Chef Tony, owner of Durden’s Catering and creator of the famous Yung Gripper sandwich, officially expanded to Houston, Tex., earlier this year and the city couldn’t be prouder. Many Detroiters have had the pleasure of enjoying Chef Tony’s delicious meals and have followed his exciting entrepreneurial ventures for the past 10 years. Originally known as one of the hottest event caterers in Detroit, Chef Tony wowed the city with his soul food staples, elaborate seafood dishes, perfectly grilled BBQ and delectable desserts.
In 2019, at the height of the chicken sandwich wars, Chef Tony flooded the streets with his spin on the classic dish. The sandwich caught the attention of news outlets and celebrities, bringing large crowds every day to grab a Yung Gripper sandwich, no matter the weather. Noticing the outpouring of support and increasing demand, Chef Tony introduced The Gripper Food Truck, allowing for the first phase of the expansion.
No stranger to hustling and perseverance, Chef Tony grinded through the pandemic delivering much needed positivity and tasty food around the city with his unique Tony Island menu. His popularity continued to skyrocket due to his infectious D-Boy personality and daring approach to culinary arts. His meals are known to have a heavenly presentation that you can almost taste through the pictures.
Fast forward to 2023 and all of the hard work is paying off as the Texas operation is officially up and running with The Gripper Kitchen. Texas is becoming a new hub for flourishing Black businesses in many different industries, including restaurants, real estate and media. Chef Tony said he chose to expand to Texas due to weather, economics and peace of mind.
“It is a fresh start for me. Nobody knows me so they can’t put a stigma on me. I’m enjoying showing my children something different.”
The Gripper Kitchen is a taste of Detroit in the south, even carrying Faygo products.
“You know I got Detroit all through the restaurant telling where the Gripper was born. People know I’m not from here, but everyone is very receptive. Everyone in the area is saying ‘try this spot, they are amazing.’ The restaurant is getting great feedback. They ain’t trippin’, they just Grippin!”
Chef Tony says the future is franchise and the moves he and his team are making now are setting the organization up for even bigger opportunities.
“The ultimate goal is to franchise. It’s just me as a perfectionist and a master of my craft, I have to have everything right in order for me to take that next step with this. I have been getting a lot of calls and DMs about the franchise weekly. A lot of people want to be a part and be involved because they see the vision and it’s going to happen. Of course, one is coming to Detroit, no question.”
For Chef Tony transparency is important and he has no problem sharing his journey with hopes to inspire his followers that with faith and determination anything is possible.
“I like to document and share my story and my journey as it relates to me building this location because it wasn’t easy. I had a lot of barriers stacked against me. I had a lot of stuff stacked against me. It wasn’t easy, but the relentlessness in me and the Detroit in me — it was going to happen regardless. Because God already told me that.”
More than anything else Chef Tony is a devoted family man. As a loving husband and father, a huge part of the Durden brand is his wife and children. Chef Tony credits the guidance from his grandfather for his love for food and family. He said his grandfather played a key role in molding him into the man he is today.
“Probably 90 percent of my inspiration as it relates to me just being who I am in general, from cooking to being a father to being a devoted and dedicated husband, to being a hard worker and being relentless and everything that I do came from my granddaddy. My granddaddy taught me work ethic and how to always put your best foot forward and get to it.”
Another important piece of the Durden family is Chef Tony’s wife ReNika Durden. As an entrepreneur in her own right, this supportive wife helps with the inner workings of the restaurant and handles the finances and advertising. ReNika said that keeping their children involved is key to passing down this legacy and creating generational wealth.
“We are training them to know that this is yours and not only do you have to run it, you have to work it and you have to know how to do this. Our favorite saying is, you don’t have to do it for a living, but you have to know how to do it.”
ReNika said the expansion should not be looked at as leaving Detroit, but a fantastic opportunity that will essentially drive traffic back to the Detroit area.
The Gripper Kitchen is located in the Houston suburb of Pearland and serves a full menu of unique Gripper sandwiches. Detroit operations are still going strong. Detroit supporters can still experience the Chef Tony taste we know and love by ordering with Durden’s Catering and the Gripper Food Truck located on Livernois.
“I am trying to set the foundation for generations to come. I’m trying to break barriers and stigmas that’s associated with Black men in itself and show that there is a different way,” said Chef Tony.
“We not trippin’, we just Grippin. That’s what you gotta know.”