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Posted on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 4:30 p.m.

Ann Arbor's Passport Restaurant and Lounge, in former Chi-Chi's space, adds to lunch offerings and free live entertainment

By Angela Smith

You might call it the Chi-Chi's curse.

Chi-Chi’s, a Mexican restaurant once located at 3776 South State St. in Ann Arbor, closed in 2004 when the chain folded.

Cherry Blossom Restaurant moved into the space in 2006, but it too went under, in 2008.

The imposing right-angled building sat vacant again until October of 2010 when Passport Restaurant and Lounge opened.

Since then, Passport has become a place where you can find free live entertainment, well-priced lunches and a packed parking lot — even on weeknights.

Has Passport broken the Chi-Chi’s curse?

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Owner Jenny Wu stands in front of one of Passport Restaurant and Lounge's Japanese tatami rooms.

“I hope so,” says owner Jenny Wu. “We’re getting on the right track.”

If anyone would know how to break the streak of bad luck, she would. Wu worked in the building as a college student when it was owned by Chi-Chi’s. A Pioneer High School alumna, and a University of Michigan Business School grad, she moved here from Shanghai when she was young.

She's no stranger to the task of running a restaurant — or two. Her mother started the Chinese restaurant Lucky Kitchen in downtown Ann Arbor, and Wu took it over in 1993.

Lucky Kitchen has since opened a second location near U-M's North Campus, and in 2010 Wu wanted to do something “outside of the wok,” so to speak. She and her husband opened Passport last fall.

Passport’s biggest challenge right now, Wu says, is attracting a lunch crowd.

“But we’re willing to do what we can to improve in that area,” she says.

Passport already offers a $4.99 15-minute express lunch, which features teriyaki chicken, wraps, and wasabi roast beef sandwiches, among other items.

Beginning today, Passport started offering an internationally themed lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. For $7.99, guests can choose from a spread of dishes from around the world. Wu says she hopes to offer a variety of cultural flavors: a taco bar one day, a sushi bar another.

Wu says the dinner hour often draws a crowd. The restaurant offers Japanese tatami rooms, which Wu says are popular for intimate or large special occasion dining. The private rooms feature climb-in booths and fold-away walls so that parties as small as 2 or as large as 60 can feel like they have a semi-private venue.


Singer-songwriter Anna Elizabeth will perform at Passport as part of the restaurant's "Young and Talented" series.

Angela Smith | For

Thanks to the restaurant's desserts and specialized martinis, Wu says, she sees many guests who come in for a special occasion, like a birthday or an anniversary, but she'd like people to think of Passport for casual gatherings as well. The restaurant and the food have received positive reviews from writers and other critics.

One of the biggest attractions for Passport is the lounge, with a full bar and a disco ball. The lounge offers free live entertainment almost every night of the week, though Wu says the lounge may eventually charge a cover.

Salsa dancing, live jazz, and a “Weekly Wine Down” are just a few of the items on the restaurant’s calendar.

Last month, Passport also began featuring a "Young and Talented" evening featuring local performers. Ann Arbor’s Anna Elizabeth, a 16-year-old singer, songwriter and guitar player, is playing this Thursday at 6 p.m.

Anna began playing guitar as a young teenager, and began writing her own shortly after. She attends Greenhills School in Ann Arbor.

"I'm excited to be playing multiple shows throughout the summer. They allow a relaxed setting to occur where I can interact with the guests and eat amazing food after." She adds, "the desserts are to die for and the sushi and spring rolls are excellent."

Angela Smith is a freelance writer for



Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 12:43 a.m.

We always have a great dinner and the quality is A+ Wonderful sushi and drink menu, really cold beer and nice bartenders. Overall good place, wish them the best


Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

My husband and I have enjoyed the food there a couple of times, but the place was nearly empty on both visits. The only thing that surprised me is that they do not fresh brew their iced tea. I really hope they're able to succeed!


Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 7:42 a.m.

We haven't visited yet but like the idea of separate "rooms" for more personal dining. We go out with friends sometimes who we only see a few times per year and we want to have a private experience, focusing on our families/children and how they are doing. I felt the menu was ambitious and disconnected when the restaurant first opened but will check again - sounds like there have been changes made.

Jake C

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 3:02 a.m.

I was just wondering about how this restaurant was doing -- I live nearby Passport and drive by it on an almost daily basis, so it's a nice coincidence that you published this article today. I never visited the location when it was Chi-Chi's, and went there once when it was Cherry Blossom but had such a poor experience that I never went back. Hope the new owners are able to make the place a success! I love variety on a menu, so it sounds like this might be right up my alley.


Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 1:17 a.m.

Cherry Blossom Sushi was the best - But the live music at Passport is really nice.


Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

Angela, how did their last health inspection go?


Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Angela, I have subsequently learned from Kristen Schweighoefer that "It appears that the inspector issued a hand-written report for Passport and the information was not re-entered into our database from the handwritten report. I will look into correcting the matter." Perhaps you could find out from Passport what the results were of their inspection on 12/17/10? Thanks.

Angela Smith

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

Oddly, the county website lists the restaurant, but does not list and recent inspection results. <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;LastCty=28</a> They've been open less than one year. I'll look into if they have not yet been reviewed.


Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 9:09 p.m.

The food at Passport is delicious but their service is terrible! It seems as if they only hire inexperienced waiters who can't seem to remember what the special is and has no comment on their own food. They're also slow and start goofing off with other waiters right in front of customers.

Angela Smith

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

I was in last week, and have to say that the service in the lounge was quite good. The waiter recommended a fantastic pear martini.