In addition to cars and music, coney island restaurants might be one of the most ubiquitous icons of the Motor City. Now, one Detroit rapper has decided to get in on the coney game, but with a twist.
Most known for his defining songs from the early 2000s, Antonio Henderson, 35, who goes by his stage name Tone Tone, is set to open Toney Island on Saturday, a clever combination of his name and Coney, at the corner of E. Warren Avenue and Dickerson Street on the city’s east side.
While most neighborhood coney islands have your traditional coney dogs, chili cheese fries and chicken pitas, the range of menu items and their unique names is what sets Tone apart from the rest. Menu options include Tone’s signature Waddupdoe (a common colloquial way to say hello in Detroit) Burger, the Waddupdoe breakfast sandwich and Baby Unk chili cheese fries – all named after his music; Wayburn chili, named after the street he grew up on, along with an affordable 4 for $4 Project meal named after the nearby Manor housing project. And, for traditionalists, the restaurant also carries Toney dogs and even turkey Toney dogs.
“When you pull up (somewhere else), you can’t say, ‘Let me get a Waddupdoe burger or a Berry Gordy chicken and waffles,” said Tone. “It’s lit. It’s us. It’s our culture…people can feel it and people respect the menu, it’s just different.”
Tone takes pride in being a booster for the restaurant and his community, and for the fact that his establishment is Black-owned. Tone says he was doing some research on coney islands in Detroit with friends and one friend told him that that Tone may be the youngest Black male to own a coney island in Detroit.
“I think this is super motivation for people. It’s like, ‘Dang, he really did this with his music, built his platform. Now he’s doing (Toney Island),’” said Tone, whose message to those looking up to him is simply, “You can have more than one hustle.”
And Tone says the restaurant idea didn’t come overnight, it’s actually been brewing since he was a teen.
The rapper is known for his hit singles like “Waddupdoe,” “Love The Way She Doin It,” “I Ain’t Playin’ Witcha” and “Unky.” Though he’s now an entrepreneur, Tone doesn’t plan on slowing down his music anytime soon. Just recently, Tone collaborated with Grammy-nominated artist DaBaby on a song, “100 P’s.”
Tone juggles being a father, rapper and entrepreneur, and despite the current economic conditions, he says he hasn’t struggled during the process of opening Toney Island, for one simple reason: his family. Not only have his blood relatives been next to Tone to support him, they’ve been vital to the restaurant’s launch because they’re all on staff, and hiring them was important to Tone.
“It breaks the generational curse in our family. Now I’m not the only one that’s got something going on,” Tone said. “They don’t have to say, ‘This (is) Tone’s spot.’ No. They can say, ’Come to our restaurant,’ but they’re their own bosses, in their own lane.”
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Toney Island will have about eight cooks and seven cashiers. And his family members are set to be the managers and supervisors of the 24-hour carryout restaurant.
Tone Tone’s inspiration started early
When Tone was 14, his uncle Mike Henderson told him to start rapping. And although he didn’t want to rap, his uncle would take him to the studio to write. Then his grandmother passed away. She left him her house. And with $20 to his name, he worked until he released his first song “I Ain’t Playin’ Witcha.” The rest was history.
“The records I made, they’re still on the radio to this day,” Tone said. “I do timeless music, not no come and go records.”
So he made music a large part of the Toney Island atmosphere. Music will include Detroit rap and Motown classics. Customers will also see photos of important figures in Tone’s life whom he refers to as “fallen soldiers,” including his grandmother whose photo he wears on his chain. Other figures include Aaliyah, the Temptations, the Detroit Pistons, Aretha Franklin, Dex Osama, J Dilla and more. He also has a large poster of him as a tattooed baby wearing Cartier sunglasses known in Detroit as “Buffs.”
Tone says he was inspired by rappers like Nipsey Hussle, Master P, Kanye West, Diddy, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and others to become an entrepreneur. He said he has learned that music is the platform, but earning money really comes from entrepreneurship. He hopes to inspire other local rappers to invest in the city’s neighborhoods too.
“I feel like a lot of rappers from here …. we might do turkey giveaways. That’s cool, but that’s like once a year. We never go back… I feel like that ain’t gone ever change unless somebody with a platform really takes it seriously and (does) it.”
Tone adds: “Everybody trying to be a rapper, but that’s (all) they see. It’s a million rappers here. So ain’t nobody showing no other lane. So this lane, it’s cool. Now somebody who wanted to (start a business isn’t) scared to do it no more. You ain’t just got to be a rapper to make it out.”
‘A million-dollar corner’
As Tone ventured outside to take pictures with a Free Press photographer, many who drove past at E. Warren and Dickerson yelled out their windows. “I’m proud of you big bro!” shouted one person. “When are you opening?” asked another.
Tone says his roots are all over the area, as he has family on Mack, East Warren, Morang and more, and he knows there’s little variety of food up and down East Warren. “You got the projects, Chandler Park, Chrysler (now Stellantis), and a skating (rink),” said Tone, confident that Toney Island will now become a go-to. In November 2020, he bought the building at 13000 E. Warren Ave, because he knew it’d do well. “I just feel like it’s a million-dollar corner,” he said.
Ahead of the grand opening, Tone is already thinking about Toney Island’s future. “Somebody already called about a franchise. And I’m like, ‘I’m not even open, yet,’” said Tone. Tone plans to build at least five franchises in the city and also “hot spots” around the country like Las Vegas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. But Tone says his main goal for each restaurant is one thing: “I want them to feel like they’re home.”
Toney Island’s grand opening is Saturday at 3:13 p.m. Stay connected with Tone and the restaurant via Instagram @tonetoneinherre @toneyislandrestaurant.
Kyla L. Wright is a Detroit native who covers the city’s neighborhoods and the various people, places and things that give Detroit its unique character. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @kylawrightmedia.
Contact staff writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber or gift a subscription.