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Don Knight at classic Ann Arbor steakhouse Knight's new downtown location
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Dining / Food : Development News

105 Dining / Food Articles | Page: | Show All

$2.2M S. Fourth renovation to bring Ruth's Chris Steak House to Ann Arbor

The S. Fourth Ave. building that housed the former Dream Nite Club is getting a major renovation, and the south side of downtown Ann Arbor will be getting a new restaurant with the $2.2 million development of a Ruth's Chris Steak House. The project came together after the development team that worked on a Ruth's Chris in Grand Rapids decided to give the franchise another go.

"It was very successful and well received and that team decided tot look for another market that was similar," says Steve Fry of Concept Design, the architectural firm working on the project. "Ann Arbor sort of stood out as a good possibility." 

Finding the right size building available downtown was a challenge, but the vacant nightclub was selected for its potential to become the structure they need. The one-story, approximately 8,200 square foot building will be totally renovated, including the addition of a 1,700 square foot second level. 

"This building did fit for size, shape good location," Fry says. 'We basically approached this as having potential by completely renovating and bring it back to life."

Fry also hopes the timing of the renovation will coincide with the neighboring properties coming back to life a well. He believes residential or hotel use of the recently sold city property across the street would be a great complement to the restaurant. 

The project is pending approval by the Ann Arbor city council next month. Should it be approved, Fry says the plan is to move quickly, with a goal of opening the new Ruth's Chris by end of the year.

Source: Steve Fry, Concept Design
Writer: Natalie Burg

Natural, homemade ice cream coming to W. Liberty with Blank Slate Creamery

When she was in her 20s, Janice Sigler thought about opening an ice cream shop. After two decades working for the University of Michigan, the idea came back to her. 
 
"I just decided to do something completely different," she says. "I went out to Massachusetts to work with someone out there who makes their own ice cream, just to get a sense of whether or not it would be something I wanted to do."
 
It was. Sigler is now renovating the building she purchased on W. Liberty and S. First St into Blank Slate Creamery, an ice cream store specializing in natural ingredients. Rather than including emulsifiers and other chemicals, Sigler's treats will be made from cream, cane sugar, milk and eggs — as well as a number of interesting, all natural flavors.  
 
"We have a coffee flavor that we're using Mighty Good coffee in, a pistachio with actual roasted pistachios pureed in the mix, and I've been experimenting with rice krispie treat," Sigler says. "One of the unusual sorbets cactus pear, which is bright pink naturally, so it's very pretty."
 
Renovations on the 1,300 square foot space include adding interior walls, counter seating, some windows, as well as a pasteurizing and ice cream making room that will be visible to customers when they visit. Sigler intends a great customer experience to be part of Blank Slate Creamery, and is hoping to hire a staff of up to 10 employees who are creative and will engage with kids in the store.
 
Sigler has long term plans for her new downtown building as well. Eventually, she and her husband plan to convert the second floor into a living space and become downtown residents above their ice cream shop. 
 
Blank Slate Creamery is slated to open in June.

Source: Janice Sigler, Blank Slate Creamery
Writer: Natalie Burg

Jerusalem Garden to quadruple size in former Seva location

Ali Ramlawi has long known Jerusalem Garden needed to grow. Last year, he planned an expansion of the Fifth Ave. location where his family's restaurant has been for nearly 30 years, but couldn't come to a deal with his landlord. Perhaps the plan simply wasn't meant to be, as it was followed by a rare opportunity to grow into a location that was not only nearby, but was also the home of another Ann Arbor institution: Seva. 

"We've been here for 27 years. It's hard to leave something like this," Ramlawi. "But people love the charm of that place. It's unique, it's funky, and it's a natural fit. It's an organic way to grow."

The move around the corner may not be far, but the 4,500 square foot location will quadruple Jerusalem Garden's footprint. Ramlawi expects the new restaurant will allow him to seat about 100 diners, double his employees to make a staff of 45, and consolidate some of his operations that currently take place in another facility. 

