there, as if thinking, ‘This is where I get my turkey. That’s the turkey guy’.

“If I’m not there, the owner of the dog has to basically drag the dog a little bit before they’re willing to leave.”

Detroit has grown on Perkaj — through the bad times and now during its renaissance — so much so that he may never leave.

“I love Detroit because it raised me, it taught me a lot of lessons,” he said. “Your parents teach you how to act as a person, how to grow up as a man, how to treat people.

“Your city teaches you how you want your neighborhood to be. Even though I grew up in a bad part of town, we had neighbors we stayed in contact with all the time. That community feeling is really important and Detroit had that for me. I’ve always wanted to stay in Detroit.”

And “Spread” the goodness.

If you have a story idea for SocialHouseNews.com, please contact Editor-In-Chief Ed Wright at 734-664-4657.


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