Where Familiar and Novel meet

Delft Bistro pays homage to building’s past, offers new American fare and fun

The Delft Bistro in Marquette recently celebrated its official grand opening and extended its operating hours to include lunch. The bistro is now open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

MARQUETTE — The five flickering movie screens, the smell of popcorn and those somewhat uncomfortable springy seats were essentially all removed from the building at 139 W. Washington St. in Marquette. Filling the void left by the abandoned movie theater are the sights and sounds of the Delft Bistro.

Tom Vear and Jen Ray, owners of the bistro and neighboring business Donckers, bought the former Delft Theater in 2012 after it was closed by Carmike Cinemas earlier that year. In 2014, they began organizing a plan to repurpose the century-old downtown property, which at that point consisted of two separate buildings connected by a skywalk over Jackson Cut Alley.

“When we bought it, basically we took it apart,” Vear said. “We took the bridge off, the floors were slanted, so basically flattened the floors out; just put a lot of effort into the building itself.”

Now, after opening its doors about six months ago, the Delft Bistro last week celebrated an official grand opening and operating hours were recently expanded to include lunch. The business is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

The front of the house is run by the bistro’s General Manager Alayna Prahl as the kitchen is overseen by her husband, Executive Chef Michael Prahl. Vear and Ray met the Prahls a few years ago when the latter were working in the restaurant industry in Chicago, where Michael Prahl was employed at The Marq.

In addition to Chicago, the couple’s restaurant experience has taken them to Colorado, Wisconsin and Alaska, Alayna Prahl said, and when they heard about the opportunity at the Delft, they couldn’t pass it up.

Described on its website as offering “new American fare,” the bistro’s menu is constantly changing, Michael Prahl said.

“We try to take classic traditional American fare and twist it up, modernize it, put our own little twist on it and make it something that our guests feel good about,” he said.

One of the big sellers, both Prahls admit, is the sweet and spicy “fall off the bone” pork ribs, made with a sriracha maple glaze and served with fried brussels sprouts and hand-cut fries.

“Really, people have been latching on to our ribs,” Alayna Prahl said. “I don’t think there’s a good rib in town, so we definitely capitalized on that market.”

The bistro has a $5 kids menu to keep it family friendly, she added, and several vegetarian and vegan options, along with a changing selection of craft cocktails and beer and wine options.

Some of the other items featured on the menu include whitefish tacos and fried chicken, as well as grilled filet mignon and seared duck breast.

“Our food is pretty much what we want to eat,” Michael Prahl said. “We love to eat, and we don’t want to get bored with our food either.”

As he and his wife have traveled around the country and been inspired by different cuisines, they’ve tried to bring that “home to Marquette and make it approachable and make sense,” he said. Part of that is finding the balance between creativity and conventionality, by “mixing up different flavors or techniques or ingredients and stuff, but still hitting that comfort that food is,” he explained.

A similar balancing act, where something familiar meets something novel, is reflected in the ambience of the Delft Bistro.

It starts with the bistro’s entrance, where the theater’s marquee was brought back to life with new lights that illuminate Washington Street. Inside, the two-story building’s original brick walls were left alone, Vear said, and wood taken from the structure was refurbished and turned into tables and flooring. Meanwhile, a large screen, scavenged from the old theater operation, was mounted on one of the bistro’s walls, onto which movies are projected during business hours, giving diners a unique atmosphere not commonly found at other Upper Peninsula establishments.

“There’s an idea there that it’s just background noise, and it’s a fun thing to do,” Vear said, also agreeing with a thought posed by Michael Prahl. “It pays homage to what the building originally was,” the chef said, “because even as kids growing up here, we came here and saw movies.”

While live music may be expected at a later date, Ray said the bistro is currently establishing themes for different days of the week, such as black and white films on Saturday, to highlight the bistro’s unique cinematic dining experience.

“I mean, really, we’re a restaurant with great food and great service,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing here. But that’s part … of the ambience. … It’s another piece to add to the venue.”

The bistro has private space available for business meetings or gatherings, Vear said, and the entire place can be rented out for larger events like weddings. Whatever the visit, Ray said the bistro really boils down to a few simple components: a unique ambience, quality food and good people.

“A lot of what we’ve learned through Donckers — I mean, obviously you can apply this to any business, not just customer service — but it’s about the people you work with,” Ray said. “We really lucked out with Alayna and Michael, and they’ve done a phenomenal job hiring an incredible team.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.