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Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

Maiz Mexican Cantina restaurant opens in Pittsfield Township

By Katrease Stafford

A full-service Mexican restaurant and bar, Maiz Mexican Cantina, has opened on Washtenaw Avenue in Pittsfield Township, replacing the former Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge.

General manager Jason Branham said Maiz, 4855 Washtenaw Ave., opened Jan. 21. Branham, who has prior experience in restaurant conversion consulting, was approached about opening a restaurant by building owner Demos Panos. The Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge closed in January after being open for nearly a year.

“He informed me that this building space was available and he knew of my previous work and thought it would be a great concept to install at that location,” Branham said.


General Manager Jason Branham credits his chef Angel Garduno with creating unique, authentic Mexican dishes.

Joseph Tobianski |

The concept is one that will cater to an untapped demographic, Branham said.

“Based on our business plan research, we determined there was no full-service Mexican restaurant in this area,” he said. “There are several in Ann Arbor and outskirts of Ypsilanti, but nothing in this general area.”

Branham said he conducted a market analysis study to make sure the location was a good fit.

"There's a very large Hispanic community concentrated in that area as well as just dense population in general," he said.

Branham said some renovations have been done to give the 230-seat restaurant a more authentic feel. Branham hired Ypsilanti-based artist Danielle Murphy to create two murals in the restaurant.

“She’s being commissioned to do an 8-foot-by-5-foot mural reflecting a Mexican street market,” Branham said. “It’s located in the lounge area, which is the bar area.”

The other mural is above the fireplace in the dining room.

Some of the renovations, including new floors and a hand-carved wood bar, occurred under the Brahma ownership. Brahma owner Louie Vushaj invested nearly $100,000 in renovations.

“We wanted to build upon the building’s history and keep the warm, refined looks of the wood and dark tones, but then we wanted to add a lot of energy and color to the space,” Branham said. “ We did that through extensive lighting renovations.”

Multi-colored lights were added, creating a splash of colors on the wall. “It brings the traditional colors you would see in Mexican art,” he said. “I’ve gotten tons and tons of great feedback on the decor.”

Branham said 90 percent of Maiz’s menu is under $10, which he hopes will attract customers looking for an authentic, yet affordable meal.

“My head chef is originally from Mexico and he’s been fantastic in bringing in recipes he cooks at home with his family,” Branham said. “Mexican food is very regional and we’re trying to cover a lot of the flavors from across Mexico.”

One signature dish, chili relleno, which consists of a stuffed, roasted, fresh poblano pepper, is proving to be an early favorite. All of the dishes are prepared from scratch and are made fresh daily.

“It’s one of the things people have to try,” Branham said. “Because the previous restaurant was doing smoked meats, that large commercial smoker came with the building and now we’re utilizing that to introduce smoke into our food.”

The Smokehouse Grill and Pub operated in the space for about 15 years. Before that, the location was home to Herc’s Roast Beef restaurant.

Since the Maiz is one of a few bars on Washtenaw, a diverse bar crowd has already started to form, Branham said. The bar offers three Michigan microbrews on tap as well as other beers. Several styles of margaritas, cocktails and martinis will be offered as well as Mexican beer.

The restaurant has 26 employees, some of which are former Brahma employees. Branham said he may potentially add more depending on sales.

“I retained almost everyone on staff,” he said. “No one lost their job over this and not only did I retain staff, but I’ve doubled the size. As we grow and expand into our lunch service and get busier, I plan to be hiring additional staff.”

Beginning next week, the restaurant will offer a full-sevice lunch and dinner menu.

"I've talked to my staff and said people are going to be surprised when they get their food because it doesn't look like regular run-of-the-mill Mexican food," Branham said. "The food is going to be as beautiful to look at as it tastes. ...The feedback on the flavors has been overwhelming so far."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 10:16 p.m.

The people are great and the food good. I have been there several times and the only complaint that I have is the salsa. It is like water and no flavor. We have mentioned it to the manager on several occasions and it doesn't change.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

I really enjoyed this restaurant last night. I had the Chilaquiles with chicken and it was delicious. The portion was so large I took more than half of it home with me. Excellent authentic Mexican food! I loved eating at Maiz. The workers are very friendly, welcoming and fast. The environment is clean and beautiful. I will be back and soon.


Sat, Mar 2, 2013 : 4:30 a.m.

