Wurst Bar owners transforming former Theo's space in Ypsilanti
After 37 years of serving the Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University communities, Theo’s Bar and Grille has closed and a new restaurant, The Wurst Bar, is close to opening in the same space.
Theo’s co-owner George Tangalakis reached an agreement to sell the restaurant 15 months after placing it on the market. He said he received several interested potential buyers.
The Michigan Liquor Control Commission must now approve the transfer of the bar's liquor license, which was negotiated as part of the sale.
The 3,814-square-foot bar, located at 705 W. Cross St., was originally listed for sale in June 2010 by Swisher Commercial broker Tony Caprarese for $515,190. The deal closed Dec. 20, 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
Jesse Kranyack, managing partner of the Wurst Bar, said he expects to open the bar Jan. 8.
“We’re just doing some design work," Kranyack said.
Kranyack said previous patrons of Theo’s are in for a shock when the bar reopens as the Wurst Bar.
“They’re not going to recognize anything,” he said. “The only thing they’ll recognize is the outside of the building and we’ll be doing some work on that soon. I do want to try and draw a bigger demographic. I kind of want to open that up and see if we can get some people from Ann Arbor and some of the people to cross the bridge from Depot Town.”
Kranyack, who attended Eastern Michigan University 13 years ago, also runs a high-end restaurant on Kelleys Island in Ohio, Kelleys Island House Martini Bar, which operates only during the summer.
Opening a bar in Ypsilanti coincides well with the schedule for his other business and allows him to exercise a bit of creativity.
“We were looking for something that could draw in a larger crowd than just Ypsilanti,” he said. “We wanted to do something that was fun and something that we could be creative with and it kind of got narrowed down to gourmet bratwurst and sausage. With this, the sky’s the limit.”
Kranyack said future customers can expect to have a mixture of the “usual” and the quite “unusual” meal offerings. Individuals with tamer taste buds can try a traditional “Wurst” on a nine-grain bun or a variety of vegetarian options such as the “Vegetarian Apple and Pecan,” which will be making an appearance on the menu soon.
Those with a more exotic appetite can try menu selections like rabbit and venison, gator and crawfish boudin or a lamb and bison offering.
It’s worth noting that all of the burgers will be in-house ground. Whether it’s a regular beef burger or one with unsual toppings, such as the “Nut Burger”—which features aged cheddar, bacon and crunchy peanut butter— there is something for everyone, Kranyack said.
“Really what this place needs is a menu that everyone else doesn’t have,” he said. When the liquor license transfer is approved by the state, customers can expect a variety of beverages as well.
“We’re going to have a full section of craft beer and local beer,” he said.
Kranyack believes that the Ypsilanti area is largely underdeveloped and is hopeful he can capitalize upon it.
“You have about 22,000 students that go to Eastern and you have one restaurant in close proximity to campus,” he said. “I don’t really view businesses in this area as competitors There are customers here no matter what. There’s not enough diversity in Ypsilanti. In Ann Arbor, you can walk anywhere and it’s all right there and accessible.”
Kranyack said former Theo’s patrons may see a lot of new changes but some traditions will be kept at the new bar.
“One of the traditions of Theo’s that sticks out in my mind is the Thursday and Monday night events when they have a DJ, we’re going to keep that going,” he said.
He also plans to keep some of the memorabilia throughout the bar since Theo’s was such a large part of the Ypsilanti and EMU community.
“I’m going to put some of the paddles up in the backroom where the pool table is,” Kranyack said. “All of the pictures of Eastern will be in the front of the bar.”
Kranyack said he was able to retain the majority of the former Theo’s staff but he’s looking to hire more employees.
“We’re increasing the staff by almost triple,” he said. “Theo’s was a bar that opened at 9 at night. We’re bringing in an actual restaurant that will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. It’s a whole new place going in here. We’re looking for servers and cashiers.”
Tangalakis said although he is pleased with the new team, selling was a bittersweet moment.
“We are very happy with the team taking over and at the same time, it’s closure and now you have to bring yourself to the realization that you no longer have to wake up and think about the details about running the business,” he said. “All of a sudden, it was a reality check. Everything came to a point then. It was very emotional.”
Between Facebook and his cell phone, reaction to the closing of the bar was instantaneous and overwhelming.
“I’d have to use a calculator to figure out how many people told me ‘I met my husband or I met my wife at Theo’s,’” Tangalakis said. “To see those comments and genuine thoughts, it’s just wonderful. I don’t even know what words to use. It’s uplifting to be an intricate and happy portion of their lives.”
Above all, Tangalakis said he and his sister, Theo’s co-owner Cerene Tangalakis, will miss the friendships they made at the bar and memories.
“Thirty-two years of friends,” he said. “Theo’s was the Cheers bar of Ypsilanti when you think about all of those people that walked through the door. My fondest memories are of Homecoming Week for 32 years. It was like a family reunion. It was absolutely a delight.”
In addition to providing the community with memories, Theo’s also provided many EMU students with jobs.
“We probably employed, over 32 years collectively, a couple thousand students,” he said.
Although patrons will miss Theo’s, Tangalakis is hopeful his former customers will frequent Wurst Bar as well.
“I would hope that all of those folks we enjoyed as patrons and friends will continue to patronize what is now known as the former Theo’s Bar and Grille,” he said. “I believe they’ll be a great addition to the Ypsilanti area. I know that management team is going to do an exceptional job. I am quite certain that they will remain immersed and engaged with the university and its population.”
Katrease Stafford is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com.