Friday, May 1, 2015

Asty Time, a restaurant started out of need that has become a success

                 For my final project we were tasked with creating a video of picture with sound and all the extras. Above was my video about a restaurant that I have eaten at. Below is the full story to accompany the video.

Asty Time
          Imagine driving in Southwest Detroit down Livernois Avenue. Looking through the neighborhoods single-family homes mixed in with abandoned homes. Up comes a street with kids playing in the middle of the cross streets. Cars fully line each side of the street. There are all of these people outside enjoying the nice weather, but one house is very different from the rest and stands out; just for the people. This house, a small gray-paneled single family home, has groups of people constantly walking in and out and they also line the porch. There appears to be a party or maybe you’re just seeing a home that houses a large family.
          Wrong. Inside that house is not just a normal house, it’s a restaurant.
          Inside is food made from love and compassion. A restaurant that is not like many others in the area.
          Once the door opens the smell of salted fried plantains and pinto beans wafts up your nose. The sound of fryers boiling and chicken sizzling can be heard, as well as the sound of pots and pans, and people talking. People speaking Spanish and bachata music can be heard. People eating plates full of food and the Chefs are cooking and serving food.
          The open floor plan allows for the connection of the three small rooms; to the left, a room with a red accent wall that has two aprons sporting the island of the Dominican Republic. A party table, covered with a red cloth, surrounded by a few wooden chairs and some folding beside a stereo fills the room.
          To the right, a wooden table that seats about 6 people parallels the wall leaving quite a bit of spade to travel to the next room. This room comprises a cocktail table, against the wall to the left, with only two tall chairs and a smaller table hugs the wall to the right with two chairs on either side. The kitchen resides in the back of the house.
           Four small rooms make up the kitchen. The first room, which originally was a kitchen, holds stove just left of the door way and counters line the right side. Customers gather in this area to order food directly from the chefs. This room is divided from the actual kitchen by a small wall with a door where the chefs bring the food out to the customers. Directly behind that wall stands a table with a glass display of bollitos de yucca y maiz (cassava and corn fritters filled with meat), chicharrones (fried pork rinds), and papa rellenos (potato balls stuffed with meat).
          Looking into the kitchen everything can be seen, from the food warmer that contains most of the already made food to the constantly bubbling fryers to the back left corners, to the counter used to cut up and plate the food being cooked. In the room to the left are sinks, but not the kind you would find in a regular home they put in larger restaurant sinks and about three freezers that contain food and drinks.
          The last room that makes up the kitchen is the pantry. They store seasonings and another freezer in this area.

Starting It All
          Like many others, this idea started from the need to make more money to support a family.
          “I was working for Mexican Industries, it’s a company that makes auto parts. I was making good money but it wasn’t enough because I had four kids at that time plus one on the way,” said Astiage Acosta one of the chef’s at Asti Time restaurant.
          Astiage, current chef at the Motor City casino and culinary student as well as being the gourmet chef at Asty Time, and wife Edra Tolentino, who is a stay-at-home mom as well as one of the main chefs at Asty Time, decided to start cooking.
          “The first thing that my wife was complaining about [were] the bills,” said Astiage with a thick Spanish accent. “The money that I was making wasn’t enough and one day I went to a place and bought a stove and said that’s what we are going to do, we are going to sell fried stuff but Dominican style.”
          The husband said this started out as just a need base income, but he never thought that it would grow to be this popular. The restaurant opened in February of 2007 and it was located right in their family kitchen.
          “On the first day I remember that my wife started calling most of the people that when know and let them know that we are open and that we have Caribbean food, food that people like,” Astiage recalled. “I mentioned before [food] like ‘La Bandera,’ it’s a plate with rice beans and any kind of meat, it could be beef or chicken.”
          This was the start to their catering business; Asty Time.

From the Kitchen to the table
          Asty Time is a place where people can come and be at home, and not just in the literal sense.
          From Friday until Sunday from noon until 7 p.m. people go to Asty Time to enjoy their home cooked meals.
          “In the Dominican Republic we call it like a ‘fonda’. When you come [and] eat it feels like your home, you can go [eat] and feel comfortable. It’s like a family business,” said Astiage about his restaurant.
          The family feel doesn’t just stop when you come in the door, it goes into making the food as well. Astiage said his restaurant focuses on comfort and that goes into the food.
          “It was a combination of the family,” said Astiage. “Original food, like the one that comes from Dominican Republic, is made by my wife Edra Tolentino, my sister Andromeda Acosta and my mother Lourdes Acosta. I’m the one who made the fancy stuff, like sea food, she [my wife Edra] says gourmet food. I am the one who plays around with new innovations.”
          The food served has the perfect blend of Caribbean smells. From the arroz blanco con habichuelas y chicharrones de pollo, which is white rice with beans and fried chicken, to the pescado con vegetables, which is fish with vegetables, Astiage and Edra bring the smells and taste of the Dominican Republic here to Detroit.
          “At that time we were the only one who made Dominican food, it’s Caribbean but Dominican food,” said Astiage. “When you make food with quality and it’s something that is hard to find here in Michigan, because I mean it’s from the Dominican Republic, [when] we sell a plate and people talk. “
          The food is made with traditional Caribbean seasonings such as Adobo, which according to the makers of the product, Goya, is a “perfect blend of garlic, oregano and other Latino spices” and “is the perfect seasoning for all your meat, poultry and fish dishes.” The chef’s also use sofrito, which is a blend of garlic, onion, paprika, peppers, and tomatoes; these two seasonings together blend to make the perfect salty smell that can usually be found in a Latino kitchen.