Terrible! Maybe you shou Not good, service or food wise. Rather have La Casita or Tmaz any day over this! .


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Tried to eat there yesterday. Sat for a long time and no one waited on us. Finally when a waitress came she took our beverage order and then brought that with some chips and salsa. We told her we were ready to order. She said she would be right back. Again she disappeared. Then we saw her waiting on a table that the folks had just been seated. We grabbed our coats and left. No one said a word to us as we walked out. Very disappointing.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

Wow. I am so excited a place with great food finally arrived in Ypsi. I live in the area and i was tickled to see this place when i drove by it on my way back from work. Me and my husband ate their this past weekend and when we heard that they try and do everything local and they DON'T freeze their food, that means they will have our business. Not to mention the food was FANTASTIC! I've already buzzed about this place to people at work, i work at both u of m and st joes and also to my friends, i'd love for this place to have good business. They deserve it! It's ABOUT TIME!!!!!


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

We stopped by Maiz over the weekend and had a GREAT experience. The food was delicious, service was good, drinks tasty, and the atmosphere was perfect. Not to mention the prices were fantastic. The owner stopped by our table to check in and was very receptive to our comments, questions and ideas. Parking lot was packed, too - looks like they're doing a good business already. We'll definitely be back soon!


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:38 a.m.

I call this area "no man's land." We had some favorites in NML over the years (an ice cream place, a middle eastern place, Tios) but this area had no other anchors that people might be shopping at and just drop in for lunch or dinner etc. I think people tend to go places where they can get a lot done in a short time. If the food is amazing it might draw people from further afield, but not as often if you don't live close. I'm hoping the best for them-- It's not far from me and I really don't want to get spoiled only for it to close down. I love supporting and recommending local places. I often wonder what kind of research people do when a opening business of any kind in that Washtenaw mile strip between EMU and 23. So many closures there in good times and bad.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 6:42 p.m.

We were very excited about having a Mexican restaurant in this area and tried it out last night. The atmosphere is great - charming room with a fireplace going and the other w/ a 'bar' type atmosphere with tv's. The service, however, was not stellar (especially for a new restaurant trying to earn a customer base) and the food was less than ordinary. We sampled the American Tacos and were completely disappointed in how bland they were. Given this experience, we'll be driving to the other, not quite so close, mexican restaurant options.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Completely disagree. I also had the American tacos too, mine were fantastic. Place looks beautiful with a new, exciting energy. Probably still working out the kinks... they haven't even been open a week. If you're as excited as you say you are about a Mexican restaurant, why would you start with American tacos? I've been there 3 times now. Food has been great every time!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Hello, and thanks for all the great comments. Dos XX's Amber is on tap, and Negra Modelo is coming soon! I can't wait to see you all. Don't forget to try the smoked corn salsa too! More menu items will be coming over the next two months along with Lunch Specials and $2 taco Tuesday! We're trying hard to keep up with the overwhelming reaction, so please be patient as we get faster and deliver outstanding food.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 3:49 a.m.

The prices look good, the interior looks good, we'll come give it a try. Good luck, guys!

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 10:19 p.m.

Hooray for more Mexican choices in greater Ann Arbor/Ypsi! Drove by today and the signage looks good; here's another vote for Modelo or Bohemia on tap soon hopefully..

Ann English

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

The signage must look different than it did last Sunday. When I drove by there to use the car wash next door, I thought they were already open for business, with no sign of the previous restaurant in sight, and no Opening Soon banner, either.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:54 p.m.

I heard the new Mexican restaurant in Saline has opened. Have not read anything about it though. Wonder when will review that restaurant.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

You're talking about Cancun Mexican Grill. I've been to their location in Okemos and it was delicious.

Carrie Rheingans

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:25 a.m.

Which one? There's a relatively new one at Liberty/Maple called Chela's and it's really quick, fresh, and delicious!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:35 a.m.

I'll review any new Mexican restaurant that opens. I miss that one in Ann Arbor off Liberty. Sigh.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Buena suerte to Maiz! But let us never forget the wonderful La Fiesta Mexicana on W. Cross St. in Ypsilanti near EMU. OMD!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 3:13 a.m.

I wanted to add that also. As a Southwesterner it's about the only authentic food in the area, believe me. Most of what we get in Michigan are Tex-Mex restaurants.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

You don't have to be Hispanic or Mexican to love Mexican food... I can't wait to visit Maiz soon! I wish them the best of luck.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:20 p.m.

