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Como’s rebirth comes with crusty pizza, whiskey and a multimillion-dollar overhaul

Restaurateur Zack Sklar considered tearing down Ferndale mainstay Como’s pizzeria, but in the end he couldn’t do it.

Instead, the new owner is ripping up its family pizza recipe and bringing a new Detroit-style pie to the downtown corner restaurant.

Como’s is set to reopen in spring. It will keep the name and serve pizza, other Italian options and drinks under Sklar’s Bloomfield-based Peas and Carrots Hospitality LLC.

The beloved but health violations-afflicted restaurant that closed for good last year could have been replaced with a multistory mixed-use building at 22812 Woodward Ave. at the corner of Nine Mile Road. It would have been challenging, but the small, high-profile site had opportunity in a quickly evolving Detroit-adjacent city.

“Como’s is a landmark … I didn’t want to take that away from Ferndale,” Sklar said. “I was reading some of the forums. I couldn’t believe how invested the community is in the community there.”

The star-topped neon Como’s sign will stay, too; otherwise, Peas and Carrots plans a hefty makeover with a complete interior gutting and facade overhaul, Sklar said. It plans to invest $5 million in the property, including the $3.07 million purchase price for the approximately 12,600-square-foot two-story building. The deal closed in June.

Peas and Carrots is using McIntosh Poris Associates of Birmingham for design work. The contractor was not disclosed.

The interior will be “cozy,” “paying homage to what was there, but it’s gonna be updated,” he said. The remade exterior will be all brick.

Como’s is also getting smaller. Approximately 2,000 square feet of its more than 5,000-square-foot first floor will be taken up by a separate tenant, Traverse City Whiskey Co., which is set to open a tasting room there with cocktails and retail. It will have a separate entrance on Woodward Avenue.

The restaurant won’t be lacking in liquor, though. It will have two bars, inside and outside, and pump music on weekends.

“It’s going to be nuts,” Sklar said.

Como’s will seat 100 inside and a couple of hundred on the 4,600-square-foot outdoor patio, employing around 65 people, according to Sklar. Traverse City Whiskey will have around 70 seats and Como’s will help it out with food. Como’s pizza will cost around $11-$15, depending on toppings.

The building’s second floor will likely house some Peas and Carrots staff, Sklar said. It could also rent out to other office tenants and include a private dining room, but details haven’t been finalized.

Sklar has 10 restaurants under several companies, including Peas and Carrots Hospitality. He has two co-owners in Peas and Carrots: Joshua Humphrey and Jim Bellinson.

In addition to Como’s, Sklar has another two restaurants in the works: two Gus’s Fried Chicken locations in Cleveland and Chicago.

Sklar is a partner in another company, Schmaltz Hospitality LLC, which is a Gus’s franchisee and has locations in Royal Oak and Midtown Detroit.

Peas and Carrots also operates Social Kitchen & Bar in Birmingham, Beau’s Grillery in Bloomfield Township, and Mex in Bloomfield Township and Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills.

As Sklar, a Crain’s 2015 Twenty in their 20s honoree, grows his restaurant portfolio, he’s also looking to expand the catering business with which he started his career. He’s also considering an additional Detroit or Ferndale presence for his Bloomfield Township-based Cutting Edge Cuisine.

Peas and pizza

Initially, Sklar’s team assessed building residential units on the 0.34-acre Como’s site. Visions for the property while it was on the market included a multistory mixed-use building or new restaurant. Como’s availability came about as the city has garnered more development interest — its first mixed-use parking garage was moving forward as of August.

“I weighed building some monstrosity and making a bunch of money,” Sklar said. Ultimately “I didn’t think it was the right thing to do by the community.”

So he’s keeping Como’s. And that means Sklar is making pizza on a large scale for the first time. He’s chosen traditional Detroit-style pizza, the deep-dish kind that has a thick, crunchy crust and is cooked in a square or rectangular pan.

“I grew up on this stuff,” he said. “So, as a chef, how can I make this better?”

The chef said during a sampling with Crain’s on Friday that his pizza is defined by its crust. He uses a sourdough starter and a three-day fermentation process that produces a solid bread base with inconsistent bubbles throughout. The sauce from San Marzano tomatoes is intensely flavorful, and so it is dotted across the surface instead of spread all over. Cheeses from Ireland, Italy and Wisconsin are placed beneath the sauce so the tomatoes and juices don’t moisten the bread.

In local tradition, the cheese around the edges is caramelized into a crunchy layer — Sklar said he’s so obsessed with the edges he’s serving large pizzas as two smalls, so there’s more to go around.

He said he crafted the recipe alone in his Bloomfield catering kitchen. In tasting sessions, he compared it with Detroit-style mainstays, Buddy’s Pizza and Loui’s Pizza in Hazel Park, but said he’s taken a chef’s lens to it and emphasizes fresh ingredients.

After nearly a year and hundreds of test pies later, Sklar is ready to bring his concoction to the corner of Nine Mile Road and Woodward Avenue.

 

Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on November 12, 2018.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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