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Posted on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

The Smokehouse Grill on Washtenaw Avenue to become an 'affordable' steakhouse after sale

By Lizzy Alfs


Louie Vushaj, new owner of Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge, and general manager Michelle Sieloff.

Chris Asadian |

The Smokehouse Grill and Pub on Washtenaw Avenue will soon become the Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge after the business was recently sold.

New owner Louie Vushaj is currently renovating the long-time Pittsfield Township restaurant, located at 4855 Washtenaw Ave., and hopes to unveil the new concept March 1. The business will remain open during the renovations.

Vushaj recently purchased the restaurant from former owner Demos Panos. He said a deal is being finalized to purchase the property as well.

Vushaj estimated the cost of the deal would total about $1 million, including more than $100,000 spent on remodeling.

According to township documents, the property’s assessed value was $554,800 in the 2010 tax year, making its estimated market value about double that.

The restaurant was put on the market in 2010 because Panos said his family was preoccupied with running its other businesses, including Nick’s Original House of Pancakes on Lohr Circle in Pittsfield Township. His wife, Helen, runs Village Kitchen in the Maple Village Shopping Center in Ann Arbor.

Panos had invested in some light remodeling in June 2011, when he told the restaurant was performing well. He also changed the name from The Smokehouse Blues Bar and Grill.

Vushaj, who has known Panos for years, said he was just ready to retire.

“You age out of business, that’s how life is," Vushaj said.

Now, Vushaj — who has been in the restaurant business since he was 13 years old — plans to transform the restaurant into a more modern steakhouse, named Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge.

“Brahma promises to be Ann Arbor’s premier steakhouse,” according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. “At Brahma, we pride ourselves in exceptional quality and tremendous service, at a price everyone can afford.”


The Smokehouse Grill and Pub will become Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge on March 1 if the renovations go as planned.

Janet Miller | For

Renovations include installing hardwood floors and new booths, painting and refinishing the bar.

It will still seat approximately 230 people, and Vushaj is keeping the employees from The Smokehouse Grill, in addition to hiring a few new ones.

“We’re in the process of bringing in a very well-known chef, but I can’t reveal who yet,” he said.

The menu will consist of steaks, fish and pasta items, and will be in the $10 to $20 range.

“My belief in the restaurant business is this: If I’m not going to eat it, then I’m not going to serve it to you,” he said.

Before Smokehouse opened about 15 years ago, the location was home to Herc’s Roast Beef restaurant.

Vushaj said both Herc’s and Smokehouse did “tremendous business” — one of the reasons why he decided to purchase the restaurant.

“I’d say I surveyed 80 percent of the state before choosing this,” he said. “Ann Arbor could be considered the capital of the state.”

As the uncle of local business owner Sava Lelcaj, Vushaj said he's hoping to channel the momentum he’s seen at Sava’s Restaurant on South State Street in Ann Arbor.

“If I can see some of the same success Sava has had at her wonderful restaurant, it’d be great,” he said.

Former owner Panos told he likes the new concept for the restaurant.

“[Vushaj] is going to make this the best steakhouse east of Knight’s,” he said.

As for his next step: “Who knows, maybe I’ll take a vacation.”

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



Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

liked the Smokehouse a lot.the food was great.affordable steak huh?we'll see how that works.


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 5:09 a.m.

Happy to see a new owner come in and create value. Most people would just come in, rebrand and/or do nothing, but at least this guy is sinking money into an old(ish) location. I've ate there several times (a little over a week ago was the last time) and our waitress said they would be keeping several signature items on the menu, including the ribs! I'm excited to see the final product and at the very least am excited to support a new local business. Best of luck.


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 5:18 a.m.

oopsie, I ate there.... not I've ate there

J. Sorensen

Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 4:53 a.m.

I used to eat at smokehouse Blues a lot in the early 2000's. The smoked prime rib was awesome, as were the southern greens, fried okra, a great touch of southern tradition up north. Went back a year or so ago and the food quality had gone downhill. Hope the new owners keep the smokers running out back and at least provide a good southern style section on the menu! No other prime rib compared to that smoked one! (The last prime rib I got at Knights was actually served to me cold! And with the usual 5 redskins and 8 spears of barely cooked asparagus). I like Knights, but the prices have gotten bigger than the value of the food. Hope the new owners make a real good go of this place, I believe there is a market out here on the Eastside for such a place!

Jed I Knight

Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

The location is bad, i ate there once in my life and its gross. I see no attraction to smoke house or beef joint. It would be nice and a pleasant surprise if they do well


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 10:22 p.m.

