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Posted on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Mark's Carts vendor expands, exiting courtyard 'incubator' for stand-alone retail, catering operation

By Lizzy Alfs

Eat, an Ann Arbor-based outdoor food cart and catering business, recently closed its Mark’s Carts location in favor of a new spot: The former Marcano’s Takeout space at 1906 Packard.

Eat this week announced the decision to move and expand, signing a lease for the 864-square-foot building just a month after Marcano’s closed.


Eat, a food cart and catering business, signed a lease to occupy the former Marcano's Takeout building at 1906 Packard.

Photo from

Co-owners Blake Reetz and Helen Harding said the move will allow eat — the official name is spelled with a lower case "e" — to expand its catering business while still offering retail with quick carry-out options.

“In just one kitchen, we’ll be able to have a day-to-day business with carry-out and also focus on catering,” Harding said. “It’s kind of the perfect thing for us as far as location and having a retail space that isn’t too big.”

The business has been operating two food carts — one in Mark’s Carts outdoor food courtyard in downtown Ann Arbor and one at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market — and also renting space in a kitchen on South Industrial for catering.

Now, Harding said eat will keep one cart open for different events around town and focus mainly on catering and takeout at the Packard location.

They are in the process of moving into the building and will complete some minor cosmetic renovations before opening late this fall.

“Everything is tentative, but our goal is to open the kitchen for catering in October and then the retail space in November,” she said.

She said the business will hire a few employees to help operate the new location.

Eat’s menu centers around local and seasonal ingredients, offering items like salads, sandwiches, soups, tarts, skewers and platters.

“We try to promote and prepare seasonal menus,” Harding said. “Guests often comment that they love how healthy our food is.”

The move to rent the former Marcano’s building is a big step for eat, Harding said. It gives the business its own space to promote catering and focus on developing more of a presence in Ann Arbor.

She said that having an outdoor food cart at Mark’s Carts helped with initial visibility and acted as an “incubator” for this next move.

“I think us moving from Mark’s Carts is kind of what Mark (Hodesh) had in mind,” she said. “It’s like an incubator project. I have a feeling other businesses from Mark’s Carts will be doing similar things in the future.”

Before Marcano’s, the small building on Packard just south of East Stadium Boulevard was occupied by BTB Burrito, which closed in August 2010 because the location was unprofitable. It was also once occupied by a Cottage Inn Pizza.

After Marcano’s moved out, it was listed with Colliers International for $2,700 a month.

Although several businesses have moved in and out of the space, Harding said the turnover rate doesn’t concern her.

“We thought about the location, and we think it’s great for us,” she said. “If for some reason the retail business doesn’t pan out, then we’ll close it down and use the space for only catering.”

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


Heather Leavitt

Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 9:02 p.m.

As a fellow wedding industry professional, I'm extremely excited for eat! I'm a frequent patron of their food cart, which I love, but what really sets them apart is their catering. They create delicious and imaginitive menus featuring local ingredients, and have an amazing staff that makes sure every detail of the event goes smoothly. Every couple that I have worked with that has used eat as their caterer has raved about how happy they were. I can't wait to see how they transform the Packard space!


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

Good Luck and good for you eat. I will definitely be checking out their new digs. "I think us moving from Mark's Carts is kind of what Mark (Hodesh) had in mind," she said. "It's like an incubator project. I have a feeling other businesses from Mark's Carts will be doing similar things in the future." Eat is graduating up to a fixed location and perhaps other carts will do the same. Who will be next? Maybe the vegan food cart, The Lunchroom, will rent a space. Another food carts will replaced eat. Food carts ultimately allow people to get their feet wet with a food cart business before launching into a lease and remodeling expenses. I like the idea of new food carts coming in. If and when they moved into a brick and mortar location like eat is doing, these businesses will still have their food carts to do festivals and other function to extend their brand. The food cart experience seems to provide a lower cost forum to raise some capital, work on menu and to create a customer base.

say it plain

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

What I don't get is why people need to be cheerleaders to avoid being called 'haters' lol. Some people are fans of 40 dollar 8 inch cakes that other people think are not very good. Some people go to 'events' in this town where budgets allow high high profit margins to be made on food that other people find merely okay. To refuse to be a cheerleader for a business that is local or run by kids who grew up in town or whatever isn't the same as applauding the opening of the next seven-eleven. Indeed, I think that wishing for fairly-priced lovingly produced interesting food is what prevents there from being the kind of two-tiered *everything* there has tended to be in this town and everywhere else in the country these last decades! This 'hater' lol believes that this town can sometimes support overpriced precious but ultimately uninteresting and elitist food operations (Fwiw i don't feel this way about Zingerman's or Morgan & York). And the combo of imo-not-very-inspiring food and high prices and proximity to the similar-to-me vibed Cake Nouveau led me to observe that this isn't so exciting as the first spin-off from the Mark's carts incubator. I love the Mark's Carts concept though, and clearly it's doing what it should be, helping build businesses. I don't think one is required to unquestioningly support business just because it's 'local', and I am not an event-planner lol who's up on how 'hot' this operation is among 'the people who know' ;-)


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:34 a.m.

