Hygrade Delicatessen has been a long-standing, local presence for over 30 years. Surviving relocation and the modernization of an ever-changing city, Hygrade represents the respect for the past, family devotion and the resiliency of Detroit itself.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Stuart Litt, the mild mannered owner of Hygrade, who stands for truth, justice, and quality corned beef sandwiches. While the restaurant might be known for its food, you may have not known it was a film site for the 2016 movie, Batman vs. Superman.
Don’t fly away! The story of this hometown deli is coming at you faster than a speeding bullet. Keep reading for more details on the story of Hygrade, along with the location and hours of operation.
Stuart Litt, The Man of Steel
He might not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Stuart Litt grew up locally in the suburbs of Oak Park and Southfield, making him a local presence in Detroit. His Father, Bernie Litt, was the proud owner of Billy’s Delicatessen, in Litt’s words, “a pretty big, fancy restaurant.” Litt’s father owned the business, formerly located in Detroit on Seven Mile and Livernois, from 1955-1971.
After falling on hard times, Bernie Litt had to put the key in the door of his restaurant. “At that time, I was going through elementary school, junior high, and high school,” Litt recalls. “My dad had a couple of odd jobs. Finally, it got to a point where a couple of odd jobs didn’t quite work out and he had to do something.”
Litt recalls his uncle introducing his father to the original owner of Hygrade Deli, Nate Stutz, who in Litt’s words was “getting up there in his years.” The original Hygrade was first opened in what was known as Western Market. “The main tenant was Hygrade Food Products Corporation. So that’s how the name Hygrade Deli arrived,” Litt revealed. In the mid 1960s, Western Market was demolished to make room for I-75. “Everybody had to relocate and this is where Stutz relocated. He ran it successfully for another 10 years.” Stutz sold Hygrade Deli to Bernie Litt in 1972. “If I remember correctly, he sold it reluctantly, in a way,” Litt recalled.
In 1972, Litt was a junior in high school, working for his father washing dishes and helping around the store. In 1974, he attended Oakland Community College, eventually transferring to Wayne State University. “By my senior year at Wayne State I was working here full time during the day and taking classes at night. I was a business student who was eventually hoping to graduate and then go on with whatever your degree gets you,” he said.
Tragedy struck in December of 1977 as Litt’s father had a minor heart attack, “the first of many setbacks,” he added. “It wasn’t debilitating, but he was still unable to work.” Litt remembers his dad’s four-month recovery, running the restaurant in his absence. “Any job you could thing of, I was doing it,” he said. After a slow and carful return to the restaurant, Bernie started working full time again.
“I kind of said to myself, ‘When he gets back full time I’ll go about my business trying to do something for myself.’ That never happened. I’m still here,” chuckled Litt. “Eventually down the road, I became the owner and I’m still here.”
I inquired about the decorations dotting the walls of the restaurant. “The decorations are actually from Batman vs. Superman,” Litt explained. “The movie was filmed here.”
Two years ago, the production team from Batman vs. Superman came into Hygrade to film a few scenes. “They put these decorations up as part of the backdrop, amongst all different kinds of things.” After the filming, the crew asked if he wanted to keep the props. He was happy to oblige.
He explained how the entire interior is original. “The tables, the floor, the fixtures, they’re all original,” says Litt. “It’s so old and antiquated that when I tell you things are being held together by duck tape, I’m not kidding!”
Litt recalled the old Cadillac plant, formerly located across the street of his deli. “I might get an old customer from 40 years ago who worked at the plant and they’ll come in and look at this place and say, ‘Nothing’s changed, don’t change anything!’”
“And then new people come in and say ‘This is like walking back into time!’ They love it,” he exclaimed.
You can visit Hygrade Deli Monday – Friday from 6:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Saturday form 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. Located at 3640 Michigan Ave., just outside the outskirts of Corktown, stop by today and find your Kryptonite in a classic corned beef sandwich.