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  • Writer's pictureJeff Eaker

The Case Against Collaboration—A Secret Chinese Restaurant in Suburban Detroit

"For a writer, sometimes, it's good to step away." Says only the writer who has nothing to say.

There's a secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit that's really good. Actually, good doesn't quite do it justice. Neither does excellent. I think the word I'm searching for here is perfect. There's a secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit that's perfect.

I know it's perfect because my wife and I went there and at the end of the meal we both agreed that it was perfect. And we told the chef it was perfect when he came out from the kitchen at the end of the meal.

We told him that his food was so good and we had enjoyed it so much that we were going to tell all of our friends about it.

He responded by saying, "Please don't."

I would tell you the name of this secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit, but that would betray the promise we both made to the husband and wife team who secretly run it, completely by themselves and want to keep it that way.

My wife was the one that discovered the secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit. She's a very learned woman with many highly regarded academic accomplishments. She's good with information. She hears things. It's one of the many traits about her that I adore. But I also adore good Chinese food, so it didn't take much convincing to get me to go.

We didn't know much, but we were told that you had to make a reservation. They don't accept walk-ins and they don't do take-out.

"Odd," I remember thinking.

We called to make a reservation and it was pretty much like making any reservation. You tell them when you want to come and they tell you whether or not they have a table.

And in the case of the secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit, it is literally that. One table.

"Interesting," I recall myself saying.

What happened next, however, was unlike any other reservation I'd ever made. Once we agreed upon the day and time, we were then asked what we'd like to order.

"I beg your pardon?" my wife said.

"We need to know what you want to eat so that the chef can go buy the ingredients for your meal the morning of your reservation," said the woman.

"I beg your pardon?" my wife said a second time.

The woman patiently continued. She was very practiced at explaining how things worked at the secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit.

"We only take reservations and we ask that people order their food ahead of time so that the ingredients are as fresh as possible and there is no wasted food," she explained.

We asked her to give us five minutes so that we could take a look at the menu and then call her back. We asked for their website, but she said they didn't have one. When we asked her where to find the menu, she told us it was on the internet and then hung up the phone.

I believe finding the menu is the secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit's first test to see if you are worthy. After a little searching, we found it.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world goes to waste. That's equal to about 1.3 billion tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, seafood and grains that either never leave the farm, get lost or spoiled during distribution, or are thrown away in hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, or home kitchens. It's enough calories to feed every undernourished person on the planet.

But wasted food isn't just a social or humanitarian concern- it's also an environmental issue. As the wasted food decomposes it produces methane- a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars' worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

"That's pretty genius," I remember saying.

I know it wouldn't work for every restaurant, but if some version of it could be applied on some level there could be an impact.

While he wouldn't label himself an environmentalist, the chef explained what led him to the concept.

He'd worked his entire career in high-end restaurants. His goal had always been to give every customer a "perfect" experience. But the harder he worked the more he realized that in a conventional restaurant there were too many factors to get in the way of his goal.

He explained that to give a person a truly perfect experience, the ingredients have to be perfect. The prep has to be perfect. The presentation and the service all have to be perfect. The only way he could achieve this was to do it all himself and the only way he could do that was to serve one table at a time.

That's how he made it perfect. By removing anything that could stand in his way. Even financial success. Ignoring the goal of most restaurants which is to serve as many people as possible. And instead, focusing on his goal of giving customers a perfect meal.

We did a little math in our heads on the way home. The location couldn't be costing him much. They're between a Dollar Store and a tire shop. The only employees are him and his wife- so not much of a payroll. And his food costs are minimal because he knows exactly what he's making for every customer.

We guessed that at the end of the day, after all is said and done, he's taking home about $1500 pure profit. Which isn't bad. Take it from a freelance copywriter. $1500/day is good money. If anyone out there has some copy needs and $1500, I won't let you down.

But perfection? I can't promise you that. You'll want changes. Your client will want changes. The guy who works downstairs in the deli will want changes. By the time everybody gets their two cents in, I can't predict what will be left.

And that's how collaboration works. It gets you to a place where everyone is "happy". It's not perfection but perfect isn't the goal. Serving as many customers as possible is the goal. Which is fine. You can get good work that way.

But it won't be perfect.

It won't be like the secret Chinese restaurant in suburban Detroit.

Thanks for reading. I'll see you again real soon.

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Tyler Linton
Tyler Linton
Nov 22, 2023

this actually sounds like an argument FOR collaboration - between you the diner and the chef/restaurant. it would be beautiful if more dining experiences felt like collaborations. i would also like to point out that some, definitely not all, musical collaborations can result in a final product that is close to perfect. courtney barnett and kurt vile comes to mind. when i visit detroit i'd be happy to collaborate with you on a dinner at this restaurant.

Jeff Eaker
Jeff Eaker
Nov 22, 2023
Replying to

How about you and I collaborate on a phone call. It's been too long since we've spoken and I miss you. Scott was in town a few weekends ago and the only thing that could have made it better was if you were there too. Hope all is well, old friend.

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