I wish you said it plainer than you did. I'm not sure what your trying to say but if your saying their food is overpriced it shows a lack of understanding of the business. Most of these business are trying to provide you with food made from high quality ingredients. Most are local, organic and raised with great care. Wether you find this food uninteresting or precious is beside the point. They have to charge more because the food costs more. They also have to include labor rent and utilities into the cost of the food. After all this they have to make something for themselves out of the deal. Seeing that many restaurant professionals put in 50-60 hrs or more a week it seems only fair that they ultimatly get to make something for themselves. You speak of preciousness but imo your comments are more so. To say they are making "high high profit margins" with no proof and on a somewhat uniformed basis seems precious in itself. Furthermore its downright irresponsible in a public form seeing you don't have a shred of evidence to support your accusations. their food is making them an excessive profit?

Laura Meisler

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

Thanks and well-said, Jean Henry! See you, and hopefully more hungry folks, at HomeGrown tonight.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

I absolutely love eat catering - they are extremely popular in the wedding and event industry, and it's about time they expanded! Congratulations!

Jean Henry

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 12:28 p.m.

eat is an already well-established CATERING business that has been paying rent on 2 shared commercial kitchens. Their business success won't be dependent on foot traffic or anything that is easily visible to the public unless you go to lots of catered events. In light of that, Helen's "we'll see" about retail makes a lot of sense. Sounds like she has given due consideration to the foot traffic issue. Lastly, their rent includes the equipment, not just walls and roof, so comparisons to other commercial rents don't apply. (Commercial kitchens rent space for $30/hour +) What new, independent, heartfelt and locally-grounded businesses set to HIRE people in this town need is the support and enthusiasm of their community. It is so easy to be a naysayer. How will we move forward? Check out Homegrown Festival tonight in Kerrytown Farmer's Market-- Have a little fun, eat some great food, and see how our local food community is evolving. And congratulations Helen and Blake-- knock 'em dead kids! Lastly, as Downtown and Campus are taken over by chains, losing all character in the process, I'd put my money on the South Packard/Industrial corridor as the next vibrant commercial area for a new, sustainable, independent business economy. Just give it a few years.

say it plain

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

I agree at least about the Packard/Industrial is refreshing to see the increasing vibrancy of that area given how dull downtown and campus has become. Ridiculous rents kill fresh and interesting, that's clear...

Jillian Sweetman

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 10:38 a.m.

We LOVE eat!! Your business is wonderful, keep up the good work! It would be worth the drive to get your food. Best of luck.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 6:25 a.m.

Wow! Haters will be haters. If everyone exemplified sourpuss attitudes like some of the commentators here, life would be beyond boring. You gotta go out on a limb to break through and get things done. I applaud eat for not only following through with their dreams and delivering a great, delicious product, but for standing up, regardless of what seems to be a wall of jaded, obstinate know it all's. Life's too short for naysayers. Best of luck with the new location. And to the wet blanket marketing genius's that have been gracing us all with their financial acumen, I'll be waiting for your book release! Can't wait to visit eat when you guys open! Best of luck.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 12:18 a.m.

The Credit Card companies do not allow any business to do the following: 1: Charge a sur-charge for using the card. 2: charge a fee for using the card. 3: Set a minimum amount for the sale. If any company is caught doing this, the ability to use this system for their customers to pay will be pulled and they will not at any time be allowed to go back in. They also have people out checking the various business's bot this violation. This should just be an expense of doing business!!

Shirley Temple

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

why should it be an expense? because you dont want to pay what is essentially your own convenience fee that local businesses, already marking down their products too much so they can get cheap people's business, are currently paying for you. It's still American tender. People can do WHATEVER they want with it, as long as the taxes come rolling in. ALL kinds of businesses do this - online, gas stations, cafes, restauraunts, big sales...


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.