From a Dream to a Success
          “Okay listen, she [my wife Edra] said it the struggle but it seems like it was in my blood,” said Astiage about his reason for starting the restaurant and his love for cooking. “My mom liked to cook and all my generation liked to cook. I love to cook.”
          Edra said that for her it all started when she was younger.
          “I learn to cook since I was like 7 years old,” Edra said. “I didn’t go to school for that, but that’s how I learned. My grandma [taught me a lot] and I learned a lot from my mother in law too. She didn’t say let me teach you how to cook, but I was interested to learn [how to cook] because I was thinking maybe one day [when] I have my family and I [will] need to learn how to cook for them. My kids they love my food; my husband he’s a chef but he doesn’t cook at my house.”
          When this all started they never thought that people would like their food so much.
          “When we start this [it was just for] like fun and then it was getting bigger and bigger,” said the mom.
          They both don’t know what the future would bring but they are doing everything they can do keep their dream growing. Not only have they expanded into this house, which they have renovated to have a more culinary like kitchen, but Edra said they she took a class in food safety to ensure that everything is prepared well, and Astiage, as well as working as a chef at Motor City Casino, is going to culinary school to refine his love of food.
          “In order to do something to make money you have to love what you are doing and this is a thing that I like and I love because as a human being we need to eat,” said Astiage. “Any human being who doesn’t eat what is going to happen?  It is something that we really need. That is why we decided to cook because it something that is easy for me because I love and it’s something that people need.”
To Expand or Not
          While the couple enjoy their success, business is growing and the small house just isn’t going to allow them to keep their customer base happy. Edra said that she is happy about the space they have now and really enjoys it.
          Not only is this a different way of dining for some, but it’s also very unique to the area. According to Edra there was maybe one other family that she knew of that cooked and sold food out of their house but she said that they have since moved away from Detroit.
          The article “Trend Watch: Restaurants in Homes,” by Regina Yunghans in 2011, discusses the fact that restaurants in homes, in Lawrence, Kansas, was such a revolutionary idea. The Yunghans wrote that this experience was a first for her and wondered if there were any other restaurants in homes.
          I on the other hand, while feeling like this is an innovative idea, have grown up with people cooking out of their houses from the time I was born. Being around food all the time was nothing new to me but maybe it’s because I am a part of this community, a community that often comes together over food.
          Monet Davis, known as Sister Mimi, found out about the restaurant through a Cuban friend of hers. Davis said that she was ecstatic after having tried a plate of rice, beans and baked chicken.
          “A friend of mines that’s Cuban he told me about it,” Davis said. “He has been coming here maybe every week. I was wondering what’s going on and where is he going to get this food.”
          “I found out that the food is great,” Davis said after having eaten morsel on her plate. “I see now why he comes here. I didn’t know it was this good.”
          She even saved the chicken bones, which were clean to the bone, to share with the neighborhood squirrels that she feeds and says that she will definitely be coming back.
          People like Davis are the reason Astiage and Edra cook. They strive to serve every plate with love and make sure that it is bursting with flavor; for this reason they hesitate to expand.
          “It’s when you have that relationship with the customer they feel comfortable,” Edra said about the importance of the customer’s relationship to their restaurant. “They [the customers] say we are very nice so they want to come back. That makes them talk about us and come back [with more people].
          The customers have said that they really enjoy the homey environment that Edra and Astiage have built so far and are reluctant to let that go. Even with the building customer base, with several Tiger’s players buying their food, and the need to have a larger restaurant the couple hesitates to move because their customers are important to them.
          For the moment Asty Time is staying in its current Southwest Detroit location just off of Livernois and I-94, although future plans to move and expand are still in the works.


Asty Time Menu

Frituras (Fritters)                    $1                    Sopas (Soups)                          $8
Pastelillos (Meat Turnovers)                            Mondongo

Yanikekes (Johnny Cakes)                               Servido con tostones o arroz Blanco

Papa Rellenos                                                  (Tripe stew served with fried plantains (Fried Potato Balls stuffed with meat)                          or white rice)        

Quipe (Fried Bulgur Rolls Filled with meat)

Bollitos (Yuca y Maíz)
(Fried Rolls of Cassava or corn filled with meant)

Entradas  a (Entrees)                        $10
Todos platos servidos con arroz blanco y habichuelas, arroz con gandules, tostones, mofongo o mangú. (Everything is served with White rice and beans, rice with pigeon 
peas, fried plantains, fried mashed plantains or boiled mashed plantains.)

Pollo (Chicken):
Frito                      Al Horno               Guisado                 Chicharrón de pollo
(Fried)                   (Baked)                 (Stewed)                (Fried Chicken)

Bistec (Steak):
Encebollado                               Guisado
(Cooked with onions)                (Stewed)

Carne de Res (Beef):
 Encebollado                                       Guisado
(Cooked with onions)                (Stewed)

Carne de Cerdo (Pork):
Guisado                 Chuletas Fritas                Pernil                    Costillas al Horno
(Stewed)                (Fried Porkchops)  (Roasted Pork Shoulder)  (Baked Ribs)

Entradas  a                              $12
Chivo (Goat)                   Rabo (Tail)

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