"It's nice to bring everything under one roof," says Ramlawi. "I'll be able to have more capacity for people to sit, and to expand our catering the University of Michigan. We'll have some room to breathe."

Ramlawi plans to undergo a complete buildout of the space, and is aiming for New Year's to open in the new location. Though he was worried customers might be upset about change coming to the restaurant, thus far, he says he's been delighted by all of the positive feedback he's received.

Source: Ali Ramlawi, Jerusalem Garden
Writer: Natalie Burg

Longtime family bakery in Pinckney to open new location in downtown Chelsea

Pinckney Bakery owners Kim and Saing Yam weren't looking to open a second location, but when they came across the space in downtown Chelsea left by cupcake maker Glee, both the building and the timing seemed right. 

"It's a coincidental thing," says Kim Yam. "The cupcake lady closed down, and I told my husband to go look. It wasn't planned."

Though unplanned, a second location isn't unprecedented for the Yams. They owned the Dexter Bakery for 17 years before deciding to cut back and spend more time with their kids about five years ago. Now that their kids are older, the Chelsea location seemed like a good opportunity. 

"The only thing we'll do different than in Dexter, is we don't do bread," Yam says. "We have pastries, pretzels, cookies — everything, you name it, and we bake fresh every day."

Yam hopes to open the Chelsea Bakery in the second week of April, initially hiring a staff of two for the store. They are now renovating the 2,000 square foot space, putting in new flooring and countertops. Yam plans to include space for seating inside the bakery.

Source: Kim Yam, Pinckney Bakery
Writer: Natalie Burg

STUFD promises big meals, affordable prices for EMU community

Though Joel Hamami recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University, his big plans for the future won't take him too far from campus. In fact, his forthcoming restaurant with partner Zack Ruthven, STUFD, will be right across the street. 
 
"Eastern's campus lacks a couple of things right now. There aren't many places to go for a quick burrito," Hamami says. "We are trying to stay connected to Eastern, looking to be involved with the athletics teams and orientation."
 
The STUFD concept is to offer diners inexpensive burritos, chimichangas, tacos, nachos and quesadillas with a variety of toppings and add-ons. A number of menu items will come with a "STUFD" option, which, according to the menu, "is available for the consumer who is not satisfied with just being full."
 
Hamami is now in the process of renovating the 2,200 square foot space, and is hoping to open April 5. He plans to hire a staff of about 10, and offer both delivery and dine-in eating for about 50 diners.
 
While his current focus is the success of this location, Hamami hopes to expand in the future, opening STUFD restaurants near college campuses elsewhere in Michigan.

Source: Joel Hamami, STUFD
Writer: Natalie Burg

Beloved Birmingham hamburger house picks Ann Arbor for second location

For more than 60 years, Hunter House Hamburgers has been a Metro Detroit favorite, serving oniony sliders from a white pill-box diner in Birmingham. After all that time, the small family restaurant has decided to expand, and downtown Ann Arbor will be the beneficiary of the decision. 

"We had been an institution in the Detroit area for 60 years," says Kelly Cobb, who will operate the new location. "We thought what better way to share than to expand. Ann Arbor was obvious choice."

Cobb will open the new Hunter House on E. William St. in late April or early May. At 2,000 square feet, the restaurant will be about twice the size of the original, but will retain the same diner aesthetic customers are used to in Birmingham. That extra room will allow for some changes to the Hunter House menu. 

"We never really had a chance to grow at the original place because it's so small," says Cobb. "We have a ton of additional kitchen space now."

The Ann Arbor location will offer about a dozen varieties of milkshakes and malts and some additional menu items, but Cobb assures fans of the original that they will also find everything they love from Birmingham as well. 

In addition to dine-in seating, Cobb plans to offer a take-out window and stay open late to serve the downtown market. He anticipates hiring a staff of about 25 for the Ann Arbor location.