I am so excited that a business like eat that started in Ann Arbor is growing. It is encouraging to see that a business that focuses on keeping their product as close to home as possible can prosper. Congratulations to you both. I am can't wait to see what comes out of this new space!


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

I really wish them all the success they can handle. I do think this could be a great example of a the incubator in action. However, I can't help but think just maybe they made the jump to this location a bit too soon. Mark Cart's has been open less than six months and while I understand the business was functioning before that time, moving to a location where numerous eateries have failed really makes you wonder if they are a little premature with this. The amount of business required to support the rent is obviously much different than what Mark's was charging.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Frasers Pub, Cake Nouveu and the party store formerly known as Big Ten have all done fine just a block up the street. Lots of people drive down Packard as well. It's walkable from my house so I'll definitely be trying it.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 8:16 p.m.

If the food is good, they will come. Its not like it is located in Manchester.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 7:51 p.m.

Oh god, guys. You're a great business with great food, but that's a terrible location. Please be careful.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Wow. I think if businesses were to consult the commenters on before opening a business, we would never see a new business in Michigan again. The name isn't right. The location isn't right. The product mix isn't right. The hours aren't right. Well, have at it. There are numerous empty storefronts. Take all of your brilliant ideas and open a business. As for eat, yeah! I can't wait for the new location to open. Your catering is not only mouth-watering, it is beautiful. And your cart was phenomenal. It will be wonderful to stop in to eat, Cake Nouveau, and Morgan and York at one fell swoop.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 9:51 p.m.

Actually it probably is a good idea to consult this board, FREE market research. Albeit on a limited scale. Good luck to them!


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 7:52 p.m.

They do awesome work, but that location is awful especially at that price.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

Good luck!


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

"If for some reason the retail business doesn't pan out, then we'll close it down and use the space for only catering." Seriously? This sounds like a pricey "Plan B", if they are paying $2,700. a month, or anything near that. I would love to say I'm a fan of "eat", but I was not impressed with what I've eat-en. I wish any business start-up the best of luck, they need it, and these days with so many food options - a great offering at a fair price.

say it plain

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

yeah, I'm wondering what the audience is for catering offered with $2 per person extra for plasticware and paper napkins, yikes! I see where they feel confident given the business model that 2700$ a month for catering-outfit rent would work lol... I wasn't tempted by the offerings at eat compared to the other Mark's Carts vendors, so can't speak to the food. But for prices like that I'd hope they have a great set of menus! Nearby the the overpriced and under-good (in a big way, imho!) cake nouveau might seriously work to their advantage actually..traffic from those already willing to believe that the edible offerings must be exquisite if the price-tag and presentation hype says so!

Atticus F.

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

I dont see any business being successful in that building other than a delivery place. There's nothing else that atracts people to that area, other than people passing through or the gas station. I do wish them well though. Hopefully they can bring some good eats to the area, and be successful as well.


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

People don't have to be attracted to the area - we are already here! This location is literally surrounded by neighborhoods. Full of all kinds of people. Who want to eat a healthy, delicious dinner and don't always have time to cook it. I haven't eaten at Eat's cart but I am hoping for something comparable to the Jeff's menu that we so dearly, dearly miss.

UM owns

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

On eat's website, it states: "A 3% service charge will be added to your bill for all credit card transactions." I'm pretty sure that is a violation of their merchant agreement.

UM owns

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 1:07 a.m.

Gas stations can do it because a company can give a "discount" for paying with cash; they cannot, however, MARK UP the price for paying with a credit card, or else their ability to accept that card can be revoked.

Monica R-W

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 9:20 p.m.

AAresident, then why are cash discounts allowed at the gas pump? Maybe this action should be investigated and its' not hard to do. Just pull up to any gas station that is not Speedway and its' being done.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

Gas stations, one right up the street at Stadium and Packard, offer gas for less when paying cash. Merchants pay that 3% to the banks. Why not pass it along?

Atticus F.

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:51 p.m.

It is.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

It's probably against the law. The the financial industry has made it illegal to give cash discounts. But hey, after all the money we've sent to them, who wants to send any more? It's better to pay cash at small businesses. Why should they have to support the banks?


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

$2700 per month times 12, divided by 864 square feet. That's $37.50/foot, more than they're getting in most prime downtown and campus locations. No wonder the location "wasn't profitable" for BTB Burrito!


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

You're in my neighborhood - can't wait to have (more - re: Morgan and York, Cake Nouveau) great food just down the street! Best wishes.

David Paris

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

Almost any name would be better than "eat", but hey, it's your business. Best of Luck to you, both!