No other full service Mexican Rest. in the area? Guess they haven't been here. It's .15 miles down the road in the Fountain Square Plaza. Food's good here but the service is slow La Casita Taqueria 2866 Washtenaw Ave Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Carrie Rheingans

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:24 a.m.

I was wondering about this too! I didn't realize that they didn't have a liquor license... I always get other yummy drinks there instead.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

Full service means alcohol too. La Casita doesn't have a liquor license, so technically they aren't a full service restaurant.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:06 p.m.

I remember when Don Carlos Mexican restaurant was in that area. I hope this one is successful.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : noon

Other than the one case of food poisoning I had after eating there, Don Carlos was great!


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

Don Carlos was a favorite of mine, too. The lunch buffet, especially on Friday, was the best. It closed because the family that ran the restaurant simply wanted to retire. I guess there was no one who wanted to buy the business from them.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:15 p.m.

mun...Don Carlos was directly across the street.I'm still not sure what made them go under


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8 p.m.

Chille Rellenos, YUMMMEEEE

Julie Baker

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

Has anyone been here yet? The signature dish chili relleno sounds great.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:34 a.m.

Will be going this weekend. I love trying out new restaurants.

Atticus F.

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:34 p.m.

I wish them success! Mexican food is irresistable to me, especially when I can sit down and have a margarita. Unfortunately, this area is notorious for failing restraunts. I remember 30 years ago, my grandparents lived in Brighton and would travel to Ann Arbor to dine at the Red Bull. Now if you go to Brighton, there is an Olive Garden, Outback, TGIF, ect. as soon as you get off the highway.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:36 a.m.

Sangria is my choice drink and lots of it.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

Go to Los Amigos on Michigan Ave. and make an effort to emulate EVERYTHING they do . That place is packed on the weekends, has your food to you in minutes, and serves Negro Modello on tap. Can't beat it!


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

Don't forget Tmaz on Packard!

Carrie Rheingans

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 2:23 a.m.

The one on Whittaker is called La Fuente and they are great! La Casita is right down the road too, on Washtenaw, near the Kmart plaza. They're delicious as well! I'm actually a little surprised that the owner says there aren't many Mexican food options nearby... La Casita is under a half-mile away, and Fiesta la Mexicana is just a little past that. Then there's also Taqueria la Fiesta on Packard/Platt too... and I'm probably missing some! We're lucky to have so many great options around here.


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 1:33 a.m.

Another hidden gem is the one on Whittaker Road. That is a rare find for fajitas. Los Amigos has a to die for shrimp quesadilla. Otherwise, Hercs is one I do remember and did frequent a lot. I do agree with most posters here, a great fit. Better then that burger joint going in on the other side of 23. I smell a reason to go out to eat this weekend.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

Faygo- I've driven by Los Amigos more times that I can count but never been moved enough by the exterior to stop and go in. I guess I was missing out, its rare to see Modello on tap.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

SHHHHH! I remember when Los Amigos was my own little secret, but the cat is out of the bag. That place is great.

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Local, Maiz has a happy hour from 3-6 as well.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:06 p.m.

And Happy hour 3-6 everyday of the week. The food is really good and the prices are reasonable. Anxious to try this new place as well.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:53 p.m.


Katrease Stafford

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:10 p.m.

FrankOZ, I searched for one, but I don't believe a website has been created yet.

Cole Bertsos

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:09 p.m.

Hey, FrankOZ! I poked around and it doesn't look like they have a menu up online yet. Since they are new, they might still be crossing their t's and dotting their i's.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.

Nice, good luck to them! Location (area, really) is cursed though, so, yeah, good luck.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

The location had Herc's for many years and then Smokehouse for 15. That is NOT cursed in the restaurant world. The Brahma concept was a VERY bad fot for the neighborhood. Ann Arborites were not willing to cross US 23 to try a steakhouse when they have plenty already in town. The people who live close by do not have the income to maintain a high end steakhouse.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Cursed? McDonalds and the BK lounge have been there for decades! And, there have been over 4 restaurants in that location alone!


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

This is a much better fit for this area location than the Brahma/high-end steakhouse concept was. I wish them luck and will be checking them out soon!


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

Good luck and I look forward to sampling the menu. One other thing, maybe they could run those BBQ chicken nachos that used to be on the Smokehouse Special as a special once in a while. Those nachos were great!