Source: Kelly Cobb, Hunter House Hamburgers
Writer: Natalie Burg 

New State St. drive-thru and gas station to break ground this summer

Joseph Kafi has had big plans in mind for the corner of S. State St. and Eisenhower since he purchased the Shell station there five years ago. Now, the demolition and redevelopment project has been approved by the Ann Arbor Planning Commission and could break ground this summer.
 
"This is one of the last hard corners before downtown," Kafi says. "It's a good location, with the mixed commercial uses, Briarwood Mall and other offices nearby."
 
According to the plans, the less than 1,000 square foot convenience store and existing car wash will be demolished to make way for a new, 4,250 square foot development that will include a larger retail store and a restaurant with a drive thru. Though a restaurant brand has not yet been chosen for the location, Kafi says he is in talks with a number of national chains and expect it will be a bakery/cafe concept. 
 
The expanded retail space will also grow in terms of its offerings. In addition to snacks, the store will offer a larger selection of grocery items, electronic accessories and sportswear. 
 
"It's basically for quick visits on the go," Kafi says, "for someone who may need anything from nail polish remover to chips." 
 
Should the project be approved by city council and construction proceed as planned, Kafi hopes construction will be complete by fall of this year. He intends to retain the convenience store staff for the new store, and hopes to continue offering gas throughout construction. 
 
Source: Joseph Kafi, JAK Cubed, LCC
Writer: Natalie Burg

Local Mexican restaurant family grows to three with Los Amigos Fiesta

The owners of Los Amigos and Don Juan Mexican Bar & Grill in Ann Arbor weren't necessarily looking for a space to open a third location, but when it fell into their lap, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. 
 
"[The owners of Maiz] were offering to sell it to us," says manager David Corona. "They had a really nice place, and we are familiar with the area. If we didn't take it, someone else would, so we wanted to be the ones who did." 
 
With the relatively new Maiz restaurant having recently renovated the 220-seat space, it was a quick transition for Corona and his team, who opened Los Amigos Fiesta two weeks ago before many patrons even knew it had changed hands. 
 
"People are coming in without knowing it, and have been saying everything is good, so we're happy with that," Corona says. "A lot of our regular customers have been stopping by as well."
 
According to Corona, knowing the tastes of the Ann Arbor community has been key to the growth of the family of restaurants. A fourth location isn't planned, but as he mentions, neither was Los Amigos Fiesta. The company will always be on the lookout for great opportunities. 
 
The new restaurant offers a menu similar to their existing restaurants, with a focus on authentic Mexican dishes and standout Happy Hour specials. Los Amigos Fiesta employs a staff of about 25, half of which were new hires after Maiz's move to Ypsilanti's Depot Town.

Source: David Corona, Los Amigos Fiesta
Writer: Natalie Burg

The customer is king at new Syrian restaurant, Damas

Syria native Jawad Seif may be the owner of the new Damas Restaurant in Woodland Plaza on S. Main St., but he leaves no room for doubt who his boss is. 
 
"The customer is the king," says Seif. "Any customer only has to pay if he likes the food. I'm looking to have a customer that trusts me, and I trust them every time."
 
After moving to Ann Arbor from Syria just a year and a half ago, Seif opened Damas Restaurant on Feb. 17. His Mediterranean style includes the hummus, chicken shawarma and falafel diners expect, as well as specialty items, such as stuffed zucchini and okra with rice. All of his foods, Sief says, will have freshness in common. 
 
"The rule here is that everything must be fresh. Every morning we have new ingredients," Seif says. "I'm happy because most of the customers say it's the best Mediterranean food in Ann Arbor."
 
For Seif, Ann Arbor was the perfect place to open his restaurant, as he says the community loves Mediterranean food and has made his family feel welcome from the first day they arrived. 
 
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant seats 40 and employs a staff of six. Seif decorated Damas himself with decor reminiscent of Syria. 

