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Grand Rapids-based HopCat to open in downtown Ann Arbor, create 140 new jobs

A Grand Rapids favorite that has been popping up across Michigan will soon make an appearance in downtown Ann Arbor. BarFly Ventures, the firm behind more than one popular Grand Rapids bar recently announced their fifth HopCat location will open at 311-315 Maynard Ave. The $2 million investment in the former Borders space will result 140 new local jobs.
 
"Ann Arbor is such a great town for dining, entertainment and culture, it was a really logical fit," says Chris Knape, marketing and communications director for Barfly Ventures. "We think that adding HopCat to the mix will add to the excitement downtown." 

Just when Ann Arborites though they'd seen it all, HopCat will offer the largest draft system in the city with 100 varieties of craft beer on tap. A year after opening in East Lansing, work will soon begin on the 8,600 square foot space. But visitors to other HopCat locations shouldn't expect to see a cookie cutter remake.

"We're going to completely gut the space and add a unique design to it," says Knape. "Whenever we open a new location, each place feels different. Ann Arbor is going to feel a lot different from the location in East Lansing, just like East Lansing feels different from Grand Rapids."

The Ann Arbor HopCat is expected to open in January of 2015.  

Source: Chris Knape, HopCat
Writer: Natalie Burg

Grillcheezerie brings fancy cheese, artisan bread and new jobs to Packard

It's hard to imagine anything better than a grilled cheese sandwich made with gourmet cheese and artisan bread, but Nick Costos has one idea: having that toasty, gooey sandwich delivered right to your door. Grilled cheese delivery, as well as dine-in eating, is coming to Packard St. in August with Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe

"We're so used to American cheese and Wonder Bread," says Costos, who previously owned Mr. Greek's Coney Island. "We're going to use artisan bread and different types of cheddars, munsters, goudas, provolones and other specialty cheeses, and then coming up with different signature sandwiches." 

Those could include pizza-style grilled cheeses with pepperoni or wild mushroom with pesto, parsley and goat cheese. Costos came up with the idea after living in Montreal for the past eight years and being inspired by the small cheese shops and bakeries there.

"I've always wanted to get back into the business," he says. "And I love this town. I don't think you can get this vibe in too many places." 

The 1,500 square foot Packard St. space is now under renovation, which Costos hopes to complete by the end of the month. He plans to open Grillcheezerie the first or second week of August. The restaurant will initially employ a staff of about four, and will offer dine-in seating for 12 to 15 diners, as well as delivery.

Source: Nick Costos, Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe
Writer: Natalie Burg

Renovated Sushi.com to reopen as Miya with new foods and larger staff

Sushi.com closed its doors on June 4, but fans of the restaurant need not worry. It's soon to return as Miya, a Japanese and Korean food restaurant with a new look, new staff and new foods... as well as most of the old favorites. 

"We did the renovation for the whole restaurant," says owner Don Kim. "Everything is changed to a modern, Japanese style. We're building a whole new restaurant."

Kim says the menu will largely be the same but with the addition of some new appetizers and a wider selection of Korean foods than were offered previously. He decided on the name Miya, as that is how most Americans pronounce his wife's name, and it also translates in Japanese to "palace."

One thing that will definitely stay the same, says Kim, is his commitment to quality, healthy food.

"We are try to make everything fresh," he says. "It's clean and fresh and high quality food. Everyone knows Korean and Japanese food is healthy, and healthy is our main concern." 

The total renovation of the space began a few months ago, and Kim expect work to be completed and the restaurant open within about a week. The 1,300 square foot space will seat about 55 diners. Kim is now hiring two to three additional employees to staff Miya. A new website for the restaurant is forthcoming. 
 
Source: Don Kim, Miya
Writer: Natalie Burg

Jersey Mike's brings East Coast taste and 20 jobs to Ann Arbor

When Peter Shipman and Mike Wagner opened their first Jersey Mike's Subs on Carpenter Rd. in 2012, it was also the first of its kind in Michigan. The franchise now has 11 locations in the state and the Ann Arbor natives have opened their third, in Westgate shopping center. 

"We're just looking to expand as quickly as we can, but also taking our time to choose a good area," says Wagner, who is an operating partner with franchisee Shipman. "It was the right time in terms having space available in Westgate."

The Huron and Pioneer High School graduates blend the authentically East Coast sub style of fresh baked New Jersey bread, hand-sliced meats and cheeses and a vinegar and oil blend with Ann Arbor sensibilities of getting fresh produce from local supplier Frog Holler. Getting friendly with local customers is also a part of their store culture.

