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Posted on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Mexican, pizza and crepes: Wave of new restaurants coming to downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


Peter Roumanis and his father, John Roumanis, owner of Mediterrano, plan to open Vellum on South Main Street in the next few weeks.

Daniel Brenner |

Downtown Ann Arbor’s dining options already are extensive, but a wave of new restaurants planning to open in the next few months are sure to take the local palate to a whole new level.

From small plates of authentic Mexican food to Liege-style Belgian waffles and Asian fusion, more than a half dozen restaurants currently are working on build-outs in downtown Ann Arbor with the goal of opening in the next few months.


The number of restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor has grown by more than 150 percent since 1982. file photo

The list of openings is diverse: it includes a mix of national chains, regional restaurants and local establishments; it varies from quick and casual to higher-end; and it includes a breadth of different specialties.

“People are seeing success in downtown restaurants and they’re looking to do more…we are becoming more and more of a dining destination,” said Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association.

Among the expected openings:

Ann Arbor has long been known as a food-lover’s paradise. There are 176 restaurants, bars and cafes downtown — a figure that has been growing in the past three decades. According to data collected by Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority, the number of restaurants downtown has increased by more than 150 percent since 1982.

Adriane De Ceuninck of the Michigan Restaurant Association said the wave of restaurants opening in Ann Arbor is indicative of statewide job growth trends. Restaurants currently account for 9 percent of total employment in Michigan.

The number of workers in the Ann Arbor area’s restaurant industry is already at record levels, and new restaurant openings could help lower the county’s 4.9 percent unemployment rate.

Michigan restaurant industry

Statistics from the National Restaurant Association:

  • By the end of 2012, Michigan’s restaurants are projected to register $12.6 billion in sales.
  • There were 16,069 restaurants in Michigan in 2010.
  • Restaurants in Michigan employ 374,800 people, or 9 percent of total employment in the state.
  • Americans spend an estimated $232 a month on dining out.

“The economy is getting better and so as the economy continues to rebound, you’re going to see people taking opportunities and opening up new restaurants,” she said.

Alan Wang, general manger of new Asian fusion restaurant Kuroshio, said he’s looking to hire 30 to 40 workers. Hiring signs are posted in the windows of the other downtown restaurants, also.

For Paul Jenkins Jr., owner of Royal Oak-based what crepe?, opening a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor fulfills a goal he’s had from the very beginning.

“To be honest, I actually wanted to open in Ann Arbor before Royal Oak…there just wasn’t any real estate,” he said.

“The city of Ann Arbor is so vibrant and fun and unique, and it really fits who we are,” he continued. “Also, Ann Arbor people are very receptive to new concepts…other cities I’ve researched are scared of new.”

Although new restaurants coming onto the market could steal business away from existing establishments, Ravens Club co-owner Jeff Paquin welcomes the competition. He thinks a strong community of businesses puts Ann Arbor on a national map.

"Continuous improvement and consistency in this business is key, and my hope is that collectively, we continue forward to national recognition," he said via email. He also noted that the opening of Vellum — right next door to his restaurant — should complement Ravens Club nicely.


what crepe? owner Paul Jenkins is currently working on his build-out of the former Squares Restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

To be sure, the restaurant industry is tough — national research indicates that one in four restaurants close or change ownership in their first year of operating, which can lead to a revolving door in the real estate world.

Many of the new restaurants planning to open are replacing other food users — like the decades old Champion House and short-lived Squares Restaurant. Meanwhile, Toppers Pizza, Isalita and Firehouse Subs are converting former retail spaces.

“There are going to be restaurants that make it and restaurants that don’t,” said Swisher Commercial’s Mike Giraud. “The people that understand the market and read the demographic correctly and produce a product that is exciting — those are the people that are going to make it.”

Still, local real estate agents and downtown landlords report high demand for restaurant spaces in downtown Ann Arbor. About a dozen people contacted landlord Jim Curtis of Curtis Commercial who were interested in opening a restaurant in the former Parthenon building on South Main. Landlord Jeff Hauptman of Oxford Properties said he had at least 10 inquiries from people interested in the former Cafe Japon space on East Liberty.

“The big trick (as a landlord) is trying to determine who is going to be something new to the street and at the same time, have the business backing…we don’t want to, for example, have three of the same kind of restaurants in a row,” Hauptman said.

Also important, he added, is maintaining a mix of both restaurant and retail tenants in the downtown. To help maintain that blend, Hauptman said he’s converted several former restaurant spaces into retail, such as the Get Your Game On space on State Street.

Curtis, who also emphasized the importance of balance, added: “The question is: do we have enough restaurants already? It’s our opinion that we have enough restaurants and there needs to be more of a balance between existing restaurants and non-food usages. We need a balance of commerce during the day and during the evening hours to create a constant flow.”

