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Posted on Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

The Original Cottage Inn adapting to a changing neighborhood with increased opportunity and competition

By Ben Freed


The Original Cottage Inn is dwarfed by its new neighbor, but general manager Tim Patino thinks the development will be good for business.

Joseph Tobianski |

The landscape of William Street and the surrounding areas has changed rapidly around the Original Cottage Inn. Two years of construction have wrapped up with a new student high-rise and new pizza restaurant moving in next door, long-time neighbors White Market and College Shoe Repair have closed to be replaced by yet another pizza shop just a block away, and major retailers Borders and Michigan Book and Supply have closed.

None of this worries general manager Tim Patino, he has a major anniversary to prepare for.

“We’re going to be 65, but we’re not retiring at all, we’re just getting started,” he said. “In fact, we’ve got a bit of a re-birth going on down here.”

Patino said the changes next to the iconic restaurant will be good for businesses now that the major construction has been completed.

“We had an out-of-business bank next door for a while, then it was a hole in the ground, and then it was under construction for a couple of years,” he said.

“The first year of construction is a challenge for any business, but when it got into the second year is when it was really difficult. Some days people weren’t even able to make it to the front door because of equipment on either side of the entrance.”

But once the construction was completed, Patino said Cottage Inn experienced its highest level of Art Fair revenue in at least eight years. He said that while it wasn’t an easy transition, the addition of more students in the area and a more densely populated downtown is good for business, even with a new competitor moving in.


The Cottage Inn's daily lunch buffet is one of many promotions the restaurant runs to increase business on weekdays.

Joseph Tobianski |

“We’re excited to have it done and we really think the new building and the landscaping has cleaned up the street for the better,” he said.

“Was I happy about it at first when I saw that the ground floor would be pizza? No. But now we’ve embraced it… it could be the new pizza district of Ann Arbor.”

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the amount of pizza moving into William Street. Ed Davidson, who owns the Bivouac outdoor clothing store on the State Street, wants to see more diversity downtown.

“Do we need to have NYPD, the NeoPaplis place, Cottage Inn, and another pizza place next to where White Market was? The answer is of course not,” he said.

Davidson and Pation agree that Cottage Inn’s sit-down style and more expansive menu will enable it to weather the storm from any new campus-focused eateries. Patino said that while his restaurant has always done well with students and on the weekends, one of his main focuses has been using new and different promotions to increase weekday dinner traffic.

“We’ve started a ‘kids eat free’ promotion on Monday,” he said.

“And we have found that parents actually look at these things and set their calendars to what places have those kids eat free offers on different days of the week.”

Cottage Inn has also implemented special deals on specific items on Tuesdays and Wednesday to try to lure more traffic. The restaurant already experiences high volume on Thursday nights when the Glee Club comes after practice and on weekends thanks to a loyal following due to its status as “the original Ann Arbor pizza.”

“This is a unique restaurant in that I can be sitting here and someone will come walking around with their kid and say ‘mom used to work here back in college,’” Patino said.

“We get a lot of returns and a lot of people with fond memories of the restaurant reaching back years and years.”

Davidson said that having a loyal following and good standing in the community is what allows institutions like the Cottage Inn and Bivouac, which opened on State Street 40 years ago, to stay in business. He said foot traffic has been down since similar stores closed shop recently.

“Hopefully it will get very exciting again when Borders is rented and the Michigan Book and Supply is filled, provided it isn’t filled with something that’s already here,” he said.

“We need unique things, not duplications, to get people to come downtown. Not things people can find somewhere else, we need things that will make people say ‘I want this and I can only get it on State Street.”

For Patino, the focus is squarely on making the Original Cottage Inn a destination in and of itself. The past year has included a re-vamped website with online ordering, increased promotions on holidays such as St. Patricks day and Cinco de Mayo, and a new-look menu.

“We’re welcoming what’s going on, we’re making the changes, and we’re going to be here for a long time to come,” Patino said.

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

I saw a lot of people agreeing with the cleanliness comment I made, many suggesting a remodeling. My comment referred to washing the walls with cleaning products, washing the dirty light fixtures, bathrooms, etc. A major top to bottom cleaning - not necessarily a remodeling. And of course removal of the stack of chairs that blocks the fire exit...


