“I think that’s it…” said my friend. He pointed to the right. “It’s the one that has the crowd in front of it.”
There we were, driving through midtown Detroit, looking at every house to see if we could spot the mysterious Neighborhood Noodle—and when we finally came upon the unassuming spot on Trumbull, it was as if we had discovered Noodle Mecca.
Neighborhood Noodle was shrouded in mystery from the moment we had first discovered it just days earlier from a tip found on Yelp. The entire process had a hint of intrigue to it, but that wasn’t the only thing working in its favor. Neighborhood Noodle seemed almost too good to be true. Local greens, grown in Detroit? Check. A barebones website with “MS Paint”-quality artwork that just screamed “indie”? Check. Authentic food made by someone who learned how to cook in Cambodia? Check.
Normally, when you read stories like this, you assume it’s a homegrown Detroiter who loves their community and chooses to stay here and support local business and agriculture. In this case, however, founder Jess Daniels is an import who comes to us from Orange County, CA by way of Cambodia and then Washington DC. She had heard Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network speak at an event, and the fates began conspiring to draw her ever closer to Detroit. A friend of hers moved here to do farm and community work, then she met Dan Carmody of Eastern Market and began discussing ways in which the market has become a hub for local food distribution. She began to read sites like Model D and also began, in her words, “internet-stalking interesting businesses and people in town.”
I asked her how she learned to cook the clearly Asian-influenced noodles on her menu. Her answer was direct and simple, much like her food; “Some from my mom and Singaporean aunties, some from friends in Cambodia, cooking classes in Thailand, and plain old experimentation.”
The experimentation paid off, because the noodles I had were delicious. Perfectly cooked, with a solid texture, not-too-salty sauce, topped with fried wontons and grilled lemongrass chicken slices. For this delightful dish, I paid a mere $5. For an additional $2 I was treated to sweet green iced tea with whole longans (a sweet fruit native to Southeast Asia) in it.
Neighborhood Noodle is not just about good food though. Jess’ stated goals are to donate 5% of her net income to community organizations (currently the Woodbridge Community Garden), to only use local produce whenever possible, to purchase supplies from local businesses, and to compost all waste.
The current iteration of Neighborhood Noodle is clearly a beta. The “lemonade-stand” approach of selling food off her front porch isn’t a viable long-term plan, and this coming week’s orders are already closed off due to high demand. When asked about her long-term plans, she mentioned an immediate need to expand and go towards the “food truck” route. In addition, she hopes to eventually create an incubator kitchen that would allow food entrepreneurs to rent space to start up their own businesses.
For now, it’s enough, for me at least, to order homemade noodles from her funny website and making a trip on Mondays to her front porch. She may not be from here, but this girl is Detroit all the way.