Back in March, we introduced Tunde Wey and his New Orleans restaurant Saartj to readers. What was striking about the concept was that white customers paid an amount for their food that was two and one-half times greater than what black customers — unless they objected, in which case they paid the same amount.
The philosophy behind the practice, Wey explained, was to raise customers’ consciousness about the wealth disparity among residents of The Big Easy.
Now Wey has taken his act northward, to Detroit, where he has opened a second branch of of Saartj. This time, the p-word (that’s privilege) is very much a part of the experience of consuming what Wey dubs “discomfort food.”
A Saartj II there’s no hard and fast rule about what a customer will be served when he sits down to dine. That will be determined in part by his answers to a questionnaire that asks about race, gender, education, and income.
As the chef explained it to the Detroit Free Press:
We want to present to you, in essence, what your privilege represents. If you go to a restaurant right now — any nice, high-end restaurant — as much as possible folks try to tailor the experience to you. … I want to tailor the experience to them [guests] and I want to predicate that experience on their privilege.
Wey chose Detroit as the venue for his second venture on the basis of the “blatant racism that characterized the 60s” there and in acknowledgment of the “institutional racism [that] remains, according to Saartj’s website.
He further explains, “I want people to enter into the space and then be arrested in a particular way and then have that lead into a conversation.” Arrested is an interesting choice of word.
Like the original Saartj, the Motor City spinoff will be open only temporarily, as a pop-up. Based on the chef’s apparent expectations of the city, that may be as much consciousness raising as Detroit can endure.