Andy Gulvezan, Full Moon owner and founder of many downtown Ann Arbor bars, dies
Downtown Ann Arbor lost one of its visionaries with the death last weekend of the owner of the Full Moon restaurant on South Main Street.
Andy Gulvezan died Sunday while in the care of Arbor Hospice of complications from a bone marrow transplant to treat a recurrence of leukemia.
From the Gulvezan family
“Andy made downtown Ann Arbor the way it is,” said Jim Chaconas, a 40-year friend and business associate.
Gulvezan launched his career with Robert Babcock, now an Ann Arbor attorney, when the pair opened the Whiffle Tree Restaurant on West Huron Street, between Ashley and South First.
That was in September 1973, after they bought the former New Odyssey and converted it into a 100-seat restaurant that quickly turned into a downtown landmark. The pair envisioned a casual hamburger place, but during construction the plans changed.
By the time it opened, the Whiffle Tree had a menu that rivaled the Gandy Dancer’s, Babcock said, “but for a lot less money.”
The restaurant had lines for lunch and dinner, and Babcock recalled one football Saturday when the line stretched east across streets, eventually meeting another very long line: one for the Old German on West Washington. Patrons included townies, visitors, even the famous: Playwright Arthur Miller stood in line one night.
“We had pretty good food at a reasonable price and we appealed to a lot of different types of people,” Babcock said. “They all felt comfortable being there next to each other.
“It was unpretentious. It fit the time.”
Many in Ann Arbor look back at the Whiffletree as a key part of Ann Arbor’s dining history, before the restaurant burned down in 1987.
“Everyone remembers the ‘hog trough,” said Ed Shaffran. “The Wednesday night buffet: it was incredible.”
The partners expanded the building a few times before they split up over a reason that no longer matters, Babcock said. “We had a little dispute over nothing,” Babcock said.
Looking to move on, Gulvezan eyed opening a tavern, soon buying a building in Ypsilanti Township. It was the former Gingham Inn on Washtenaw, which most recently housed a Cottage Inn CafÃ©.
Gulvezan called his bar Gypsy, then renamed it Armadillo Truck Stop and Country Club, said Jim Chaconas, who recalled the beach parties in the basement and big summer picnics on site.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
But it wasn’t long before Gulvezan sought to launch another concept, this time back in Ann Arbor. Chaconas sold Gulvezan and two partners the building on South Main Street that he turned into the Full Moon Bar in 1982. Gulvezan, a former house painter, did much of the renovation himself.
The Full Moon brought him back to downtown, Chaconas said, and the restaurant’s success allowed other prospective proprietors to see the potential for Main Street to become a lively destination for dining and nightlife.
“He’s the one who made Main Street successful,” Chaconas said.
Gulvezan started a beer club at the Full Moon, offering an endless selection of imported and specialty beers. Members got a card, and after plowing through a certain number of varieties, they’d get a gift.
It’s the type of move that other friends, like Tom Hackett, owner of Afternoon Delight, says made Gulvezan “way ahead of his time.”
Just offering that type of variety was different for a bar in the 1980s.
“He went out and sought these beers,” Chaconas recalled. Among them: Beers from Frankenmuth Brewery, which made the first delivery to the Full Moon in a horse-drawn cart after officials closed Main Street to cars. And Billy Beer, the brew of former-President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy Carter.
Gulvezan also brought the tapas restaurant to Ann Arbor, as part of the concept at the Monkey Bar.
Gulvezan helped launch outdoor dining on Main Street. And he was among the first to renovate upper floors of a retail building, turning space above the Full Moon into a loft.
“Andy would come up with wonderful ideas,” Chaconas said.
The ideas extended to multiple bars over the years, as Gulvezan created concepts and then put them into his downtown buildings.
The Full Moon occupied its current space at least a few different times. The Crow Bar, The Liberty Bar, The Flame, City Grill, the One-Eyed Moose, Crush and Blue Wolverine Sports Bar all were Gulvezan’s.
He bought buildings, too, in time leasing space to other bars or restaurants downtown, like the Melting Pot and Pacific Rim.
Gulvezan also maintained a presence downtown over the decades. He stopped in at Afternoon Delight nearly every day for coffee, Hackett said.
He was often stopped while walking downtown by people who knew him and wanted to talk. Gulvezan always remembered their names and details about their lives.
And Gulvezan, who loved people and story-telling, never stopped talking to his patrons.
“He loved sitting and talking to customers at the bar,” said Julie Fuscina, his secretary for the last two years. “He’d find the most eccentric person and be glued to them for hours.”
That was true especially in recent years, after the physical changes of recovering from a bout with leukemia and a stroke slowed some of the former marathon runner’s activity.
“He had a lot of ideas,” Fuscina said. “Just trying to keep up with him was hard. Even after his stroke.”
And he remained vitally interested in his businesses.
Magda Gulvezan, his wife, said that didn’t change over the recent months that he spent at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.
“He was still trying to do business from his hospital bed,” she said. “He’d change menus and make orders. He always called, or asked me to call, to make sure it was all set, running smoothly.”
Gulvezan was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, the day after he and Magda finalized plans to build a house.
He battled that cancer, then suffered a stroke in December 2007, between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Then, in August, the leukemia reappeared.
Gulvezan started chemotherapy treatments at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, staying there for a month. He returned to his Saline home for two weeks, then by mid-October entered the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit for a bone marrow transplant, which was done Oct. 23.
He remained there for months, before moving to Arbor Hospice on Feb. 7.
“He had a lot of complications,” Magda Gulvezan said.
Gulvezan fought to regain movement after his stroke. His wife said he was partially paralyzed, but within six months was able to drive again.
He brought that spirit to the battle against leukemia. “He did fight very, very hard for a long, long time,” she said.
Gulvezan battled because of his family: Magda and their children, Kristofer, 11, a middle school student at Greenhills; and Oriana, who will turn 10 on Monday and attends Emerson School.
“He was always worried about me and what would happen with the kids,” Magda Gulvezan said. “ He fought this so hard for the kids. He loved his kids very, very much.”
Over time, Gulvezan built a teddy bear collection for Oriana, buying bears as holiday gifts.
It’s a tradition that the children cherished as their father fell ill, buying him a teddy bear for his stay at Karmanos.
Other family memories surround sports, like the times he coached basketball or took the children to University of Michigan football games and tailgate parties.
The family has “hundreds and hundreds” of photos, Magda Gulvezan said, and they spent time together on Monday sorting them.
From the Gulvezan Family
The Full Moon remains open, and employees are adjusting to working without what general manager Ginny Mitchell called “ a very, very strong hand in running the day-to-day business.”
As word of the gravity of Gulvezan’s illness circulated, many former employees reached out, stopping by to see how he was and setting up a Facebook page to reminisce about their time working with him.
“They just celebrated his life and working (with him),” she said. “It was kind of special.”
Gulvezan changed the names and concepts of his restaurants on what may have seemed to outsiders like whims. He also let his opinions be known, especially on business matters in the city.
“You may not always agree with him, but he’d let you know how he felt about an issue,” Shaffran said.
But his commitment to the blocks of downtown Ann Arbor where he started his dream of owning a restaurant did not change.
The names changed. The menus and concepts did, too.
But the location, from the time he opened the Full Moon, never did.
“Obviously,” said Shaffran, “he had a love for downtown.”
Visitation for Gulvezan will take place Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. at the Muehlig Funeral Chapel, Ann Arbor. Funeral services will take place Thursday at noon at the First United Methodist Church, Saline.