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La Feria

4160 Cass Ave
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Elias Khalil

By Amy Kuras
October 25, 2013

For years, there has been one big gaping hole in Detroit’s cuisine scene: Spanish food. Sure, there was some in the suburbs, and tapas-like small, shareable plates have been increasingly popping up on menus, but real authentic Spanish food has been hard to find. Which is why the eyes of food-loving city folks have been trained on the building at 4130 Cass for quite some time now, as the onetime warehouse morphs into La Feria, which co-owners Elias Khalil and Pilar Baron Hidalgo say will bring authentic Spanish tapas to Midtown.
"When you walk through this door, you are in Spain," says Hidalgo of the brightly-painted space, accented by metalwork from a local artists and tiles they personally carried over from Spain. The look is a nod to the craftsmanship both of European artists and the blue-collar work ethic that runs through the city. Even the tables are made of artfully arranged planks of reclaimed wood from houses that were deconstructed. "We wanted to honor that craftsmanship as a common bond between Spain and Detroit," says Khalil.
The partners and friends are aiming for a lively, fun, convivial atmosphere which urges people to break out of their own little bubbles and share food and conversation with a friend, family, or even that interesting person at the next table. To Khalil, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years and quite literally wrote the book on it (he and friend Armando Delicato wrote Detroit’s Cass Corridor for Arcadia Publishing’s "Images of America" series), it reflects the spirit of Midtown.
In writing his book, he got to know a ton of neighborhood people, and that connection is part of what pushed La Feria to victory in the 2012 Hatch Detroit competition. And since that victory and its $50,000 prize helped La Feria take shape, the response from neighborhood business owners has been beyond friendly, Hidalgo says.
Khalil also is one of the partners behind the Cass Corridor Museum, which opened last year in a tiny space snuggled beneath Model D’s headquarters. They wanted to capture the stories of the neighborhood, especially as its character changes. Eventually, Khalil says, they’d love to have a media room where people can record their stories of this remarkable slice of Detroit life. 
Those kinds of connections are why they chose to put the restaurant right in Khalil’s neighborhood instead of more upscale restaurant scenes. "I think the neighborhood is really going to appreciate our food," Khalil says. "That’s precisely why we chose the Cass Corridor, not Royal Oak or Birmingham. This place would do phenomenal there but the tone we would create would have to be different, and we didn’t want to sacrifice the simplicity of it."
They’re aiming for the sweet spot between higher-end restaurants few people can afford to adopt as their regular Friday night spot, and the cheap-but-delicious fare that characterizes much of Midtown and its artist/student vibe. They want it to be a destination for the metro area, but also the kind of place people from the neighborhood can stop in and enjoy a couple of times a week.
La Feria takes its name from an annual festival in Hidalgo’s hometown of Seville, Spain. It was nostalgia for that event that eventually led them to open the restaurant. Their vision encompasses not just a way of eating, but a way of life, Hidalgo says.
"I think individualism has meant we’ve lost that art of solidarity throughout daily living," she says. "What is so powerful about communal dining is that it is so simple yet unusual here in the US. We can bring that back through our space – that’s very powerful."

Or, as Khalil sums it up: "We can help revitalize a city by realizing our dreams."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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