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Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week helps chefs attract new customers and try out new flavors

By Ben Freed


Food is plated at Grizzly Peak during Ann Arbor Restaurant Week on Monday, Jan. 21. The regular menu is still available this week, in addition to the three-course $28 Restaurant Week menu.

Daniel Brenner |

The middle of winter is usually one of the slowest times of the year for restaurants, but one downtown steakhouse will go through 1,000 filet mignons this week.

Businesses across the city look forward to Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, when their seats are full and their chefs can experiment.

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“We love this week in the middle of winter,” Chop House district manager Sue Burke said.

“We do a 100 percent increase in covers, and about half of those are new customers, people who’ve never eaten here before.”

Businesses up and down Main Street, as well as a few others sprinkled across the city owe a debt of gratitude to the owners of now-closed Bella Ciao, who returned from a vacation in San Diego with the idea of bringing the city’s “Restaurant Week” to Ann Arbor.

“The first time we did it was in the summer of 2009, and we had 21 restaurants involved,” Main Street Area Association director Maura Thomson said. This January there are 55 participating restaurants, up from 49 last year.

“I like to look at this as a community event, and a lot of our restaurant owners are great team players so they want to be part of something unified.”

That feeling of unity has led restaurants outside the downtown core to get involved with the event. Thomson said she does not solicit the participation of restaurants outside the Main Street Area Association, but that anyone can participate as long as they meet the menu criteria.

Restaurants involved in the promotion must offer a $15 or two-for-$15 lunch and a multi-course dinner that costs either $28 per person or per couple.

“Because we’re not on Main Street and we’re not that far away either, we like to be a part of the community that the Main Street Area Association works to create,” Mediterrano manager Ray Borden said.

“We’re kind of out of the way, our location is a little obscure, so being a part of restaurant week gives us an exposure that we might not get otherwise.”

Mediterrano, on South State Street near Eisenhower Parkway, uses the week to create a menu that combines some of its traditional menu items with new creations. At Cafe Felix on Main Street, the emphasis for restaurant week menus is on creating a new and unique experience.

“For lunch we look to be creative but also keep speed in mind,” co-owner Felix Landrum said. “At night people seem to be a bit more laid back and willing to hang out a little bit longer so we have a bit more flexibility there.”

Landrum said he enjoys restaurant week, and that it increases his business by about 50 percent versus a normal winter week.

“It creates an interesting situation because you put food out there that isn’t necessarily on your menu and you have a lot of first-time customers who are then trying food that you don’t necessarily have regularly,” he said.


Patrons eat at Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant (318 S Main St.) on Monday, Jan. 21.

Daniel Brenner I

Other restaurants use the week to simply draw attention to items that are already available. Grand Traverse Pie Company on East Liberty Street joined restaurant week for the first time this winter, but did not create a special menu.

“Ours is more of an open menu,” owner Dave Ziegler said.

“What we’re doing is people can come in and order two entrees with two beverages and two desserts for $15… We’re trying to attract attention and we’re using the week to make people aware that we’re here.”

Ziegler said he’s been very pleased with the response from his first foray into the event. He had no expectations going in, but has noticed a significant increase in new customers.

“We’re contemplating running our own similar promotion thought the year occasionally,” he said.

“And we’ll definitely continue to be a part of restaurant week. It gets people into downtown Ann Arbor and it definitely works for us.”

The one demographic that may not be thrilled with restaurant week are the restaurant employees. Landrum said customers are not always as understanding as they could be of the added demands that the week puts on waiters, chefs and cooks.

“I would plead for patience, especially as far as lunch goes,” he said.

“We do a three-course lunch, and people come in with only an hour for their break and the place is overflowing and they can get a little testy. Just know that everyone is trying to do their best to serve you the best food possible.”

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

Ben, your absolutely correct. But then again when I think Restaurant Week I don't think Grand Traverse Pie Company, not even a special menu. I was really hoping to hear about the new flavors and I just didn't that out of the article.

Julie Baker

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

I was pretty excited to see chicken and waffles on the menu at Vinology, where I'll be dining tonight. I know that's not on the restaurant's usual menu, so I'm interested to taste their version of it. I know how you love those southern staples, Ben!

