Ex-Sweet Lorraine's restaurant site near Ann Arbor's Kerrytown gets chance at new life
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Say “the lower level of 303 Detroit St., located at the southern edge of the Kerrytown District,” and watch people attempt to figure out that location.
But, if you’re talking to a longer-term resident of Ann Arbor, try the more familiar name for the space.
“The former Sweet Lorraine’s.”
That will spark recognition. And it also sparked the realization of the building’s owner that it’s time to put that name to rest and come up with a new look and use for the space that’s so visible near an entry to Kerrytown area shopping.
The restaurant space has still been called “Sweet Lorraine’s,” even though it closed in 2000, about 10 years after it opened in the lower level of Market Place, which joins a historic structure and newer one, combining into a 30,000-square-foot office center with some retail space.
AnnArbor.com file photo
It was distinctive and popular, and its legacy in Ann Arbor is a name for that location that will not fade.
Since 2000, several other restaurants have filled the space, also attempting to fill the imaginations of diners in much the way Sweet Lorraine’s did during its heyday.
Yet the restaurants didn’t seem to last.
And today, owner MAV Development is ready to take the space in a new direction.
Over recent months, MAVD has gutted the former restaurant.
“The kitchen’s gone, the bathrooms are gone,” said Jeff Harshe of MAVD. “It’s down to shell space.”
The reason, he said: “It wasn’t working the way it was.”
Part of the reason is the tie to Sweet Lorraine’s. To this day, people identify the space with that restaurant, no matter how many others tried to establish a presence there.
“Anyone coming in to try to make their own first impression had kind of a stiff headwind of memories of a past good restaurant that for a variety of reasons didn’t make it,” Harshe said.
Also a factor is the size: Sweet Lorraine’s was an original tenant after the building went up in 1989, and the space was built for its use - and it’s larger than a typical restaurant.
“The size of that kitchen was unwieldy for most operations that looked at it,” Harshe said. And that created pressures for both landlord and potential tenants, who didn’t want to pay for space they didn’t need - or take on space inefficiencies when taking space.
So early this year, faced with the ongoing restaurant vacancy that could only partly be attributed to the economy, MAVD started repositioning it and erased the Sweet Lorraine’s footprint.
The space is now vacant, allowing potential tenants to imagine their own vision.
“We decided that going back to scratch was the way to go,” Harshe said.
The MAVD team also has drawings, showing how a smaller cafÃ© could set up in part of the space, even using the liquor license, and offices could fill the rest.
So far, it’s working. The interest in converting all of the space to offices is high, Harshe said.
The list price is about $20 per square foot, or a 20 percent savings from an upper-level space in the building.
Soon, Harshe said, the former Sweet Lorraine’s could be leased to a new office tenant that’s expressing interest in the entire space.
When that happens, “it’s going to be designed to take advantage of some of the neat characteristics of the old building, the new building and the patio,” Harshe said.
And it’s probably going to erase the lingering memories of Sweet Lorraine’s, he added.
“My belief is once it’s built out, and we do what we do - with nice finishes - people will go down there and just think, ‘This is really neat.’”