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Posted on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

Owners of Lucky Kitchen Chinese restaurants in Ann Arbor open Passport Restaurant & Lounge

By Janet Miller

When customers come into the new Passport Restaurant and Lounge on South State Street, kitchen and operations manager CJ Johnson wants them to think they’ve been on a trip around the world, with stops in Asia, Italy, France and the American southwest.

Calling it an international fusion restaurant, Passport, with 350 seats, had a soft opening Saturday with family and friends and opened to the general public Sunday.

passport photo.jpg

Front House Manager Rophy Nam (left) and Operations Manager CJ Johnson as they prepare to open Passport restaurant on South State Street in Pittsfield Township.

Janet Miller | For

Jenny Wu and husband Jin Huang, the owners of two Lucky Kitchen Chinese restaurants in Ann Arbor, have opened Passport, their third restaurant, in the former Chi-Chi’s restaurant on South State Street, ¼ mile south of I-94.

The couple began thinking about opening a restaurant that went beyond a Chinese menu a couple of years ago, Johnson said.

“They didn’t want it to be as intensely Chinese. They didn’t want to be pigeon-holed.”

Johnson and executive chef Anthony Mayo focused on the side of the menu that wasn’t Chinese, Johnson said, adding things such as a petit filet and southwestern Portobello and quinoa Napoleon.

The 35 to 40 staff members hired in recent weeks also reflect the globe, Johnson said. “We have people from Cambodia, Korea, the Ukraine and Mexico.”

The location is a homecoming of sorts for Wu: Her family came to Ann Arbor in the 1980s and she worked part time at Chi-Chi’s to help pay for college.

“It’s fate,” Johnson said, “that she would return and run the place as her own.”

They call the idea of Passport thinking outside the wok: Passport combines dishes from different countries - a healthy portion of Asian dishes along with linguini, quiche and New England scallops. But they also cross borders for single dishes: Asian minestrone soup or pad thai fettuccini, for example.

“We’re combining different flavors,” Johnson said.

The Ann Arbor Chi-Chi’s closed in 2004 when the chain folded. The building was purchased for $1.4 million by Novi-based Cherry Blossom Japanese restaurant in 2005, which added a series of Japanese Tatami rooms that offer private Japanese seating. But Cherry Blossom also closed.

A & Z Investments of Ann Arbor, registered to Androulla and Zakhour Youssef, purchased the building. The 10,300-square-foot building has sat vacant for a couple of years, Johnson said. A number of building repair issues had to be addressed - including some in recent days - before Passport could open, he said.

A number of cosmetic changes have been made, Johnson said, including interior and exterior paint, new flooring and carpet and updated televisions for the lounge.

Johnson joined Passport last month. His last job was working prepared foods at Hiller’s Market in Ann Arbor, although he’s worked in food service for 27 years, including time at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Johnson said.

“Between the sous-chef, the executive chef and me, we have more than 80 years experience. Everyone’s been cooking forever.”



Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 12:34 p.m.

I like Lucky Kitchen but the food at the Passport Lounge was just plain terrible. I tried a chicken dish and it tasted worse than stuff you can pick up from Meijer or Kroger. The food is also pricey. Would never go back.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 1:04 p.m.

I came in a few nights ago. It was pretty quiet in the bar, albeit was a monday! Ben (if I remember his name correctly) was very helpful with my questions about the menu; he knew his drinks, and he is gorgeous! About time we have a place with food and drinks that are good and a staff that is easy to look at! My girlfriends and I will be back for sure!

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

I wanted to add: The service was impeccable. I was dining with my mother. From the time we got there (when the hostess opened the doors for us) until the time we left (when the hostess escorted us out and, again, held the doors for us), we were treated wonderfully. The waitstaff was attentive, without hovering. As we left, the manager thanked us for coming. We both felt like the staff really wanted to please, yet wasn't intrusive or overly hover-y. And, our waiter was really freaking cute! Not to mention, totally competent. I don't usually gush, but I really liked this place. I plan on coming back soon with my daughter, a sushi lover like myself, to try out their sushi menu.

