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Posted on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor restaurant Blue Tractor to expand, Cafe Habana moving

By Lizzy Alfs


Blue Tractor restaurant and brewery on East Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor is expanding into the neighboring Cafe Habana space this month.

Angela Cesere |

Downtown Ann Arbor’s Blue Tractor restaurant is expanding this month into its adjoining and sister restaurant, Cafe Habana, the owners confirmed this week.

As part of the expansion, the Cafe Habana restaurant will close on Sunday and reopen this summer in an undisclosed space in downtown Ann Arbor that is currently occupied by another restaurant.

Business partners Greg Lobdell and Jon Carlson said the expanded restaurants collectively would hire 80 to 100 new employees. They’ll get enhanced menus, and Blue Tractor will start offering prepared take-out food.

Lobdell and Carlson, along with operating partner Dan Glazer and other investors, opened Cafe Habana in 2007 at 211 E. Washington St. A year later, they opened the Blue Tractor barbeque and brewery next door.

Other ventures they’re involved with: Ann Arbor’s Grizzly Peak and Jolly Pumpkin; Traverse City’s Mission Table, North Peak Brewing Company, Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, Blue Tractor, Jolly Pumpkin and Bastone Brewery; and Royal Oak’s Vinotecca.


Lobdell, Carlson, Glazer and other partners opened Cafe Habana in 2007 and Blue Tractor in 2008.

Angela Cesere |

Seating demand at Cafe Habana and Blue Tractor has grown considerably, Carlson said, with Blue Tractor sales up 19 percent in 2011.

“We just don’t have enough seats,” he said. “That was the main push for us to do it.”

Blue Tractor will have room for an additional 100 customers, nearly doubling its capacity.

Since the restaurants are neighbors and share access to a basement bar, a pathway will connect the original space to the expansion.

During the month-long renovations, the Cafe Habana restaurant space will be transformed to look like Blue Tractor, with salvaged barn wood on the walls, a more open kitchen and a second smoker.

“We want to open up the kitchen and let the cooking experience and the smoked products be a little more out in the open for people,” Carlson said.

He added: “We care so much about the way a place looks. If you’re in a place that feels comfortable or authentic, then it changes your experience. The wood is part of the charm of that place.”

They’ll install a small retail and to-go counter, where people can come and grab things like ribs, brisket, sandwiches and veggie sides for carry out.

They’ve also traveled around the United States to get inspiration for an enhanced barbeque menu.

Lobdell said the new menu is influenced by “flavors from all over the world,” including southern, Asian and Latin barbeque.

Both Blue Tractor and the downstairs Habana Cellar Lounge - complete with its popular salsa nights - will stay open during the renovations. The downstairs concept will remain until the new Cafe Habana opens in early summer. Then, the owners will launch a different concept in the basement lounge.

Lobdell and Carlson declined to reveal where Cafe Habana will move, saying they want to respect the current tenant. They plan to announce the new location within a few months.

But Carlson emphasized: “It won’t be a cookie-cutter move like Cafe Habana just switched to a new location. It’s going to be completely new. It’s a way better space for salsa nights and will be unreal for dancing in general.”

He continued, “We want to take the best of what we’ve done before and take a lot of new ideas to improve upon it to give people a new experience.”

Lobdell and Carlson grew up in Traverse City and now live in Ann Arbor with their families.

“We love the Ann Arbor community, the people and the culture here,” Lobdell said. “We’re just huge, huge fans.”

Carlson added: “It’s everything you want in a big city, but it doesn’t feel like a big city. Now that we have kids, we’re never leaving. This is our hometown now.”

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



Tue, Jan 10, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

Cafe Habana was my favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor. Great food and every time I ate there I had great service. I will miss them all till they reopen!


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

"Seating demand at Cafe Habana and Blue Tractor has grown considerably, Carlson said, with Blue Tractor sales up 19 percent in 2011". Is that so? i think they're closing down and trying to make the most out of a lease they're stuck in. I walk by Habana every night on my way home from work and there is barely anyone in there and it only seems to get slower. The quality of food in there has done nothing but go down. They used to have great fish tacos and an amazing chimichurri flank steak, but alas, no more. Beautiful space with a great ambiance downstairs, now it will be converted into a barn? I'm also not sure how Blue Tractor is expanding as I've never had a good experience.

Jack Samano

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

A friend of mine who was working there told me that the only reason they are doing this is because they almost go out of business, and instead of hiring more people they will let people go. Not even fill 1/2 of restaurants, now I can imagine with more space it will look completely empty. And that doesn't surprise me, the food is horrible when there is some, they are always out of everything, nothing to do with Cuban food at all, just a few Americans playing and experimenting with the poor people. Sad!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

So this place is always overlooked for their beer. It has the best craft beer in town. I know that says a lot considering Arbor, Grizzly and Jolly Pumpkin are also in town. I think the Blue Tractor brewery is smaller, because they typically only have 6 or 7 beers on tap, but the beer is really, really, really good. I'm looking forward to more from them in the future. Go Blue Tractor.