"We make our subs in front of the customers, and we like to get to know them," Wagner says. "We encourage banter back and forth. We like to think we give friendly service."

The new Jersey Mike's in Westgate opened last weeks after six to eight weeks of renovation work to the former pet shop space. The restaurant seats about 30 diners and employs a staff of about 20. Wagner and Shipman also own a location in Canton and plan to continue to expand their business.

Source: Mike Wagner, Jersey Mike's
Writer: Natalie Burg

Michigan wines, ciders and education to be served up at Vin Bar on Liberty

Michigan wine is booming business. As far as Traverse City tasting rooms and wineries go, however, it's also a seasonal one. That's why, about two years ago, Good Harbor Vineyards, Black Star Farms and L. Mawby started talking about partnering to open an off-site wine bar and tasting room in a city with year-round traffic. 

"Ann Arbor is definitely busy in the winter months, and the demographics in Ann Arbor are fantastic," says Taylor Simpson, sales, distribution and marketing manager for Good Harbor Vineyards. "And there just seems to be a lot of support for all things local in Ann Arbor."

Vin Bar, a wine bar, tasting room and wine retail store will open this summer in the former location of the Skin Bar on W. Liberty. In addition to wine, the bar will serve ciders, limited food items and cocktails featuring wine and cider. Wine tasting will be available during the day. A Michigan wines education will offered at all hours. 

"We're hoping to provide an educational experience about wine, but more specifically about Michigan wine, to show people what is going on in the industry," Simpson says. "We are three wineries that have a long history of making wine in Michigan, and we're hoping to bring a lot of that knowledge with us."

While no opening date has been set, the Vin Bar is slated to potentially open in July. The 1,100 square foot space is now under renovation, though because of the building's historic character, Simpson says that they don't have too much to do to create their unique space. She expects the bar will hire around five employees to staff the business.

Source: Taylor Simpson, Good Harbor Vinyard
Writer: Natalie Burg

Romania-inspired chimney cake restaurant opens this month at Briarwood

When Teo Marcinescul went to Romania last year, he tried something he'd never tasted before. It was a cylinder of sweet dough with a sugar glazed, dipped in toppings. And it was delicious. 

"I was like, 'Wow, these are amazing,'" says Marcinescul. "Why don't we have these in America?"

The pastry is called a Chimney Cake, and after Marcinescul and his two traveling partners did their research and developed a business plan, they became available in Taylor, and soon, they'll be making their debut at Briarwood Mall with the Chimney Cake Cafe

"So far, everybody likes it," Marcinescul says of their reception in Taylor. "We decided to open the second location, and hopefully we'll keep growing from there."

The chimney cakes are made from a sweet dough that is wrapped around a rod a baked with a coat of sugar. When the dough is baked, the sugar caramelizes, and customers can choose from a range of toppings, including walnuts, Nutella, Oreos, peanut butter and more. The Chimney Cake Cafe will also offer savory cakes stuffed with chicken shawarma, Philly cheesesteak and pepperoni, among other options. 

The Chimney Cake Cafe opened its first store in the Southland Mall in Taylor in February. The Briarwood location will be located near the Chipotle and Potato & Co. restaurant and will open within about two weeks. 

Eight employees are currently working at the Taylor location, and Marcinescul anticipates hiring at least as many for the Briarwood store. Marcinescul hopes to continue to add more stores to their business in the future.

Source: Teo Marcinescul, Chimney Cake Cafe
Writer: Natalie Burg

Real Baked Goods to bring handmade treats to Packard St. neighborhood

Cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies are in store for the small storefront next to Arbor Vacuum on Packard St. Alan Caldwell's Real Baked Goods will be serving up sweet and savory delights beginning later this year. 

"I'm very excited about it. It's going to be baking from scratch," says Caldwell, who is returning to his first vocational love of food service after 20 years with Ford and opening a home health company. "I don't expect to see everyone everyday, but hopefully I'll have a lot of once or twice a week customers."

The 285 square foot space is small, but Caldwell says its just right for what he's planning to do. Over the next few months he'll be adding new counters, display cases, and kitchen equipment. He plans to have enough room for two tables and four chairs for customers, who will have chose between a variety of baked good from Caldwell's kitchen.

"I definitely want to have some savory things for lunch time," he says, "things like pepperoni rolls and spinach rolls. It's been really fun to test recipes. I've gotten some good feedback."

Caldwell plans to open Read Baked Goods in late August. Initially, he plans to operate the business himself, with some help from family members.

