Longtime metro Detroit chef Matt Prentice, who once ran more than a dozen restaurants, has died after a brief illness.
He was 62.
Prentice died early Thursday morning due to complications from recent surgery, said his sister, Megan Kler.
Prentice was best known for the former Unique Restaurant Corp., which was the driving force behind many metro Detroit restaurants, including the former Coach Insignia at the top of the Renaissance Center (now Highlands), Deli Unique, Duet, Shiraz, Morels, Northern Lakes Seafood and many more. The restaurant group was later renamed the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group.
Prentice was a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institue of America and native Detroiter. He’s known for starting the careers of many metro Detroit chefs.
More recently, Prentice partnered with Mary Liz Curtin of the popular Leon and Lulu in Clawson, opening the Three Cats Cafe in the trendy retailer’s theater annex building next door.
“There are so many cooks in this town who got their start in one of his kitchens,” Mary Liz Curtin of Leon & Lulu. “He was a wonderful teacher and was very generous with his time, skills, and everything.”
The restaurant opened in the fall of 2019 after a court-ordered, five-year, non-compete agreement Prentice had with a former restaurant group employer expired.
“There is an enormous empty spot at Three Cats. Matt was a big man with an enormous heart, a loud laugh, and a generous spirit. He was a wonderful teacher, a great mentor, and an unbelievable cook. All of us at Three Cats thank him and are proud to be a Matt Prentice restaurant. We will always serve his favorite recipes and there will always be mushrooms on the menu,” Curtin said.
Prentice was also best known for his charitable work, including working closely with Cass Community Social Services and the Rev. Faith Fowler, a Detroit-based nonprofit that provides housing, food, health services, and job training. Prentice, according to a news release announcing his death, created the CASS kitchen, where more than 700,000 meals are served per year.
“Matt taught our staff to cook from scratch. He taught me how to recognize hospitality and practice generosity,” the Rev. Fowler said. “We are heartbroken by this news and we will always be grateful to Matt for his friendship and talents.”
While Prentice was well-known for his restaurant businesses and among chefs, it was his charitable work for which he had the highest regard.
“He loved his work with CASS and that was one of the most important things he’s ever done,” Kler said.
Prentice became a prominent figure in metro Detroit’s dining scene when he started his restaurant group in the ’80s. His restaurants, which ranged from fine dining to multiple delis, often were lauded in the press, earning favorable reviews from food writers.
Decades later, Prentice began to close some of the restaurants. In 2008-2009, Prentice and his restaurant group fell on hard times, Kler said. According to Free Press reports, there was a “messy series of business deals, lawsuits and personal fallout for the deli operator that had become one of the region’s most prominent restaurateurs in the intervening years.”
Prentice later sold the company to Stanley Dickson Jr., who formed the Epicurean group.
A service is being planned a later date to take place at CASS, Kler said.
Prentice is survived by his four children, one grandchild, his sister, four brothers and numerous nieces and nephews.
Three Cats kitchen will be run by Drew Cayuela and Alex Matoin. The chefs, Curtin said, share Prentice’s “spirit, generosity and flavor profile that will keep us a Matt Prentice restaurant.”
Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky and send food and restaurant news to: 313-222-6872 or email@example.com. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.
Support local journalism and become a digital subscriber to the Free Press.