Molly Mitchell and Eggy Ding: The Power Duo Leading Rose’s Fine Food in Detroit

 In Feature, Food

Molly Mitchell’s current interpretation of the classic neighborhood diner is a bit different than what she grew up loving. The Detroit-based chef and restaurateur worked at a local eatery in her small hometown of Howell, Michigan, about an hour outside of Detroit. “You’d see so many different kinds of people together: high school kids, construction workers, young families, retirees. And they were all being taken care of, eating something delicious,” she says.

Mitchell became passionate about the casual community vibe of traditional diners—each one its own hallmark of Americana, complete with a cast of characters and stories with the potential to become lore. So much so that she co-founded Rose’s Fine Food in 2014 with her cousin and fellow restaurateur Lucy Peters and developed a menu with a mixture of recognizable staples, such as pancakes, egg platters and breakfast sandwiches alongside dishes with an eclectic twist.

There’s the vegan pesto sandwich, breakfast noodles and the egg sandwich, which comes with cheddar, local greens and aioli, served with pickles and grits or potatoes. An adventurous diner could even pair it with a side of kimchi. Scan the beverage menu and you’ll also see chocolate milk and Coke coexisting alongside hibiscus iced tea and Topo Chico mineral water.

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While Peters has since left Rose’s to focus on another culinary endeavor, she connected Mitchell to the highly artistic baker and chef Eggy Ding. Rarely seen without her glasses and a knitted cap or bandana, Ding’s majestic, detailed birthday cakes are a favorite of Detroit’s locals, and she pays equal attention to one of Rose’s specialties: house-made bread. Ding makes it from scratch based on a recipe she learned while studying at the San Francisco Baking Institute, crafted using stone-ground organic flour from Michigan’s Ferris Organic Farm.

A Cincinnati native, Ding originally studied fine art in college before moving to Detroit. “I had some friends who lived here, and when Lucy [Peters] approached me about Rose’s, I was working at a bakery in the suburbs. I had to be there at 3 a.m., so I’d be driving to work when everyone’s leaving the bars. I thought, ‘I’ll take any job where I don’t have to be on the highway at 2 a.m.,’” she says.

Though Ding was still making art at the time—mostly in her apartment—the true cost of attempting to make life work as a visual artist took a toll. “I was making these weird objects in my home, which I had no intention of showing to anyone, and they cost a lot of money to make. I just kept thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ and, ‘Why am I spending all of my money on this?’”

Ding was originally hired to work as a server but gravitated toward the kitchen and remained there without pushback. She remembers being asked to make corn salsa one day, and it wasn’t until years later that she eventually confided in Mitchell that she had no idea how.

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Ding has now perfected the affectionately named Grandpa Richard’s Pancakes, based on a recipe developed by Mitchell’s grandfather. Also made with organic stone-ground flour, the dish incorporates Michigan maple syrup, cultured butter and a generous helping of eggs, for a creamy, custardy end result. “My grandpa was a cop in Detroit for years. When he retired, he moved about four hours up north and made pancakes and perch almost every day for breakfast,” Mitchell remembers. “They were famous in our family. I remember when he’d make them—his fingers were huge, like pickles.”

This philosophy, grounded in the earthy tones and flavors of story and legacy, is the foundation of Rose’s Fine Food. From the beginning, its proprietors sought to use the local organic ingredients and pay employees a living wage—a noble yet expensive business model. “We started with these high-minded philosophies but were naive about how to pull it off,” says Mitchell. “There were a couple of years there where it felt like we were trying to land a crashing plane.”

When asked how they made it through, she responds candidly. “Honestly, I don’t know. I will say that Detroit is really special in that people here are really in to patronizing small businesses. There’s a strong community that supports that.” It may have been touch and go there for a bit—as Mitchell recounts—but we’re tasting Grandpa Richard’s pancakes as the team at Rose’s is on the upswing. After years of pressing onward moment by moment, Mitchell was finally able to purchase the building on Detroit’s East Jefferson Avenue this year. Now she truly owns the restaurant.

“After five years of living my diner fantasy I own this tiny green building!” Mitchell posted excitedly on Rose’s Instagram account. In the photo, Mitchell wears a crisp spring outfit: white pants and a light-pink jacket, with blonde hair and wide smile. You can see the interior of Rose’s; its signature green walls and a countertop lined with black stools look like a scene from an old movie.

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In the intervening years, Mitchell and Ding have solidified into a persistently jovial dynamic duo that has withstood the bevy of challenges that new businesses—and new restaurants in particular—often face: staff turnover, maintaining an old building; not to mention navigating how the heck to run a fledgling business. “Don’t get a broken heart. Be persistent. Things will sometimes be terrible, and then they’ll be great again,” says Mitchell.

The pair are friends and neighbors. Their dogs are best friends, and they both love plants and produce. Now it’s like they are winning a game they were never invited—or intended—to play. But moment by moment, with a mutual gleam in their eyes, they could not stop asking themselves, and then each other, “Why not?”

Images courtesy of Attilio D’Agostino.

This story originally appeared in ALIVE Volume 18, Issue 2. The digital version is available now. You can also order a print copy or purchase a subscription online.

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