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Posted on Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

New restaurant to replace ex-Champion House in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


A new restaurant is set to open in the former Champion House space on East Liberty Street and Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

Lizzy Alfs |

A new tenant signed a lease last week for the former Champion House restaurant space in downtown Ann Arbor after it closed abruptly in January.

A locally owned Asian fusion restaurant will be open on the corner of East Liberty Street and Fourth Avenue in the Pretzel Bell Building sometime this fall, said building owner and local developer Ed Shaffran.

Shaffran said the new restaurant will have a Japanese steakhouse feel due to a hibachi grill that diners can sit around, but there will also be an extensive sushi menu.

The atmosphere, he said, will feel “much more upscale” than Champion House.

“It’s not like Benihana either, which is the first thing people think of,” he said. “This restaurant is kind of multifaceted and will have a different variety of Asian foods.”

He said the owners - whom he would not identify - will seek a liquor license and soon will start renovating the space. Ann Arbor-based firms MSK Architects and Rizzolo Brown Studio are working on the project.

The owners hope to open the restaurant sometime this fall, and also plan to offer samples of their food during the Ann Arbor Art Fair this summer, Shaffran said.

The roughly 4,000-square-foot space was listed on the market for two months after Champion House owner Hai Pham abandoned it in January.

Shaffran said he was not notified that the 20-year-old restaurant would be closing, but he has since taken legal steps to terminate the lease.

He said he received interest in the space from a variety of different restaurant users, including regional concepts, a microbrewery and burger joints.

But Shaffran, who maintains he’s “all about local,” said he thinks a local tenant has a better read on the community and its needs.

And the new Asian restaurant, he said, will offer the downtown area “something a little different.”

“Certainly we received all kinds of interested concepts,” he said. “The space is pretty much designed for an Asian restaurant, to say the least.

"We’re taking advantage of that and moving forward with it.”

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



Thu, Jun 28, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

There sure are a lot of complaints here for one Asian restaurant being replaced by another. If it's significantly better than what Champion House became at the end (which shouldn't be too difficult), I don't really see what the problem is. Personally I like hibashi and I'm not aware of any others in Ann Arbor.


Thu, Jun 28, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

hibachi, that is ...


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

so does this mean i can have my job back now? if it's going to be the exact same thing...


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:42 a.m.

One more thing...this town needs more entertainment...or at least decent go with all this eating. The shopping seems on the way out permanently, but definitely people need more to do downtown before and after all these dinners.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:40 a.m.

I think if they went with the Asian concept, a good Korean BBQ downtown...complete with the intable grills...would do well.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

Sounds like another formula restaurant run by "hospitality specialists" or accountants. This is why downtown has such a collection of mediocre places to eat with high prices, loud music, and unimaginative menus. Ugh!


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

I think we should take a moment and thank all the hero involved in this. With out your help there would be no resteraunts in our community.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Another "upscale" restaurant downtown. Yipee. Lately it seems as if the powers that be in A2 have no interest in welcoming working families downtown anymore. Thankfully, there's always Knight's! Nice to know you can still afford to take out your family for good food at a decent price somewhere in town.

paul wiener

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Why not eliminate the word "upscale" from every restaurant review and article you publish. Instead, substitute the word "overpriced," which is the polite form of "ripoff." I wish I could name the dozen or so places that come to mind, some very well-established here, that already meet that definition. The only advantage they offer the community is as a reminder of how to be more creative in finding the dozens of places that exist that serve excellent, often superior food and service.

David Bardallis

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

"He said he received interest in the space from a variety of different restaurant users, including regional concepts, a microbrewery and burger joints." I hope he has a good reason for not going with the microbrewery!


Thu, Jun 28, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

Three, if I'm not mistaken.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

Seriously? With two other microbreweries within a block or two?


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

David, you read my mind. I logged in to post this exact comment!


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

I'm excited that a new sushi place is opening downtown. I live near downtown and am very disappointed in the new occupants of Miki. Hoping this new place will once again give us a good sushi place in walking distance from our home.

alan haber

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

in this little report is the canumbrum of ann arbor,s downtown: "much more upscale" and "i'm all about local." city council and downtown development want more growth, more money, more taxes, higher values, fancier visitors, richer young professionals coming to live downtown, anchor franchises bringing outside investment, etc. this is not "all about local," it is anti local, raising rents and assessments and taxes and driving small local business to the edge, or over the edge of closing. the local workers who maintain downtown can't afford "much more upscale," and can barely still afford to live in ann arbor. downtown becomes an urban theme park for neighboring towns and visitors but less and less affordable and inviting for actual locals. festi-fools and occasional green fairs are nice, but not a substitute for a downtown for ann arborites, with a central park, friendly for children, etc. myself, i miss the pretzel bell.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

Hey alan - if you don't like it open your own place that is cheaper.

Patti Smith

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

I'm inclined to agree. Every time I hear the word "upscale", I cringe, because inevitably it means something that I can't afford. Sure, we need people with money to spend the money, but I don't want that to squeeze out people (like me) who can just afford to live here and do business in downtown.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.



Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

I love hibachi restaurants, but Champion House was notoriously bad. I'd be thrilled if the new restaurant turns out to have good food. Fingers crossed, belly growling. Looking forward to trying it.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Does anyone know what happened to the original tenants? I heard they upped and left but no one knows why. Great to hear this is getting a new lease on life.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

So how is this any different from Champion House? Which btw was a HORRIBLE restaurant as of late, so glad they left. Seems like the real story might be what the heck happened to Champion House? They used to be good, became pretty terrible and then abandoned shop? fill us in!


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

Champion House had an ownership change, and went downhill hard after that. Their sushi was terrible.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Never had either bad service nor bad food at Champion House. Loved it. Including the at your table food preparation.

Jojo B

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

I agree! Champion House was awesome for many years; the best Chinese food around. Then when they switched to Japanese-only, they just couldn't do it as well as the dozens of other restaurants around: bento boxes too greasy, redesigned dining room wasn't as welcoming, and their service was just horrible.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

"New restaurant to replace ex-Champion House in downtown Ann Arbor" There's the problem. Who wants to dine at a restaurant named after EX-champions? LOL

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.

SSSSzzzzzzzkkkkkxxxxxxxmmmmmm......oh sorry, was I snoring loudly again?

Jojo B

Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 10:56 a.m.

I always welcome new restaurants, but seriously, another upscale sushi/Japanese place? Aren't there already about 27 other similar restaurants from Main Street to South U? Restaurant developers always seem to follow patterns of market saturation, from mid-eastern fare several years ago to more recently the gourmet burger craze. You're entering a saturated market, so please be unique and somehow better than the rest if you want to survive!


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

"Aren't there already about 27 other similar restaurants from Main Street to South U? " No. There are several sushi places around campus, but west of State Street, there's only one, Miki/Sushi Zen (new owners are changing the name), on First. Pacific Rim serves Asian fusion, but only occasionally has sushi (and is a great place imho). Main Street draws a different customer base than South U.


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Most of the sushi restaurants in town are not what I'd call upscale. Miki/Sushi Zen comes close, but I've still seen people wearing sweatshirts and flip flops in there. (Oh wait, I forgot what town I was in.) Not every place that hands you a hot towel is 1st class.