Source: Jawad Seif, Damas Restaurant
Writer: Natalie Burg

Ypsi's Harvest Moon Cafe builds new bar, adds staff

After 28 years in business, the Harvest Moon Cafe in Ypsilanti was in need of some renovations. While the family owned restaurant was at it, they decided to add a full bar and expand their hours. 

"It came about from customers asking for cocktails," says owner Pauline Tzavaras. "We've always had beer and wine, but we didn't have the space to do any cocktails."

After four weeks of renovation, that is no longer the case. Harvest Moon Cafe now includes a full, eight-stool bar. In addition to adding the bar and the complete kitchen renovation, the restaurant, which re-opened about a month ago, now has expanded hours and a menu featuring the return of some customer favorites from the past. 

"We want to be known as a neighborhood bar, but still concentrating on our homestyle food," Tzavaras says. "We've had a great response. We're getting busier and busier."

To accommodate the bar and expanded hours, three new employees have been hired, bringing the Harvest Moon Cafe staff up to 24 workers.

Source: Pauline Tzavaras, Harvest Moon Cafe
Writer: Natalie Burg

Tomukun Noodle Bar expanding on success with Korean barbeque next door

Growing up as a Korean American in Troy, going out for Korean barbecue with his family was a big part of Tom Yon's upbringing. With the success of his four-year-old Tomukun Noodle Bar on a roll in downtown Ann Arbor, he's now bringing that tradition to E. Liberty as well with Tomukun Korean BBQ. 
 
"I thought that Korean barbecue would be a great idea," Yon says. "It's something that's very close to me, close to my heart."
 
When Grand Traverse Pie Company closed in the building next door to his noodle bar, Yon says he knew the opportunity was right to bring the Korean barbecue experience to downtown. The dining concept allows customers to chose their own raw meat and grill it, with the assistance of servers, right at their own table. While some Korean barbecue restaurants are more formal, Yon says Tomukun Korean BBQ will be contemporary and modern. 
 
"It's a lot more casual, a lot more minimalistic," he says. "It will be a place for friends, drinking beer and drinking soju. It's kind like a Korean barbecue/bar." 
 
The 3,150 square foot space has undergone considerable renovation to install the individual grills at each table. The new restaurant will seat about 85 guests between the dining area and bar. Yon anticipates opening at the beginning of April with a staff of about 30 employees.

Source: Tom Yon, Tomukun Korean Barbeque
Writer: Natalie Burg

Simply Spanish joining Mark's Carts lineup this year

When Xavi Vitta moved to Ann Arbor from Spain years ago, what he missed most was the style of restaurant he was used to at home.
 
"Something less ceremonial than a restaurant, with outstanding food," he says. 

With Simply Spanish, a food cart coming to Mark's Carts this spring, he intents to bring exactly that to Ann Arbor. Simply Spanish will feature authentic Spanish foods that are simple, made with fresh ingredients. 

"Eating well has also been a pillar in my upbringing," says Vitta. "I would like to share the joy of eating well with others."

According to Vitta, the food cart format is a perfect fit for his concept, enabling a wide variety of customers to share a few tapas during their meal. The cart itself will reflect the Spanish culture as much as the food, decorated in graphics that celebrate the ceramic art of Gaudi. 

Vitta plans to open Simply Spanish in April of this year with a staff of two, which he intends to grow to three based on demand. He is looking forward to sharing his culture with the Ann Arbor community through his tapas style cuisine. 

Source: Xavi Vitta, Simply Spanish
Writer: Natalie Burg

Menna's Joint to add unique cuisine, 30 jobs to E. William St.

College towns across Michigan have been familiar with the "the Dub" sandwich since Menna's Joint opened in East Lansing in 2003. Now with six locations, the home of the grilled sub/burrito hybrid will soon open a seventh on E. William in Ann Arbor. 
 
