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Posted on Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor's Restaurant Week 'all about exposure' for businesses

By Lizzy Alfs


Seva, located on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, has been participating in Restaurant Week since it was launched in June 2009.

Angela J. Cesere |

As diners prepare to descend upon the Ann Arbor area during the 6th semi-annual Restaurant Week, many businesses are looking forward to the increased customers and exposure the event brings.

The event - which was launched 2009 by the Main Street Area Association - is taking place Jan. 15-20.

There are 49 participating restaurants, more than double since Restaurant Week began in 2009, and customers can get a $12 two-course lunch and $25 three-course dinner prix fixe menus. Many restaurants also offer two-for-one pricing.

Although Restaurant Week began as a way to draw more people to the downtown area during the January lull and mid-summer season, it has since expanded to other Ann Arbor areas.

Among the new participants: Gandy Dancer, Passport Lounge, Satchel's BBQ and Graham's Restaurant.

Maura Thomson, director of the Main Street Area Association, said it made sense to expand Restaurant Week outside of downtown because it was generating a huge amount of interest.

“Our mission is to keep our downtown vibrant and healthy, but over time we realized that we were calling it Ann Arbor Restaurant Week and the larger the event, the more promotion we’re getting,” she said.

Eric Pederson, manager at Passport Lounge, said Passport joined the list of participating restaurants this year as a way to draw new customers into the restaurant, which is located on South State near Ellsworth Road in Pittsfield Township.

“This is all about exposure,” he said. “We’re reaching out to new avenues and getting a new customer base in here. Hopefully, we’ll win them over to have them back in the restaurant.”

Seva owner Maren Jackson agreed: Restaurant Week gives Seva a chance to reach outside its regular clientele.

“We have a large and loyal clientele because we’ve been here for so long,” she said, “but I think that some people might not think about going to eat at Seva because they’re not vegetarian.

"If they see that there are these advertised specials, maybe they’ll think it’s worth trying out.”

Jackson has also learned to alter the deal based on the season. During the summer promotion, Seva offers a lighter meal with two-for-one pricing, but during the winter it offers a three-course meal with wine at $25 per person.

She said the week generates a lot of business, particularly on Sunday and Friday.

"Sunday is crazy for us because we also offer brunch, and then the last day on Friday is the busiest day because people realize it's the last day of Restaurant Week," she said.

Two and half years after launching the event, Thomson said she considers it a success at drawing more people downtown, particularly during lunchtime.

“If you go into restaurants in January at lunchtime, it’s not too difficult to get a table,” she said. “I think this week you’ll see that [restaurants] are really busy.”

Jon Carlson, a partner in several downtown Ann Arbor restaurants such as Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, Jolly Pumpkin, Blue Tractor and Cafe Habana, agreed with Thomson and said the winter Restaurant Week is particularly beneficial.

“Summer has higher volume, but the winter one is the best since it’s a little bit slower in January, traditionally,” he said.

As for the future of the event, Thomson said she hopes it continues to grow in popularity but isn’t sure how many restaurants can join the participants.

“Is there a tipping point? We don’t want so many restaurants that restaurants aren’t seeing the volume they need to see," she said. "We’ll keep monitoring the event and getting feedback from restaurants.”

For a full list of participating restaurants and menus, check out the Restaurant Week website.

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


Ann Arbor Kat

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

The printed edition on Thursday stated incorrectly that restaurant week was to start Saturday. My wife and I made reservations on Thursday for Saturday's dinner and made babysitter arrangements, based on that information. I see that the online article now has corrected the start date, but I see no acknowledgment of the correction or apology for the error in the printed edition (as of 12:50 p.m. Saturday). I believe an acknowledgment and apology would be appropriate.

Maura Thomson

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

In response to a2miguy: The Main Street Area Association, organizer of this event, does not exclude any restaurants as long as they are in Ann Arbor and agree to the pricing structure of the event. Cafe Habana and Blue Tractor chose not to participate this time around, this was communicated to me prior to the event by the General Manager. They certainly were not excluded. I hope this helps to clarify. CincoDeMayo: The pricing structure is $12 or 2 for $12 for lunch and $25 or 2 for $25 for a three course dinner. Typically restaurants with a lower price point offer the &quot;2 for 1&quot; pricing. All menus are posted on <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> along with the pricing. As far as the picture of Blue Tractor, I believe this was an honest mistake made by Jon Carlson is a partner in two restaurants that are participating in the event, Jolly Pumpkin and Grizzly Peak.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

I'm excited for Restaurant Week and hope to make it out to a few different places. Since I always seem to eat at my favorite spots, when I do get out. This gives me an incentive to try a few new restaurants. A lot of the menu choices sound yummy with Vinology, Passport, Marnee Thai, and Sava on the list to try next week. Food faves are Grizzly Peak, Carlyle, and Webers to name a few! I only wished it lasted longer than 6 days...or happened more often than twice a year :-) Bon appetit!


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Zola's off my list. The proprietress needs to learn a thing or two about customer service (unless it's normal for a restaurant to cancel reservations only hours before your planned dinner). As for the others, I like the multi-course options for a change.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

Okay I just have to admit this - that I am still confused. I have seen this Restaurant Week promoted in past years, but I don't get the $12. and $25 pricing. Are those fees for a set meal of the restaurant's choosing? Because I normally come in around $10. and under $20. when I dine out. I don't understand the appeal of paying a few dollars more for food chosen by the restaurant. I am probably misunderstanding this, however, it is the reason why I have not participated in Restaurant Week in the past. Also, I thought about trying the West End Grill, but it is not on the list. And, when WILL Cafe Habana re-open? Why can't Blue Tractor carry their menu items in the meantime?!


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 10:40 p.m.

Regardless of the restaurant , the $25 dinner price typically includes a 3-4 course meal ( choices in each of the courses)....a better deal than a la carte for the same amount of food, but no bargain for the abstemious.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 6 p.m.

@CincoDeMayo It is a bit confusing. A lot of restaurants that are in the mid to low price range offer two-for-one pricing. So the $12 lunch and $25 dinner is for two people to eat. The more expensive restaurants offer those prices for only one person. The menus are determined in advance, but there are still a few options for you to choose from. If you go to the Restaurant Week website you can see the menus. Each restaurant offers about 2-5 choices on their Restaurant Week menus. Cafe Habana plans to reopen in summer 2012. I know, I'm bummed I didn't get my last fix in before they closed!


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:33 p.m.

Also, I'm not sure I agree with Maura Thomson's assessment. How does possibly limiting the number of participants help anyone, unless she's playing favorites? If more restaurants participating means more people decide to come downtown and spend money, why wouldn't you do that? And the lack of including certain restaurants would certainly affect people's decision to visit them (or not). The aforementioned Blue Tractor is one of my favorite restaurants in town, and was one of the first ones I looked for on the list. Since it's not there, I probably won't come. Although admittedly, I've been wanting to give Mani Osteria a second chance after hearing great things then being disappointed on my first vist. So we'll see.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

So, you have a picture of Blue Tractor, with a quote from one of its partners.... yet, Blue Tractor is NOT on the list of participating restaurants. Hmmm... .

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

@a2miguy Good catch on Blue Tractor. Jon Carlson was quoted because he's also a partner in Grizzly Peak and Jolly Pumpkin. Both are participating.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

This city has been known for a long time as a place to come and eat or get your hair done....


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

The restaurants in Ann Arbor have to do a better job to advertise.