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Posted on Sun, May 20, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Andy French of Aubree's Pizzeria talks about the restaurant industry, expansion plans

By Lizzy Alfs


Andy French of Aubree's Pizzeria at the Ypsilanti Township location on Whittaker Road.

Melanie Maxwell |

When Andy French’s parents opened Aubree’s in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town in the 1970s, the goal was for it to become a corner bar hangout spot.

In the early years, and even up until 2003, more than 80 percent of the bar’s revenue came from alcohol sales while food took a backseat.

“We made a decision to transition our business, even at a point where we were doing very well. We thought, for our long-term success, we would need to go into food and offer more than alcohol.” - Aubree's CFO Andy French

Fast-forward to 2012, and the restaurant — which now has five locations in Michigan — has successfully switched its focus to become a family-friendly pizza eatery. The restaurant’s food menu, even at the original Depot Town location, now accounts for about 70 percent of sales.

“We made a decision to transition our business, even at a point where we were doing very well,” explained French, the vice president and chief financial officer. “We thought, for our long-term success, we would need to go into food and offer more than alcohol.”

French, along with his parents and co-owners Sandee and Bill, also recently began franchising their restaurant concept, and the first Aubree’s franchise location opened in Dexter last summer.

With sales continuing to grow at the restaurant’s various locations and heavy interest from people looking to open additional Aubree’s franchises, Andy French is making time to look at statewide issues facing the restaurant industry at his newly-appointed role on the Michigan Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors.

The MRA — a group that aims to enhance the hospitality industry and represents more than 4,500 restaurants statewide — has 22 board members that are nominated and then appointed by the association. Board members meet quarterly to discuss issues and goals in the industry, and there are various committees that board members join.


Aubree's in Ypsilanti's Depot Town.

aubrees saloon

Michigan restaurant industry

Statistics from the National Restaurant Association:

  • In 2012, Michigan’s restaurants are projected to register $12.6 billion in sales.
  • There were 16,069 restaurants in Michigan in 2010.
  • Restaurants in Michigan employ 374,800 people, or 9 percent of total employment in the state.
  • A study says 1 in 4 restaurants close or change ownership in the first year.

French is participating in ProStart, a nationwide, two-year program for high school students interested in the restaurant industry. He also hopes to leverage his position to look at policy issues.

“I think that there are opportunities — and I’m still pretty green in the process — but there is a chance to help,” he said. “There are challenges with liquor license transfers and when you take over a former restaurant, the policy on how the former owner’s insurance rating transfers to the new owner.”

He added: “It can make it difficult to expand and succeed, especially in the early years of a new restaurant.”

French, who grew up in Ypsilanti and lives in Ann Arbor, feels passionately that restaurants enhance a community. But it's an industry with an extremely high failure rate — one Ohio State University study says one in four restaurants closes or changes ownership in the first year — and French said it’s critical to constantly evaluate a business’ performance, look and menu.

“We work on really having a handle on our costs,” he said. “In this industry, you can lose money very quickly, whether it be commodity prices spiking or having excess staff you may not need. It’s important for the success to stay on top of those things.”

Although the Dexter location is now up and running and renovations were recently completed at the Ypsilanti Township restaurant, French and his parents don’t plan on resting anytime soon.

French said a goal this year for Aubree’s is to build on the delivery business, which already accounts for about 30 percent of sales at the Aubree’s in Ypsilanti Township.

Another goal: Selling additional franchise locations, possibly bringing the popular restaurant to Ann Arbor.

“Our focus and energy is on selling franchises,” French said. “We are in conversations with three different investors who are interested in adding locations and we’re hopefully going to make it happen.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or at Follow her on Twitter at



Mon, May 21, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

Love the feta bread....never take that signature item off the menu....come to Canton next....gotta love Aubree's but wish it was closer to home!!!!!

John Hritz

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

"In 2012, Michigan's restaurants are projected to register $12.6 billion in sales...restaurants in Michigan employ 374,800 people, or 9 percent of total employment in the state." What is the average salary for these 400k people? What can ProStart graduates expect to earn?


