World-Class Blues

Frank Taylor walks into his restaurant, Seldom Blues, with his cell phone glued to his ear. With a panoramic view of the Detroit River, the fine dining and jazz restaurant is bustling with an eclectic mix of professionals. The supper club’s décor is blue and gold with splashes of green. Even the plates are decorated, emblazoned with the words “Seldom Blues play here.”

Business is good for Taylor, a longtime restaurateur who gained notoriety as co-owner and managing partner of Sweet Georgia Brown, another upscale restaurant in Detroit’s Greektown district. This recognition helped pave the way for Seldom Blues.

Chuck Watters, vice president of Hines Real Estate, a development company, was dining at Sweet Georgia Brown and was impressed with the ambiance, food, and service. He and Taylor started conversing about future projects in the downtown area, and that eventually led to meetings with decision makers at General Motors. The automaker wanted a restaurant in its new headquarters. Taylor was ready to answer the call.

“At Sweet Georgia Brown, we saw the type of entertainment he brought, and the diverse crowd really appealed to us,” says Matthew Cullen, general manager of economic development and enterprise services for GM. “We had a lot of confidence in the visions he put forward. He was consistent with the type of inclusive, world-class environment we were looking for. Frank was in the right place, with the right idea, at the right time.”

Taylor, who began his 20-year career in the restaurant business as a dishwasher, presented a business plan for his restaurant, got the green light, and work began. Construction was slow in the months leading to the June 2004 opening, which was two months behind schedule.

Although he faced no serious challenges to get Seldom Blues up and running, Taylor learned through his experience that setbacks come with the territory. “It’s frustrating when things are not moving at the pace you want them to move–hiring and paying people one month or two months longer,” explains Taylor. “I also didn’t realize the length of time it took to work with the Liquor Commission. We started the liquor process eight months prior to opening.” All told, Taylor and his partners spent about $3 million in construction; $500,000 in kitchen equipment; and $500,000 in furniture, fixtures, food supplies, and attorney fees. Taylor, who owns 59% of the restaurant, is a co-owner with former Detroit Lions football player Robert Porcher III, who owns 20%. Taylor and Porcher also plan to open the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill this fall. Other partners in Seldom Blues include jazz flutist Alexander Zonjic, who holds 16%, and chef Jerry Nottage, who has a 5% investment.

Seldom Blues is 16,000 square feet and seats 300. With 2004 revenues of $6.5 million, the upscale restaurant serves a variety of rich foods from Beluga Caviar and Thai seafood roll to filet mignon and lobster tails with champagne butter sauce.

When Seldom Blues finally opened its doors to the public, it was amid much buzz and anticipation. “We became advocates for