I ate there for a day while it was still open last year and I enjoyed it. I’m sorry to hear that it closed, it came as a bit of a surprise to hear that. It wasn’t a top of the line restaurant but it was a very warm and kind place that was fine for what it was and where it was in its’ business life. I was hoping to see it grow and fulfill the potential that I saw in it but it looks like that may never happen. I will instead detail my visit and knowledge of Chou.
The staff mostly consisted of women and one man. Well, more like later aged teens and women in their early 20’s. I knew half of the staff since they were members of the now defunct A4 Anime Group (a great group, at its’ height it had more than 50 active members). It through them that I learned of Chou. I thought it was crazy that Detroit would host a maid cafe, a small diner-like place where the servers cater to the slightest whims (within reason) of their patrons. It was here and it worked.
Most of the menu consisted of the typical items that self-proclaimed otaku obsessively discuss and normal anime fans curiously wonder about. I can’t recall the entire menu but I did enjoy the red bean bread a lot. Everything pre-packaged tasted great, I mean as great as a twinkie or a rice crispie treat may taste to fans right out of the box. I tried the chai latte that everyone was raving about, I was not a huge fan of it. Then again, maybe my ex-girlfriend spoiled me on them since I don’t like the ones at Starbucks either (although those were much better than the one served to me). I recall having at least one Ramune, I don’t recall the flavor. It was a surprise, I didn’t expect to see it stocked in the cafe. It was definitely somewhere between Faygo’s Creme Soda and Sprite.
Red Bean Bread with Maid Drawing of Spongebob
Yes, the maids drew on my food – more precisely my plate. Above is Spongebob in chocolate syrup with caramel eyes. I almost refused to use him as a dip. Almost. You were allowed to make requests and I decided to make the funniest ones that I could think of. I thought the red bean bread could pass off as hamburger buns so I wanted Spongebob with a bunch of Krabby patties.
Below I wanted Charmeleon slapping Pikachu with its’ tail. Satisfaction rarely is ever this delicious, I didn’t remember that pie until I looked at my pictures. I forgot exactly what type it was, I just remember wanting to order more of it. The maid that drew this is exceptionally talented in her graphics art skills and hand drawing. These may not be a Picasso but they’re fairly impressive for sketches that she completed in under a minute. If I remember it correctly these were done in about 30 seconds after she presented them enticingly with a quick wave and prompt placement.
What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk?
Most of the maids brought some sort of skill or knowledge to the cafe. The only guy could sing and was pretty funny. The other maids could either sing, dance, share real Japanese cultural knowledge or go moe to the extreme.
The day of my visit I sat in there for about 6-7 hours. They had free wifi and I took advantage of it. I stayed down the street and had my own connection but I had to know what the cafe was all about. Throughout my visit people came in to buy some of the anime plushies on sale, buy game time and play games (Xbox 360 and PS3, no Wii unfortunately), eat, drink, buy snacks to go or to just be entertained by the maids.
The wifi connection had a slight issue while I was there but it was moreso an AT&T issue than a cafe issue since the cafe wasn’t the only business affected. I’m glad it came back up pretty quickly (I was running Ubuntu back then and needed a ton of updates that I had kept putting off). I don’t know which games the cafe had in stock but customers were allowed to bring their own in. You would see people coming in with multiple filled-out 48/96 size cd cases filled with games and anime.
The cafe portion was close enough to watch and listen to games but far away enough to not have the meal ruined by some of the louder players unless you sat near its’ entrance. The anime based plushies were cool. Most of them were from shonen anime so lots of Naruto and I believe Bleach toys were available. There were a few obscure toys and one-off items for sale, I wish that I had of snapped a shot of them.
The day ended with my main maid performing the Haruhi Suzumiya Credits Dance.
Honestly, the day wasn’t without weird occurrences/incidents. The strangest of which was when a man of stereotypical Asian features walked into the cafe with a grin, looked at everyone for a few seconds, frowned then walked right back out. There has been controversy around this cafe having Black maids. It seems silly to me, then again I’m on the internet and am Black myself so who cares right? The maid cafes were created as a way to service the fans of anime, they originally didn’t mimic the anime characters as closely as possible. Even though many such places do so now it’s always about the feeling, the actual service and intentions.
I’ve been around booth babes, it’s not fun. I don’t believe that all of the maids in the cafes in Japan are happy with their positions. I want people that are serving me food and entertaining me to be happy. In this case everyone wore a smile, was passionate about anime and Japanese culture and was very knowledgeable. The owner of the cafe did an excellent job in picking her staff, I didn’t hear idiots shouting “dattebayo” every few minutes or generally treating the source material with disrepect and irreverence. It was the complete opposite which is what actually matters. Apparently the few of importance in Japan thought the same thing too, the only people that had an issue with it were the racists in America.
That sucks, Detroit, nay Michigan is still one of the most polarizing places in all of America when it comes to race. I have many, many stories that I could share with you from my own personal experiences. I just don’t feel that this article is the place to do so, maybe another one will suffice? Either way, it was the region and possibly business management/plans that caused the cafe to close. Despite the Chou Anime Maid Cafe having the greatest of intentions and a very pleasant staff it still takes money to run a business.
At the very least it needed to break even but preferably it should have turned a profit. The cafe received press but only towards the end. If it had of received such attention when it began and possibly leveraged Youmacon, Shuto-con and Daiko-Con well it may still be in business. I hope that the owner and the ex-staff are doing well, maybe they’re simply planning a comeback. One that can be as wild and strong as any other to have happened in Detroit.