Quite honestly I wish them luck. If being a steakhouse is what they want, this is probably the worst time to open one. Beef prices are on the rise and will continue to rise according to the USDA projections. Chicken is fairly stable right now. I do not eat meat, so it wont matter to me, but I am not sure beef is the answer. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Kk Ichikawa

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

This restaurant is NOT within the City limits of Ann Arbor!! I believe it's actually located in Pittsfield Twp?? Ann Arbor gets blasted for it's business environment and yet businesses STILL want an &quot;Ann Arbor&quot; address!!


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 2:44 a.m.

Actually Pittsfield is goofy around there some address are Ypsi some are Ann Arbor.Meijer and Home Depot are listed as Ypsi


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

Relax. Pittsfield Township isn't drafting on Ann Arbor's good name. The &quot;city&quot; portion of an address is determined by the post office that handles the mail delivery for that address. Pittsfield Twp's mail is handled by an Ann Arbor post office, hence the &quot;Ann Arbor&quot; address. If that's problematic, you can take up your concerns with the Post Office. (Just as an aside, a lot of people think that the Post Office is responsible for assigning the actual numeric portion of a street address. In reality, if you want your house number changed, you'll need to talk to the electric (f)utility about that.)


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

Which is exactly what the article says New owner Louie Vushaj is currently renovating the long-time Pittsfield Township restaurant, located at 4855 Washtenaw Ave., and hopes to unveil the new concept March 1. The business will remain open during the renovations.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

Where does the beef come from? Industrial farms?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

I wish they could find the old recipe for Herc's pizza! It was one of the best pies in A2/Ypsi! Of course, I'm partially in jest, since that's not the type of restaurant they're planning, but I've always missed it.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

Haab's gets my vote for steaks and prime rib on this side of town. I'm also still waiting for the grand opening of the Red Rock Downtown Barbeque. (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> What's the word on that?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

I hope this guy has surveyed his competition. Also, how can you serve a nice filet for under twenty bucks, especially &quot;bone in&quot;?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

You serve cheap beef.

Ron Granger

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

Best of luck to them. But I don't see the business case. I hate that area of town. I don't know how you compare excitement over a place on S. State to that part of Washtenaw. Hard to imagine people from Ann Arbor driving to that location as a destination. And there is Knights. It's in a good location, it's cozy (yet big). The food is great, and reasonable. I feel safe walking to and from my car.


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

Thanks Tree thats the place I was thinking of, I will be trying their tomales next week. My mouth is watering as I type this.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Hint the Chicken Place is Family's Fried Chicken at Congress and Michigan Ave, the Tamale shop is east of there about one block,same side of the street


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

Tree is it the grocery store on Michigan Ave. I've heard they have great tamales, but haven't had a chance to try them. Be a sport and share.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

The best Tamales in the county are found deep in the heart of Ypsi, but I ain't revealing the secret. Hint though, it isn't far from the place that makes the best fried chicken in county.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

So typically Ann Arbor---never cross Carpenter Road! Both previous restaurants did quite well there as the article states.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

It is a good location because it is relatively close to the hospital. People who are visiting family or friends there don't want to drive all the way to the West side of Ann Arbor.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:09 p.m.

Maybe this is supposed to be the Knight's for people on the East side who don't want to drive all the way over to the West side.

Atticus F.

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

I'll miss Smokehouse Blues. It was one of the only places I know of (in the area) that you could sit down, have a stiff drink and order real BBQ (not Chili's or Applebee's liquid smoke, fake BBQ). I personally think that the steak house plan is a poor business model for that area, but I do wish them success.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

Loved Hercs, still miss it. Never liked Smokehouse Blues, eat there 3 times and never felt good about paying for the food they served. Bring a good steakhouse, with good service and you'll score big, bring anything less and this will be a million dollar mistake.

Red Floyd

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

We ate at the Smokehouse because of the MENU. They had food you couldn't get at any other restaurant in the area. Who else serves beef ribs? Steaks, fish, and pasta will be on the new menu? So it's going to be like every other restaurant in town? We'll be sad to see the Smokehouse food pass on. Nothing about the upcoming restaurant changes sound exciting to me.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

Try the Boneyard in Livonia

Atticus F.

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Loved the beef ribs!


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

I hate to see any business go but one thing I wish they would keep in mind. I was a waitress for 5 years, now I make working at a retail store $8.25 an hour. I cannot afford 18% to 20% tip. We do not go to places that make you pay that much. I am already paying for my food, I should not have to pay your servers there wages. Please think about this. We are in hard times. I am very happy to pay a tip in what I can afford. Please don't put a limit on my gift to the waiter. I do believe the staff works hard but please you pay them a decent wage and don't depend on us trying to pay it. Thank you for listening.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 10:16 p.m.