Kyle Nathaniel

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Please tip your server appropriately. 15%-20% of the total bill. Many servers have to share their tips with bartenders, bussers, food runners, and sometimes even the hosts. These people are not serving you food because they have nothing better to do. They do it to make a living. They have bills to pay just like you. Yes, Restaurant Week is a time to dine out and enjoy a bargain meal but it is not a time to be a cheapskate.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

It would be really great if you could write about the restaurants that 'aren't' on Main Street. Most of us who live in A2 are very familiar with the 'regular' food....I'd like to hear about the unique food that the Chef's are cooking up.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

Commentmyway, If you noticed, we included Mediterrano and Grand Traverse Pie Company in this story, neither of which are on Main Street. You can see a complete list of the participating restaurants at

Ed Kimball

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

A group of thirteen of us had a great meal and a great experience at Mercy's Tuesday night. We had been there for drinks before, but this was our first time for dinner. We were very pleased. We were a little surprised that we had only one waiter waiting on us (with minor help from the rest of the staff), but Matt did a great job keeping all the meals (and bills!) straight and correcting the minor mistakes that did occur. We'll definitely be going back.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

I won't go out for Restaurant Week anymore. Too many bad experiences over the past few years. I will pay the regular price any other week and generally get better food and service.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Nice job Restaurants!! I think all these places mentioned do a great job! People like Dave, Felix and Sue have great restaurants and staff who make great food and service for A2!

Kyle Feldscher

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

The fact that people are getting angry at the waitstaffs when these places are way busier than usual depresses me. Why can't people just enjoy a good meal at a good price?


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

Another thing to consider is that there is more to running a restaurant than staffing alone. Some places aren't built to handle the kind of capacity that comes through during restaurant week, regardless of how much you staff. It won't matter how many line cooks you have if there is no more room in the oven.

E Claire

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:46 p.m.

Thank you Kyle. People need to remember that the waitstaff has no control over staffing or how quickly the kitchen prepares an order.

Kyle Feldscher

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

nuseph - I'm happy to say I've had nothing but good experiences at the restaurants I've gone to this week. I was at Isalita on Tuesday and I swear there were as many people working as there were customers. I can't vouch for all the restaurants, but both Isalita and Miki have been very well staffed.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

@nuseph - You hit the nail on the head. Restaurant Week is not an excuse for restaurants to get "more revenue at the same level of fixed costs." They need to staff the establishment appropriately. That means the appropriate number of waitstaff, bussers, line cooks, and so on. An establishment that leaves its patrons wondering who is in charge is an establishment that is going to lose a potential long-term customer. There are simply too many fine eateries in this city to tolerate poor service. I am a customer - not a worshipper who's being offered the "privilege" of parting with my money. Treat me accordingly, and you (the restaurant) will reap the benefits in the long run.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Agree that getting angry over slow service would be an overreaction. That said, if a place is going to participate in RW, with the goal of getting a lot of people in the door, it should be prepared to staff that crowd accordingly.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

Huh? If by new flavors you mean "stripped down menus," and "the lowest price items we usually offer, except in a package deal" then that would be pretty accurate.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Rats wish you could do these articles before things start ( 3 days ago ) . I wanted to make a " just be sure not to eat there on Mondays" comment.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:22 p.m.

tdw and Andy, Here are some articles that have been published starting Sunday (Five days ago) in about restaurant week. Hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to email me directly with further questions about our coverage.

Andy T

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

I'll second TDW's comment. I'm often bummed to find highlights from an event that I had no warning about. Even if it was a quick blurb. This is where I come for local if it's not here, I miss it.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

"...about half of those are new customers, people who've never been eaten here before."


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

Sshhhhh . . . I know a place . . .

An Arborigine

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

Good to know cannibalism is no longer on the menu!

Ben Freed

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

Well, that's embarrassing. Thanks for pointing it out, it's been fixed!


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Sorry according to the head line, 'chef's try out new flavors'. Totally missed the new flavors these chefs were trying out in the article.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

Eighty, That was a reference to the chefs building new menu items that do not appear on the regular menu. Sorry if there was some confusion.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Here's a hint from the fourth paragraph: " . . . people who've never been eaten here before."