Pontiac Welcomes Chef Martinez’s Alley Cat Cafe
Downtown Pontiac is slowly coming back. The historic Strand Theater has been restored and is open for business. Slow’s Bar BQ plans to open downtown in 2017. Exferimentation Brewery started serving up craft beers and snacks last August. Art is filling up the streets with Canvas Pontiac, a juried contest that installs eight- by 10-foot replicas of artists’ work on buildings throughout downtown.
And tucked beneath the historic Indian Hill building at the corner of Saginaw and East Lawrence, Alley Cat Café is creating a space for coffee and community connections.
Owned and operated by Daniel Martinez, who formerly operated Café 1515 Broadway in downtown Detroit, Alley Cat Café offers coffee, soups, sandwiches and free wi-fi. Martinez, a chef who teaches at Dorsey Culinary Academy in Detroit, closed up 1515 Broadway in spring of 2015 and moved the shop to a space he’d been eyeing in Pontiac. He renamed it Alley Cat Café. Martinez is looking to grow cautiously, keeping pace with the community.
“I thought I could start slowly in Pontiac and see if I could help with the regrowth, kind of like I did in Detroit,” he says. “When I started in Detroit over six years ago, it was dead, before there was Dan Gilbert’s downtown, and I watched it all grow.”
Martinez looked for a small space with a reasonable rent and found it in the Indian Hill building, whose owners were looking for greater visibility and foot traffic.
“The last year and a half has been about trying to establish ourselves as part of the new growth in downtown Pontiac,” he says. And slowly, word has gotten out in the community, so much so that Martinez plans to expand the café to the building’s upstairs space this spring, where he'll expand the menu and bring in pop-up chefs to create buzz and test out ideas.
"I thought I could start slowly in Pontiac and see if I could help with the regrowth, kind of like I did in Detroit,”
His vision is of a little French bistro with a boulangerie shop down below, where the desserts and prepared foods are sold. It’s something that was inspired by a visit to Paris.
“Every neighborhood has that, so when you go shopping as you’re walking home, you just pop in and out of all those little shops, and pick up want you want,” he says. “At the end of the day you see everybody walking around with a baguette, and they’ll pick up a loaf of bread on their way home. It’s a lifestyle that really appeals to me.”
Martinez is looking for a place to live in Pontiac. He knows that more downtown housing will be key to making his vision—and the city’s resurgence—happen.
“Everybody wants to live in downtowns now, like Royal Oak, Ferndale, Berkeley or Birmingham,” he says. “They wanna be able to walk around and then walk home, and Pontiac is set up perfect for that.”
Find out more at Alley Cat Café