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Love their pizza and the kids like going there too. Thanks for adding apples as a side for the kids.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

I love to see a local business doing well but there are some concerns I have. It seems with there growth that the French s have left the original Depot town Aubrees behind. Over the last couple of years it would seem that the quality of service and product has plummeted. Also I have enjoyed relaxing on the Tiki bar or front patio in the evening for years but this spring we have decided to go elsewhere due to the ever increasing fights between Aubrees c@#k jock bouncer and any random victim he may find. There are many things I love about Depot town and Aubrees but there are also many concerns. One last thing if you have a teenager beware. My daughter has informed me over the last year that it has become a place for her school friends either to sneak in and drink or use there fake IDs. Please bring the love back to Depot Town.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

Their food was better ...much better...and the atmosphere funner and more original...before Aubrees watered every thing down and sold out to franchise their concept. The menu is blah and the quality and service not what it used to be with this restaurant. They made everything generic and are trying hard to be Applebees.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Goofus, I agree with your assumption. When I got married in 1994 and moved to the area two years later, the wife and I enjoyed the food at Aubree's. However, once they decided to change the menu here recently the food has never been the same. I do miss the pizza role appetizers.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

I cannot figure out if this is a newspaper story or an add


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

Ill drive from Adrian for that wheat crust pizza...and like it.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

Aubrees is great food with wonderful people times five locations!


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

Aubree's is a great place to eat and drink!

Dick Mattie

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.

Aubrees and the French family have always been supportive of the community and always step up to help out. Great pizza and wings, great service and responsive to customer needs.

Chaz H

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

My favorite pizza anywhere... and I have tried a lot of pizza a lot of place.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

It is nice to hear about a local business having success. I enjoy your food often and have used your private room a few times for family functions. Always a great experience.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

I now get to eat at Aubree's in the town I live in, Dexter! Thank you for opening in my town. We eat at your place often now that its close to home. Love your pizza and the new Spinach Potato Skins.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

My family has been to three of the Aubree's locations and enjoyed each one! The kids and I love the pizza and they always pick Aubree's for their birthday treat. It's nice to see a business prosper that began in Ypsilanti and I wish them well.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

I love Aubree's! I like how they keep their menu fresh by changing it up a couple times a year. I'm glad they are expanding into new neighborhoods. Hopefully soon I can eat at an Aubree's in any city I visit. Congrats Aubree's on your success!


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:52 p.m.

Menu items disappearing, prices going up, more focus on drinks than food and a huge issues with service and food quality in the last year, we won't be going back after being long term customers. Things have definitely changed but not in a good way!

Ron Granger

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Aubree's is famous for putting advertising fliers on my porch, and my neighbors' porches. They blow around the neighborhood. When you ask them to stop, they ignore you. I'll never eat their product.


Tue, May 22, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

Perhaps you should shake your fist at them in a more vehement fashion. That'll teach 'em!


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 12:33 a.m.


Mary Dixon

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:47 p.m.

By 1984, when I worked there (Aubree's/Depot Town), some colorful locals still patronized the place (anyone remember Red?!). Our staff was a close group of friends that hung out together, dated each other (and some of the regulars who were merely taking a break from dating other Aubree's employee's!), went to the Tiger game, to the drive in in on MI Ave and if course, to weddings that resulted from staff hookup (like my own sis and brother in law! I worked with him there before she worked there! They recently celebrated their 25th anniversary and now she runs a successful catering operation in VA and he is still a great cook- and always makes Aubree's veggie sandwiches when we go there). They would feed us when we had spent our paychecks, and this EMU student never had to starve while putting myself through college with grants and loans. Great people and thank you for the whole wheat crust we now love! PS- I remember Andy when he was a cute kid coming in the bar!


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

My memory is a little hazy. At some point a softball Bar League was set up--Spaghetti Bender, Alibi, etc., on Frog Island.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

A little history is required here. Bill French did not open Aubree's as a start up operation. His father already had a successful shot and beer bar, The Alibi Bar, at that spot. It's clientele was comprised mainly from the patrons of other drinking establishments that had been "barred" everywhere else in town. As a student at EMU in the late 60's/early 70's, my friends and I patronized The Alibi regularly but not without a small amount of apprehension. As a "hippie" college student entering that "redneck" bar, it wasn't unusual to find yourself ducking a ball from the pool table as it flew across the room in your direction.