Other regional restaurant openings to look out for in 2013:

  • Tony Sacco’s in the Cranbrook Village shopping center off Eisenhower Parkway
  • R.U.B. BBQ in the former Packard Pub space on State Street
  • The Ann Arbor Observer reports Juicy Kitchen and El Harissa Market Cafe plan to open in Ann Arbor’s Maple Miller Plaza

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



Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 10:17 a.m.

What we need is more sidewalk seating restaurants -- that way, the downtown sidewalks would become completely impassable and we could convert all downtown streets to outdoor malls - neatly eliminating the need to get through town by car or park there. Or - teach people how to cook for themselves, eliminating the need to tip anyone for serving our food. :-)


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

IMO I think there are too many restaurants in downtown A2 already, diluting the market to the point of encouraging more failures. The limited population can only support so many restaurants and downtown has no balance of other retail. With the sky high rents, however, the only businesses that can even get in the game are the high profit restaurants and bars. I do think it's a mistake to have so many restaurants and so few other retail establishments to balance it out. Long time family businesses have been pushed out in recent years by high rents and diminishing foot traffic, along with panhandlers that hassle people walking around downtown, and it's unfortunate that downtown A2 is turning into one gigantic food court.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

@Lizzy I can only afford to get excited about burnt hotdogs downtown. If Ann Arbor is desired to be known for its haute cuisine then a readily identifiable local personality who is able to experience all of the delights and disasters of eating out downtown and provide such fair critical finding back to the need-to-know public is a must. Of course their employer would have to foot all of that consumption in order for the critic to remain above any petty pocket/palate bias. (Psst. Did it work?)

Ron Granger

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

How can you possibly write about food when there are potholes in the street that are being neglected! Oh, the declicious humanity. With dumplings and spicey sauce.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

We definitely could use a really good food writer, but most of the ones we have should be doing something else. Surely, there must be someone out there who could write for this blog and do it well, without banalities and simplistic judgement statements of the kind "I liked the broccoli, but the potatoes were bland," and who eschews the word "tangy"!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

And one who eats meat... I'm lobbying my boss, @LXIX

Jessica Webster

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

I agree, LXIX. But I think Lizzy needs a partner in crime. A local food writer, maybe. One who is already employed by You're definitely on to something there.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

Good to hear. Hope they have better openings then Lena did. That place is hurting already from what i can tell. Good food and good prices make for a good dining experience. I hope the new places have success.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3 p.m.

You know Bon Jovi doesn't charge at his restaurant. He only asks that you donate as much as you see fit. With there being soooooooooooo many restaurants in DTAA why can't this happen else where? I'm starting to get the feeling I'm walking through a mall with no walls when you get to DTAA.

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

I'm so glad we're getting more restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor. Whew. Close one skipper.

Nicole Streeter

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

As for chain restaurants, I'd really like a Ruby Tuesday back in Ann Arbor. I love their salad bar, and there isn't a restaurant (that I know of) that has as extensive a buffet style salad bar as them. I also would LOVE to see a Tim Horton's on the west side/ Jackson/Zeeb rd. area. I was actually quite surprised when they re-built Wendy's and added a CVS that they didn't include a Tim Horton's as the trio always seems to go hand in hand.. I'm a lover of soup & salad,and we just don't have a great soup/salad bar around anymore..

Ben Connor Barrie

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Sorry I didn't read the article, but where can I find these Mexican pizza-crepes?

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

Well Ben, I'd invite you over if I knew you. I've experimented with cooking up a number of non-traditional crepe varieties in my own kitchen, a pizza variety being one of them...although I'll probably stick to just crust as it didn't turn out quite as anticipated.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

@Lizzie, I'm most excited to try what crepe?

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I tried what crepe? in Birmingham a few weeks ago. It's nice because you can make your crepe very healthy or very unhealthy! I ended up getting a tofu/spinach/tomato crepe. Also, you can get a vegan crepe. I must say, though, the crepes going by me layered with chocolate and ice cream looked pretty tempting.

Steven Murphy

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

It's all good!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

Readers: Which new restaurant are you most excited to try?


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

I am looking forward to Tony Sacco's pizza. I had this in West Palm Beach Fl and it was outstanding. The crust is very different from what we get here in Michigan. Coal fired is very very good.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

Bring on the Waffles!

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

NONE. I expect to continue visiting my favorites and the "townie" restaurants that shall remained un-named.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.


Ben Freed

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

If the wafel shop is open late nights, that could be fantastic.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

Mexican pizza crepes would certainly take my stomach to a whole new level.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : noon

Since you mentioned the "revolving door" of restaurant ownership, does anyone know if Fat Philly's Steaks on Washtenaw and Hewitt is still open? I see the "open" sign lit sporadically and see very few cars in the lot. Just wonderning...

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I just drove by there on Tuesday because I heard the same thing. It's still open.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

Not sure about Fat Philly's...anyone?


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

I believe its still open. Great cheese steaks. Id say best in the area.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:12 a.m.

Should just close off main street and turn it into the food court it is....