Source: Alan Caldwell, Real Baked Goods
Writer: Natalie Burg

Southern California-style Mexican food comes to Ann Arbor

There may be a few places to get burritos around Ann Arbor, but a whole different kind of Mexican food is coming to town as early as next week with Get Some Burritos

"The owners and investors are from Southern California, and it has a unique kind of Mexican food. They call it SoCal Mexican," says Get Some Burritos General Manager Devon Bivens. "There was some interest in the Midwest to bring SoCal Mexican here."

The first Get Some Burritos opened in Madison, Wisconsin, and Ann Arbor will be the second location. Bevins describes SoCal Mexican as including different spices than the TexMex food many Midwesterners are used to, and including steak instead of ground beef. 

"I think it's going to bring something a little bit different to Ann Arbor," Bevins says. "There are different kinds of Mexican around, but this is a different flavor profile."

The 1,200 square foot restaurant on Packard will seat about 24 people and employ a staff of about 12. Bevins hopes the near-campus area will attracts students on the go to and from classes. After about six months of renovations, Get Some Burritos is hoping to open by May 15. 

Source: Devon Bivens, Get Some Burritos
Writer: Natalie Burg

New Dexter business spices up downtown

After 14 years as a public school teacher, Denise Becker decided to spice things up with her business in downtown Dexter. The Dexter Spice House offers spices, rubs and spice blends that are unique to the area. 

Becker's interest in spices began when she her daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease four years ago. Rather that relying on pizza and take-out to feed her busy family as she had before, Becker was inspired to take to the kitchen and learn how to cook foods her daughter would love. Spices became key to her success. 

"I loved it," Becker says. "I was always on the hunt for different species and rubs and blends. When I had the idea to open my own store, I just decided to go for it."

The Dexter Spice House offers a variety of unique spice rubs like honey chipotle and an adobo lime, and blends such as shawarma, spicy thai, as well as all-purpose blends named after ares of Dexter.

"My blends are ones that you just can't find at any grocery store," Becker says. "Even the nice spice shop in at Ann Arbor — they have some blends that I don't have, but I have some they don't have."

Becker is now working to develop her online presence and expand her business to the web. She currently operates the shop herself with help from her mother and a part-time employee. 

Source: Denise Becker, Dexter Spice House
Writer: Natalie Burg

Salads Up to bring healthy food in a hurry to Liberty

Robert Mayer may be about to embark on his first restaurant venture, but the University of Michigan graduate has plenty of experience as an Ann Arbor diner on the go. After exploring franchising options to address the lack of both quick and healthy food options downtown with his business partner, the two decided to develop their own concept. The result will be Salads Up on E. Liberty. 

"This is not a traditional self-serve ‘salad bar,'" says Mayer. "It is a fast casual concept in which the customer chooses from our many ingredient options and our awesome homemade dressings. The offerings will include what most people associate with salads but will also have some creative twists."

In addition to salads and salad-like options, Salads Up will also offer wraps, soups and frozen yogurt. Mayer is currently working with his chef to develop a unique menu that emphasizes quality as well as local ingredients. 

The 1,200 square foot space will be entirely renovated to accommodate the new restaurant, including new plumbing, electrical, venting systems and interior cosmetic work.

"The building itself is not currently equipped to be a restaurant and will require some significant work," Mayer says. "We simply could not pass up on the location."

Renovation are slated to begin this week, and Mayer plans to open Salads Up by the end of the summer, and will hire about 11 employees. He hopes their success in Ann Arbor will lead to more Salads Up locations in other cities. 

Source: Robert Mayer, Salads Up
Writer: Natalie Burg

Burger restaurant with local focus opening in Ypsilanti

A new local restaurant with a local focus will soon be serving up burgers on Cross St. in Ypsilanti. Got Burger, the idea of lifelong resident and Eastern Michigan University Graduate Haroun Mohammed will serve prime-grade Certified Angus Beef sourced from Toledo and breads from Detroit. 

"I don't think there is another place around that uses prime, Certified Angus Beef," Mohammed says. "It will also be a price that will be affordable to a majority of the community."

Got Burger will also feature wings and portobello burgers. The restaurant, now under renovation, will include room for 20 to 25 diners, as well as offering takeout and delivery services. 

"We're going to start small and grow into our next location. We're hoping this is the first of many," says Mohammed. 

In addition to local ingredients and creating local jobs — Mohammed plans to open Got Burger with up to five workers and help from a couple of relatives — exemplary customer service will be a focus at the restaurant. 

Mohammed is aiming to open Got Burger in mid-May. 

Source: Haroun Mohammed, Got Burger
Writer: Natalie Burg

$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
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