DETROIT (WJBK) - After he was exonerated for a crime he didn't commit, a Detroit man took his settlement and invested in the community that raised him. The cash is being used to revitalize a Coney Island restaurant that closed after the beloved owner Franco Juncaj was killed.
Deshawn Reed is less than two weeks out from opening D's Coney Island in southwest Detroit. He's still pinching himself.
"Every time I think of it I shake (my head) because it brings tears to my eyes," Reed said. "It is a blessing."
He never imagined that he would own the restaurant where he grew up eating. Ten years ago, it was even impossible.
"It was hard for me to even see in the past, even getting out of prison and proving my innocence," Reed said. "Let alone being out and owning my own business."
Deshawn spent 8 and a half years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of attempted murder. He was freed in 2009 after the victim recanted his testimony and the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic found evidence implicating another man.
Deshawn won a settlement from the city of Ecorse and began investing in real estate. His foray into the food business is bittersweet, and came with the death of the former owner known to everyone in the neighborhood as Frank.
"It really hurt us," Reed said. "We were out here hugging and crying. You would have thought we lost our blood brother - that is just how we loved him like that."
Frank's family closed the restaurant, known then as Detroit Coney Island. Deshawn was in the running to buy it but says that Frank's brother verbally agreed to sell it to another restaurant owner. Deshawn offered him $20,000 to step aside. Money did not do the talking that day, but a heart-to-heart eventually would. Deshawn reached out to Frank's son, who decided to entrust his dad's legacy to a guy from the neighborhood, committed to making it better.
"I would like to see the families and the people from this neighborhood bring their kids and sit here together," Reed said. "Bring their kids together. They might be from Ecorse, might be from River Rouge, might be from southwest."
Reed plans to add more lighting and security cameras in and around the property, as well as a privacy fence walling off the alley near the drive through. He wants to make D's Coney Island a place where families can build a stronger sense of community.
"I could make all the money in the world but if I can't get the families in this neighborhood here, I would feel like I lost," he said.
D's 24 Hour Coney Island (2626 Schaefer Hwy, Detroit 48217) will have its Grand Opening Saturday August 4 at 5 p.m. The former owner's family will be there as well with a balloon release to honor Frank.
The $20,000 that Deshawn was going to offer the other restaurant owner? He instead added that to the purchase price for Frank's family.