Thirty-seven years ago, Bill Schonsheck made a bit of fast food history with an innovative drive-thru at the Burger King he owned on Grand River in Farmington.
In October, Schonsheck will take another historic swing in the same location with Detroit Eatz, a unique combination of drive-thru gourmet fast food, and deli. He has even trademarked the words “Driner” and “Dreli” to describe the concept.
History in Farmington
Schonsheck and his business partner, Chuck Williams, a former Farmington Hills city council member and longtime Farmington area businessman, had a successful run with the Burger King at 32704 Grand River from 1982 to 2013. In order to streamline the drive-thru process, they installed a door at the back of the building and an “escape lane,” so that drivers behind the vehicle at the pick-up window could be served.
The idea was to keep the line moving and that, in turn, kept customers pleased with the service coming back. Over time, it became the third highest in volume among Schonsheck’s 10 metro Detroit Burger Kings.
Over the years, the Burger King moved into the hands of a larger group of owners and was eventually sold, but Schonsheck retained ownership of the building and land. When the most recent franchisee pulled out, he saw a golden opportunity.
‘Phenomenal place to launch’
Larger chains might target high traffic areas where many customers come from outside the neighborhood, but Schonsheck believes the small town neighborhood will help build the restaurant’s reputation.
“Farmington is a phenomenal place to launch a new business concept and design a local business from scratch with a local menu,” he said, adding that the building was renovated in 2002 and made an easy fit. “I’m excited to leverage into this as an independent operator.”
The new concept may raise some eyebrows, but Schonsheck said it comes from a place with deep experience. He has been in the fast food business for more than 50 years and literally worked his way up into franchise ownership.
The Driner and Dreli concepts
As a “Driner,” Detroit Eatz will offer a full “gourmet fast casual” menu inside, with exotic desserts and limited-time offerings that give customers an incentive to dine inside. The drive-thru menu will be more limited, with burgers, hand-cut fries, hot and cold subs, and the like.
Schonsheck said both menus will feature high quality offerings – such as freshly prepared, white-meat chicken nuggets and tenders, served up with homemade dipping sauces.
Because some of drive-thru menu items will take longer to prepare, Detroit Eatz’s newly conceived “Traffic Light Control” (TLC) system will let customers know which items are ready to go (green), which will require a short wait (yellow), and which will take longer to prepare (red).
Drivers who choose “red” items will pull out of line in an escape lane to wait for their food. And that may not always mean prepared foods.
Schonsheck’s “Dreli” concept means customers can also purchase a pound of turkey or even a spiral-sliced ham at the drive-thru window. Rather than having to stop at the grocery store for a “grab & go” package of deli meats and cheeses, customers can make one stop at Detroit Eatz.
“That’s a real ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “In this climate, there’s probably going to be a demand for that.”
Local brand partnerships
The Detroit Eatz menus will feature Michigan-made products, led by the iconic Dearborn Sausage Company brand meats. Schonsheck said that partnership is rooted in his long relationship with the Kosch family.
“(CEO) Don (Kosch) and I have discussed carrying some of his product, and I’m proud to launch some unique items designed for Detroit Eatz, as well as their legacy products such as jerky, spreads, and spiral hams,” he said.
Family owned and operated
Like Dearborn Sausage, Detroit Eatz is a family owned and operated business. Schonsheck, his daughter, Lisa Bruso and son-in-law, Scott Bruso, are all involved in launching the restaurant. All have a passion for food and community. With a decade of experience in the field, Lisa Bruso is managing social media and the website. Scott Bruso left a 15-year career in banking to join the effort.
Schonsheck raised his family in the Farmington area. With fundraising support for local nonprofits, some local history reflected in the decor, and nostalgic events like car rallies, he plans to embrace those community ties once more.
He’s also pleased to see how downtown Farmington has grown, and the family is excited to add Detroit Eatz to that landscape.
”It’s getting to be a fun place,” Schonsheck said. “We will be part of that.”