Food & Drink

Southwest Detroit project brings heated Mexican-style 'luminarias' to restaurants

January 26, 2021, 6:39 AM by  Alan Stamm

"It's kind of custom to our culture," says the owner of Armando's, site of these first lantern-style dining chalets. (Photo: Southwest Detroit Business Association)

These stylish workarounds for dining in a time of Covid are likely to outlast the pandemic, and not just because prices start at $6,000 each. They're also cozy, romantic and culturally apt for Southwest Detroit, the first area getting locally made restaurant "luminarias."

The steel huts with plexiglass windows and roofs are 12-foot-tall versions of paper lanterns that line walkways, churches, and homes around Christmas in Mexican culture. Fifteen are being erected outside eateries in Mexicantown and nearby, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Hudson Webber Foundation.

The six-person chalets are heated and vented. (Photos: AptumBuild Solutions)

"The luminarias will create a visitor attraction while lighting the corridors of our community," posts the Southwest Detroit Business Association, which administers the Detroit foundation's grant. Restaurants pay $1,000 for each six-person chalet, described by the business group as "an outdoor dining solution" for patrons skittish about indoor visits during the pandemic.

The sheds have an adjustable heater, exhaust fan and are wheelchair accessible.

The first three are at Armando's Restaurant, a 54-year-old maintstay on West Vernor Highway. "It's not an igloo, but it's the same concept, and it's kind of custom to our culture," owner Cecilia Benedict Hernandez told Melody Baetens of The Detroit News early this month.

A dozen more are coming through February to applicants on that thoroughfare or three others: Bagley, Springwells and Lawndale. 

The eight-foot-diameter chalets are fabricated on the Southwest side by Diseños Ornamental Iron, a family business since 1981. Design, engineering and architectural services are provided by another local firm, AptumBuild Solutions, which promotes the structures as not just for winter. "Get year-round use with removable windows and optional screens," the company's site says.

Cozy, private and very 2021.

At the business association, vice president Jennifer Gomez says in a statement quoted by Metro Times: "This program began as a functional solution for our restaurants, but we are so excited that it now also has become a signature branding opportunity and attraction for the Southwest Detroit community, ... helping owners recover a portion of lost revenue while also creating a one-of-a-kind dining experience." 

 Armando's, 4242 W. Vernor Hwy., takes luminaria reservations for up to six people at (313) 554-0666 or here.

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