Migrating to a new country is hard. Immigrants leave their community, their culture, and their language, often settling in unknown places. But the one thing they always carry with them is their culinary practices. The Gutierrez family is no different. They left Caracas in the mid-1990s and settled in Detroit alone and without family. For them, making traditional Venezuelan food was a way to reconnect with a culture they ached for.
El Rey de las Arepas, a restaurant in Southwest Detroit, began serving the community with authentic Venezuelan cuisine in 2014. The idea of opening a restaurant came after friends raved about their food.
“We didn’t know anyone when we arrived. We slowly started making friends, got invited to potlucks, and noticed that everyone would eat my wife’s arepas before all the other food,” said Jose Gutierrez.
The restaurant is located on the bustling corner of McGraw and Central Ave, where the family takes pride in bringing the genuine flavors of Venezuela to their customers. The dishes they serve are the recipes of Zoraida Gutierrez, the family matriarch who insisted on carefully selected ingredients to bring out the flavors of Venezuelan cuisine.
The restaurant was founded initially about two miles from its current location and was in a colorfully painted house on St. John Street, off Michigan Avenue. As word got around that a restaurant was serving arepas, cachapas, and tequeños, their business took off, which allowed the Gutierrez family to move into a bigger location.
El Rey de las Arepas, now run by their son Ray Gutierrez, has a menu that includes a variety of authentic Venezuelan dishes, including pabellon criollo, a balanced combination of shredded stewed beef, rice, black beans, and fried plantains, considered Venezuela’s National dish.
“We have something special here. My son is so smart and only needs to see something once and doesn’t need it to be explained,” Jose Gutierrez said. “That’s why Ray runs this place.”
El Rey de las Arepas has gained popularity among Southwest locals and Major League Baseball players, including the recently retired Detroit Tiger Miguel ‘Miggy’ Cabrera, who has become a part of the Gutierrez family through community projects in Southwest Detroit.
“It has always been a family business; my mother taught us how to run the kitchen, my sister was a waitress, and my dad was marketing,” Ray Gutierrez says.
The restaurant’s success is a testament to the family’s commitment to providing their customers with a taste of home where every family member takes great pride in their heritage and culinary traditions.
Hundreds of Venezuelan refugees have arrived in Detroit in the past two years. The Gutierrez family hopes that El Rey de las Arepas becomes a center of cultural community for people who feel forced to leave their homeland.
This story was made possible by the Race and Justice Reporting Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to build trust between the news media and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities and strengthen representative democracy.