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

Interesting. I had to ask someone that goes more often, but the beer was actually pretty bad when they first opened, as I can personally attest. I guess at some point they hired a new brewer and now it's good, so I'll have to try it out.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

I love the design of The Blue Tractor. Best in Ann Arbor. It is modern, but the use of raw materials makes it feel comfortable. It has the perfect vibe. They know what they are doing and I look forward to the new changes. I hope they keep the same cool atmosphere!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I love the Blue Tractor! I'm glad to see they are doing well and expanding. I am looking forward to checking out the new menu!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

I'm a big fan of Cafe Habana. However their service is also hit or miss. Sometimes they have cafe con leche and sometimes they don't. They need consistency also! Blue tractor has never been my favorite


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Not saying Blue Tractor or Habana actually suck. But, for me, mediocre is just not good enough. Good for them and their success. In a more food-centric city both these joints would have been closed a long time ago. Obviously, this restaurant group doesn't need my business. I get that. But, after being disappointed in four different locations in both Ann Arbor and Traverse City, I'm out.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

True enough. A2 isn't NYC or San Francisco. But these restaurants beat the chains.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Rumor has it (probably more than rumor by now) that Cafe Habana is going into The Parthenon's spot on the corner of Liberty and Main. There is a huge basement down below that will become banquet space, something sorely needed in AA . The deal is already done. Can't say I'll miss Parthenon. Been there twice in 25 years. Surprised how it lasted this long. Carlson knows his city and I have no doubt they will succeed there.

Frustrated in A2

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 10:14 p.m.

I was really hoping they would go into the old Studio 4 aka Dream spot and wipe that place off of the map!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

The Parthenon is awesome. You did yourself a disservice by not going more frequently. It will be missed, but I'm glad Cafe Habana will be in a prime spot there.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

If this is true I will be very sad to see Parthenon go! They have great service nice people and good Greek food. Also the best location on main street and the cheapest food downtown. We once left Champion house w a group of 15 people after waiting over an hour for our reserved table. Parthenon welcomed us withbopen arms and treated us like kings. They are really good people. Too bad.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 5:49 a.m.

I think this is wonderful news, seeing as both places seem to be begging for more space. Of the duo, I am actually more excited about Cafe Habana. Hopefully they will move into a nice comfortable spot where they can have even more foot traffic, retain or proliferate upon the wonderful decor and menu... and have super parking! (You never know...) I agree with folks who are saying The Blue Tractor is a bit of a yawn. It's a nice enough spot and I'm glad it's there, but it's never something I desire or go out of my way for. Beer is ok, and the food LOOKS good, but the taste is pretty MOR. Just doesn't have that kick you need in REAL southern style food. (But hey, maybe they are looking to improve that with expansion? I still have faith... ha ha.) Cafe Habana, on the other hand, is a spot my wife and I actually look forward to visiting! Food is quite tasty, as are the drinks and desserts. CH fits every season - and many different moods, depending on time of day. The staff is also wonderful, and the basement area is/was great for renting out for special occasions. If this move makes for a bigger and even better Cafe Habana, then I am truly excited!

Marie Willnow

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 4:49 a.m.

Both the food and service here are hit and miss. I hope both improve when they expand.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 12:40 a.m.

Last time I was at the Blue Tractor they had a "new" just wasn't "on the menu." Everything we tried to order they "didn't have." Frustrating experience when you have company from out of town and try to take them out somewhere unique. It was certainly "unique." Haven't been back since.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

While I'm sure that not everyone's experiences at Blue Tractor would mirror mine, I have to say that I'm surprised that they're expanding. The first time I tried them, right after they opened, the food was amazing. More recently, it was just OK. The quality of service there is hit-or-miss, but at least the beer is always good. If the expansion means a return to the delicious BBQ they used to serve, I'll be much more likely to return. As it is right now, their only draw for me are those delicious deep-fried pickles.

Wystan Stevens

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

I like the food at BT, but the barn wood is depressing. Wasn't the barn wood fad pretty much over with, about twenty years ago? I'd like to see more variety in the wall treatments and decor -- and not so dark, please. How about adding more lights? When I dine there, I feel like I've been trapped (however temporarily) inside a big wooden box. This verges on claustrophobia. I love the elegance -- and the cuisine -- of Cafe Habana next door. It's too bad that Habana can't expand into the BT space, instead of the other way around . . . .


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

I bet Snyder's business tax change helped them out.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 8:15 p.m.

NOT --- have you read the article or the comments? It's about the food!


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

Oh, it would pain me to see the beautiful walls in Cafe Habana covered in barn wood....

