Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Despite a slowdown in General Motors corporate business, Matt Prentice says the Coach Insignia Restaurant, occupying the 71st and 72nd floor of the GM Renaissance Center is already booked for several key days of the North American International Auto Show.

"The restaurant continues to do well since it opened in August 2004," said Prentice, CEO of the seven-restaurant chain with annual sales of $25 million, around $4 million at the downtown dining establishment. "But we have to beat the bushes to bring business in."

On a clear day, up to 500 diners an evening look out floor-to-ceiling windows to see the Palace of Auburn Hills, the lights atop the Ambassador Bridge, the neon entrance of Caesar's Windsor and a glorious sunset draped across two nations bisected by the Detroit River.

The wine list with over 600 selections housed in two separate wine stations draped in steel shimmer screens that sway up to three feet in wind storms. The wine racks are locked down. Coach Insignia dinner menus offers truffle mashed potatoes, steak, sea bass and its signature chocolate torte.

GM contributed $8.6 million to the build-out of the restaurant, which opened in 2004. Prentice, with the help of restaurant designers Ron and Roman LLC of Birmingham, gutted the revolving restaurant mechanism on one floor, removed one whole floor and reconfigured dining spaces for window gazing.

"This place is a big risk," Prentice said. The main kitchen is on the first floor next to the GM Wintergarden. His employees must cart food on a bustling freight elevator that could take up to a half hour to get to the prep kitchen on the 71st floor. The advantage is that Prentice also caters large scale events in the Wintergarden.

He named the restaurant for Coach Insignia, a brand of wine sold by Napa Valley-based Fred J. Fisher, grandson of the Fisher Body family that built coaches for GM vehicles. The 32,000 square-foot restaurant in the round highlights auto history in its decor, from photographs of crash test dummies and lunar modules to maps of its proving grounds.

"Coach Insignia is an excellent venue because the food is excellent and the location convenient for media and clients," said Larry Weis, owner of Auto Com Associates in Bloomfield Hills. He booked several tables for Charity Preview Night of the auto show. "We're not going to do a big lavish dinner. It isn't appropriate with all the difficulties the industry is facing, but we will have tables for some of our clients."

What brings Weis back? "In my opinion, Patrick Peterson, the sommelier, is absolutely the best around. He works with you, he has a vast wine knowledge and he's a great guy. I send all kinds of people to Coach and tell them to ask for Patrick," Weis said.


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