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

I just tried Passport for lunch today. Very tasty! A little pricey for lunch, but not bad, especially considering how wonderful everything was. I will definitely go back.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 8:26 p.m.

Great restaurant! Lucky Kitchen just added online ordering too!

Mike Miller

Sat, Sep 11, 2010 : 10:15 p.m.

Lucky Kitchen has the best Chinese food in town. It's been around since my college days, and it's still kicking out the best tasting crab cheese and general tso's chicken I've ever had.

Mike Miller

Sat, Sep 11, 2010 : 10:10 p.m.

My friends and family love Passport, we've been back 4 times already since their opening to try new things on the menu. We love the Sea Bass, Lamb chops and Bouillabaisse. We tried the burger, wasabi roast beef and linguini for lunch and was all very good. Sushi is great, and the soups are amazing! Everyone should try the Chocolate Mousse Tower for dessert, it's absolutely out of this world.


Fri, Sep 10, 2010 : 9:40 p.m.

Whomever think that Lucky Kitchen food is good they don't know what good food is!


Fri, Sep 10, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

Just got back from lunch. Me and a coworker were very excited that a new place had finally opened up. Well, we were completely disappointed. After perusing the very short luch menu (8 to 10 choices, unless you wanted sushi), my coworker ordered the chicken linquini and I settled on the blackened burger, as nothing else caught my fancy. I ordered my burger medium rare with cheddar. The food came fast enough, but her dish was swimming in oil and butter and barely seasoned. The chicken looked like it had either been microwaved or boiled in the same pot as the pasta. It was just white, no seasoning or anything. She said it was very bland and worth maybe $2, not the $12 they charged. The owners might want to consider giving people some bread to sop up all the oil. When she was finished, I bet there was at least a quarter cup of oil/butter in the bottom of the bowl, probably more. My burger came out without the cheese I had ordered. Half way through eating I noticed just how bland it was for a "blackened" burger. Upon closer look, it wasn't blackened at all. It looked like a plain naked burger that I could have grilled at home. No kick at all, just plain old hamburger. Based solely on this lunch, I would not recommend this place to anybody. We will never come back and we'll just have to wait until the next restaurant takes it's place.


Tue, Sep 7, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

the little caption below the picture states it's in pittsfield township. Is that part of state street really pittsfield?


Tue, Aug 31, 2010 : 1:03 a.m.

please change my name from Jin Huang to Rophy Nam, this is Rophy Nam, FOH Manager of Passport. thank you


Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

Our family have been fans of Lucky Kitchen Chinese Food for three years now. The restaurant offers truly the "best" Chinese food take-out in the area. Can't wait to visit your new spacious restaurant on S. State Street.


Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

I was never a fan of Lucky Kitchen. How can "healthier" Chinese food taste good? I'm intrigued with this new idea of offering many different kinds of food from all over the world. I hope it goes well, because it's better to be great at one cuisine than semi-ok at a whole bunch of different cuisines.

Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

Love Lucky Kitchen! Hope Passport is as delicious as Lucky, and it's sure to be a success.

Jay D. Houston

Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 11:30 a.m.

Executive Chef Tony Mayo has created a superlative menu...I ate at Passport Sat. and Sun. Food quality & value rival any restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, with no parking hassles. The menu offers something for everyone. Staff is very friendly & helpful. Passport is off to a great start...Well done.


Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 11:09 a.m.

Who knows, the concept sounds odd, but these people have a proven track record of succeeding in very competitive environments. Let's check it out!


Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 10:17 a.m.

Lu....cky Kishen! My favorite place for Chinese takeout when I lived on that side of town. Nobody makes Mu Shu Pork like they do.

Haran Rashes

Mon, Aug 30, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

As a long time customer and fan of the Lucky Kitchen on Plymouth Road, I want to wish Jenny and Jin good luck with their newest venture.