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

I luv the BT but the music is way to LOUD!!!


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

This is proof that if a restaurant offers great quality in food and service at a reasonable price, then it will thrive in downtown Ann Arbor. All of those restaurants that closed in 2011 did so for a different reason that had nothing to do with the economy.

Robert D. Mosley

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Great article! I will have to go to the Habana with my wife and niece the next time in town. This sounds very good.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

I love Cafe Habana. Killer, killer food. Hope their new location does well.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

I recently attended a party catered by Blue Tractor and was truly disappointed. Ribs were fantastic but everything else was either undercooked or what was good for about a dozen people they received a dish for about 3 servings. If you want truly good catfish, go to Bayou Grill in Belleville. You'll never find better. Matches down south restaurants.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

I've had very good experiences at Blue Tractor and one really bad experience there that nearly outweighed all the really good ones. I hope they get more consistent, but wish them well and appreciate their investment in AA!


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 3:34 a.m.

Also not impressed w/ the service. Some waitstaff are good but others ...


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

Yeah, my experiences have generally been pretty terrible. The food has been fine but I've ended up with consistently poor waitstaff. Now, mind you, that's only been twice - once could be an off night, twice is starting to be not worth wasting my money. The only comment card/letter of complaint that I mailed in was never acknowledged. Too bad.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

Investment and ownership in Ann Arbor. This is a good thing...


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

Blue Tractor is fantastic. The best place in town to get a catfish po' boy and deep fried pickles.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 6:51 a.m.

Jolly Pumpkin brews beer in a natural fermentation (lambic) style. The process involves "wild" yeast and bacteria that produce lactic acid and sours the beer. For many people who are not expecting this the beer seems poorly made but for a (natural fermentation/lambic/farm house) ale the flavor is correct. Just like roquefort cheese, caviar, capers, etc. it is an acquired taste. You may not like it but it is not bad when you know what it is supposed to taste like. Cheers and beers! To each their own.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.

I love the JP beer. Love me some Bam Bière!


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Best pulled-pork sandwich I have ever had. Tender pork + sweet sauce = win.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

Zingerman's Roadhouse has a fantastic catfish po' boy. Jolly Pumpkin food is terrific. Agree about the beer.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9 p.m.

@andrew, i agree wholeheartedly about the beer (at both places). I haven't been to the tractor in a while, so if they don't have the Po boy and their awesome sides anymore, i have no reason to go there. That is really sad. On a side note, i went to Jolly Pumpkin for breakfast over the holidays and was pleasantly surprised. The food there is fairly decent considering how bad their beer is.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

The last time I went for a good ole catfish po-boy they didn't even have it. They'd changed their menu and my wife and I were so disappointed we left. They didn't have any of those good sides any more like the black eyed peas, greens, etc. Sooo disappointed. Their beer is OK, but certainly not good, imho. I can't stand the jolly pumpkin beer that tastes like something went bad. If I brewed beer that tasted like that I'd pour it out.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

I've been there enough times to give them suitable chances to impress but it never does. I've never had anything horrible but I've never had anything that was so great and flavorful that I'd want it again. Can't say I've had a fried pickle, though. Mainly just had their BBQ and burgers.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

Where else can you get a catfish po'boy in Ann Arbor?


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Barb, not everyone I know has had a great experience there. I don't know what it is, maybe the nostalgia of Southern Food masks the actual flavor for me. If you have another suggestion for a place for me to find a po boy and fried pickles, i'm always looking for new places in town.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:07 p.m.

Wow - I really love Habana but I do not get the appeal of Blue Tractor. I just don't think it's that good. Interesting, though. I do wish them well with it all.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

I keep meaning to go to Habana, I better get on it before they up their prices over on Main street* *I'm guessing they will be moving into Leopold Bros old space


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

Palios, Parthenon, Prickly Pear, Pacific Rim.......


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

Hope it's not Prickly, not many Mexican-type restaurants in AA.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

Bingo on the P place. It would be sad to see them go altogether so I hope it's just a relocation. Not a fan of the Blue Tractor food nor their dingy dining room decor. TG they moved away from their original craft beer lineup. It was truly amateurish. Habana gets some cred for their food line-up tho.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

A little birdie told me the new spot is on Main Street. Nice spot too. Its current tenant's restaurant begins with a "P." Guess away.

Phil Dokas

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

The old Leopold's isn't entirely closed. It's rentable, but I don't recall by whom. So it might appear empty, but it's certainly owned and leased by someone at the moment.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

Rumor has it that a local tech company is moving in there and converting it to office space.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Oh right it did mention it was moving to currently occupied space. I think that would be a good location for a dancing bar, but you are probably right about it not being the right fit for them.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

Nah, Leopold is empty now and they said the space they're moving to is currently occupied. Plus, the Leopold location stinks. That would be the kiss of death. They need foot traffic.