If you can not afford the tip, you can not afford the restaurant. I am sorry your employer does not pay you enough to eat out at a sit down restaurant, but why should the server who works their butt off suffer? Many restaurants have tried the no tipping model. They have failed. Consumers in the United States have spoken clearly about this. I would be fine with getting rid of tipping in favor of a 20% surcharge on all meals to cover service costs, but that would not change where you could afford to eat at. As for Ron's story about cheap tippers, my grandfather was a product of the depression. Until the day he died he tipped $1 on any meal. He could eat at The Chop House and tip $1, or at Dennys and still tip $1. Whenever he invited us to dinner and offered to pay, I always made sure I had cash with me to tip the server after he had paid.

N. Todd

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

@Ron - In response to your last paragraph, do you sometimes lag behind as the group is leaving, unbeknownst to them, so you can throw a few extra bucks down to cover the shortage just so you aren't lumped into the 'schmuck' category by the waitstaff of a restaurant you have every intention of returning to? If so, I used to do that all the time. Now, I've decided to bring inappropriately small tips to the attention of whoever is 'giving' them before I leave the table. Sometimes that means adding my additional funds in their presence which can be uncomfortable, but it seems like it's the right thing to do for the wait staff.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

@ Ron, spot on, live within your means. I also agree with your other statement, we stopped eating out with certain friends for that reason, or when they order top shelf drinks and we drink beers and they want to split the tab.

Ron Granger

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

&quot;please you pay them a decent wage and don't depend on us trying to pay it.&quot; So instead of you giving a tip, you want the food prices to go up by 20% to cover the labor cost? How is that different? If you cannot afford to tip properly, then you cannot afford to eat out. In some cultures tipping is not the norm. In our culture, it is. The worst is eating with someone who is cheap about tipping. You get great service, and everyone is tipping 20%, except That Person tips 10%. So now the table tip is short.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

You tip what you feel your service was worth, if you cant afford a modest tip maybe you're eating beyond your means.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

Naming a steakhouse after the animal that is holy to the world's largest vegetarian religion is in laughbaly bad taste and can't bring good karma to this new venture.

Jed I Knight

Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 12:33 a.m.

The Brahman is one of the most popular breeds of cattle intended for meat processing widely used in Argentina, Brazil, United States...It has been used to develop numerous other U.S. beef breeds including Brangus, Beefmaster, Simbrah, and Santa Gertrudis. Mooooo ve along - nothing to see here. Quite appropriate.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

While i doubt any steakhouse gets much trade form upper caste Hindus, the 'brahma' name refers to animals that are usually either scrawny ( albeit holy) scavenger bovines in india ( or still scrawny but not holy elsewhere).. or else jacked up bucking rodeo bulls.... neither suggests 'tasty'. 'Angus' might be a better choice , as i doubt scots would be offended ( and it'd be a step up from haggis!)


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

Wouldn't the fact it's a steakhouse also be offensive...I mean it is a steakhouse. Or is that not politically correct?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

How about Elsie?

Ron Granger

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

Yeah, that makes no sense and is offensive.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

&quot;...surveyed 80% of Michigan...&quot; and the best he could do is drop a mil on a restaurant on Washtenaw? I used to like Smokehouse, but that area isn't great, ask the Bistro folks....


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

I'm puzzled as to how Brahma will be, &quot;...Ann Arbor's premier Steakhouse...&quot;, yet offer said steak, &quot; a price everyone can afford.&quot;. Have you seen the price of true Kobe beef?

Elaine F. Owsley

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Kobe is not the only kind of good beef out there. It's a specialty meat.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Anytime I see the word &quot;Lounge&quot; associated with a restaurant, I think of Bill Murray singing the Star Wars theme song.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4 p.m.

Maybe the name should be Elsie?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

&quot;Did he scare you as much as he scared meeeeee? AHH!&quot;


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

I will miss the ribs, they were definitely better than the ribs I've tried elsewhere in the area.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

That Washtenaw corridor between Arborland and Ypsi is a tough location for restaurants. There seems to be a lot of restaurants that aren't able to make it in that neck of the woods.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

While I'm sad to see Smokehouse Blues go, my last time was pretty terrible (the food was good, though, but the waitstaff was absent). The owners were very nice. We haven't been back since that time, nor since they changed their name. Best of luck to Vusaj! We'll be by!