After nearly four years in University Circle, Bac Nguyen will close Ninja City
(11311 Euclid Ave., 216-860-0510), his fun and funky Asian-themed bistro. The last day of operation, he reports, will be Saturday, February 24. He encourages all friends of the operation to stop down for one last hurrah before this chapter of the story closes.
But when one door closes, as they say, another door opens, and that’s precisely what will take place for Ninja City. Nguyen prefers to call the news a "relocation" rather than a closure as he will be reopening the restaurant in the heart of Gordon Square.
“We were nearing the end of our lease and the opportunity in Gordon Square presented itself,” he explains. “I think we’re going to be a great fit there.”
“There” will be the former Old City Libations spot, a short-lived bar concept from the owners of that local soda company. The 2,500-square-foot storefront space (6706 Detroit Ave.) is in the Near West Lofts building in Detroit Shoreway. Nguyen is estimating a late spring or early summer opening.
For diners who have never been to Ninja City – even for those who have but not for a while – Nguyen says the business model has really changed since he and partner Dylan Fallon opened it in 2014.
“We have evolved a lot as a concept,” he notes. “Originally, we thought we’d be a quick-serve Asian food concept in a full-service setting. Over time, our menu got broader and we really started becoming a neighborhood restaurant and bar with the Asian aspect becoming secondary.”
As time went on, the emphasis on Asian food began to wane as comfort food items like the spicy shrimp nachos, chicken and waffles, fried catfish sandwiches and bacon-avocado burger with tater tots began to take off. Of course, many of those items have subtle Asian twists or tweaks. Those join staples like banh mi sandwiches, pho, ramen bowls, rice bowls and bento boxes.
“We have a huge contingent who come in and don’t like Asian food at all but they like the bar and they like our other food,” he adds. “We’re selling as many burgers as we are Asian noodle bowls.”
That formula will be pushed even further at the Detroit Shoreway location, Nguyen says.
“As we move forward, we’re not trying to compete with other Asian places, including Bac, we just want to be a fun, laid back, affordable kitchen and bar,” he says.
They’ll add items like spicy mac and cheese topped with a choice of fried fish, chicken or tofu. A Sunday brunch will offer basics like eggs, pancakes and waffles, but also breakfast banh mi, breakfast steamed buns, dumplings and Bloody Marys.
As for the space, Nguyen says that guests can expect the same sense of whimsy, color and energy as at the original, with fully illustrated comic book-style menus courtesy of artist Kyle Harlan.
“Expect lots and lots of action figures on display,” Nguyen says. “It will be very much the same vibe as the first – comic books meets hip-hop.”
As for stakeholders in the neighborhood, they seem excited by the news, agreeing that it’s a great fit.
“We are thrilled because of the experience Bac brings to this venture,” says Adam Rosen, Economic Development & Marketing Director at Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. “He has been in the restaurant business for eight years in Tremont and the last four years in University Circle.”
Disclosure: Dan Zelman, father of Euclid Media Group CEO Andrew Zelman, is an investor in the new location.