"The dub is a unique product and we deliver it to our customer in a variety of ways," says Hank Andries, Menna's Joint owner and president. "We're looking to complement the market in Ann Arbor. There is a lot of competition here, but we're hoping we fill a portion of the market."
 
Andries had actually considered the space prior to former tenant Topper's Pizza's occupancy, but the timing wasn't quite right. When the property broker reached out to Andries last time, however, everything fell into place. 
 
"It was really just about waiting for the right opportunity," Andries says. "There is a lot of demand for space in Ann Arbor, and not a ton of supply. It was just a matter of timing for us."
 
The 1,500-square-foot space will undergo primarily cosmetic renovations as Menna's Joint prepares to open. The restaurant will have seating for 14 diners, as well as offering delivery and carry-out options. Andries intends to open Menna's this spring with a staff of about 30 employees. 
 

Source: Hank Andries, Menna's Joint
Writer: Natalie Burg

Piata to be Main Street Ventures' "most exciting" new restaurant

Anyone disappointed by the recent closing of Kuroshio on E. Liberty won't have long to wait before another culinary adventure takes over the space. According to Main Street Venture's Dennis Serras, the Mediterranean-inspired Piata restaurant set to open May 8 will not disappoint. 
 
"I haven't been this excited about a concept since I opened Real Safood 38 years ago. I'm just really excited abouths place I think we're going to blow the doors off. 
 
Serras says Piata was inspired by an Italian eatery in Toronto featuring a youthful spirit and interactive dining experiences. The approximately 6,000 square foot restaurant will feature high-top dining, an open-air antipasto bar and portion sizes on both food and wines that encourage diners to try a variety of options during each meal. 
 
"When I saw this, it absolutely clicked," Serras says. "I knew what the restaurant had to be. I wasn't going to be one those old-style Greek restaurants with Caesar's head or busts on the wall and grapes everywhere."  
 
Piata is expected to seat about 150 diners inside, and Serras plans to create outdoor seating as well. The menu will include items from Italy, Greece, Morocco and Spain, such as braised chicken with figs, house-made yogurt cheese crustini and baked orzo.
 
Though all renovations on the recently updated space will be cosmetic, Serras says the look and feel will be entirely new. Piata is expected to open in May with a staff of about 75. Serras anticipates the restaurant will fit in well with some of the newer downtown restaurants he admires, such as Mani Osteria, Vellum and Aventura. 
 

Source: Dennis Serras, Main Street Ventures
Writer: Natalie Burg

Jolly Pumkin gets new facility in Dexter, to add a taproom

The forthcoming null Taphouse at the Jolly Pumpkin facility in Dexter has been a long time coming. 
 
"Ever since Lori and I opened Jolly Pumpkin we wanted to have a tasting room in the brewery," says owner Ron Jeffries. "We opened with a ridiculous shoestring budget, and then we kind of went back and forth over the next ten years of having either not enough space or money at the time."
 
After moving into a new, 70,000 square foot facility last year, the time is finally right for that vision to be fulfilled. A 5,000 square foot space in the building will be dedicated to the taproom and tasting area, the plans for which are still under development. One thing Jeffries knows for sure is that it will come together with the input of their customers. 
 
"We always want to get our fans involved," Jeffries says. "We want them to have the opportunity to participate in building out the taproom."
 
To support the project, customers can join a number of "clubs" by donating funds in exchange for different ways to be a part of the project, such as sponsoring a booth or having their name included on a wall.
 
The null Taphouse will serve beer tastings, light snacks and possibly sandwiches, include seating, and will also host tours. Jeffries says customers often stop by the facility, and he's looking forward to being able to give them the opportunity to look around. An additional five to ten employees will initially be hired to staff the business. Though progress will depend on a number of factors, he hopes the taproom will be open to the public by early summer.

Source: Ron Jeffries, Jolly Pumpkin 
Writer: Natalie Burg
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