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

I've always liked going to Cottage Inn and am glad they're still in business. They're one of the few restaurants near the campus still left that were here when I was a freshman in the later 70's. However, I would agree with others that say it probably does need a major remodelling to freshen and clean up the inside.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

and still it endures


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I haven't been there in years, and now that I have fallen in love with City's Pizza, and in particular their pepperoni select, I doubt I will be there anytime soon.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Let's hope those Barracuda people moving into that neighborhood are hungry for some pizza, because they will be surrounded by it.

John Henry

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 10:33 a.m.

Meh. Pizza House is better and has been for the last twenty years.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

Pizza house is marginal and overpriced. Anthony's Chicago style blows them out of the water. It isn't even close! This isn't merely my opinion, but an incontrovertible truth.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.

I'm tired of Pizza. One reason is my generation grew up on Domino's. I would much more prefer delivered and eat Pizza at home than to go and sit in a fish bowl and eat. As we can see there are less of those stores and they too had to add new products to keep a market share. With places like whole foods...who can't make a great Pizza? I don't think pizza is the healthiest choice with so much cheese and grease. We will soon see how health conscious Ann Arbor is as the count of Pizza stores goes up or down. Least we have some great hospitals in the area. Anyone look at the carb count of Pizza lately? Most folk over 40 burn out on Pizza and look for fine foods and real imagination in retail cuisine. There are better foods that can be made on a camp stove than Pizza. At least the scenery can be a whole lot better. Dirtier? Yes, but breath taking. Ever notice how foods cooked out doors or grilled put Pizza to shame. For the record, Pasta, Basil, Garlic and Olive Oil Rule!


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 2:05 a.m.

Ultimately, if the new pizza places fail then the landlord will learn a lesson and decide on attracting a different business next time. But these new pizza joints think they'll make it. There is nothing wrong with a successful "pizza district" and Cottage Inn will be just fine as they ar different from the other establishments.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

The photo illustrates bad planning on the the part of the city. You could, in theory, blame developers, but the inability of the city to attract anything but Pizza, Sub, and Coffee joints is really starting to sour our downtown and frankly I am sick of watching useful business replaced by sub-par food joints. Do something about it, city council!!!


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 6:18 p.m.

Is the useful business you are sick of seeing replaced, the abandoned bank building that was previously on the site of NeoPapalis/Zaragon?


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 1 a.m.

I'm not an expert, but I really don't think that the city has any control over the types of restaurants a building contains and don't think it should. That's not a zoning or planning issue. Can you imagine the City Council or planning commission having the right to say "A Thai restaurant is fine, but pizza or burgers is out."


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

The city only cares about one issue: INCREASING their tax revenue. Expensive high rises for students and fast food restaurants and chain retail will yield high tax revenues for the city. Nothing else matters to the mayor or city council. End of story.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

I used to be a huge fan of Cottage Inn, but he last few years the food has gone downhill: smaller portions, lower quality ingredients, calling a small pizza "extra large", and the restaurant isn't as clean as it used to be, along with wait staff who are disinterested. Too bad. It was a good restaurant until a few years ago.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

The only group of people that work harder than the U-M football team on a game day is the Cottage Inn staff before, during, and after a game. Kudos to all who have worked there throughout the years.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

Have not been in quite some time - many years, actually. They had some cleanliness issues back then, many having something to do with the age of that building and its infrastructure. The occasional roach would wander onto the bar, and the drain behind the bar would emit a foul odor. Very hard to eradicate all vermin in a building that old, used as a restaurant for that long. Ditto with drain problems. The so-called brick oven damn near burned the place down before it was permanently shut off. They probably have a smaller slice of the food and beverage pie than before the Recession, and new restaurants in the area, but that is no guarantee they will survive the shakeout to come. Time will tell.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

I love Cottage Inn and had my wedding rehearsal dinner there. If it is dirty as people say it is, such as dust bunnies about to fall in drinks, I wonder how long ago was the Health Department there, and what kind of a score did the restaurant receive?


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

It takes a LOT of critical violations to close a restaurant in A2, and restaurants can stay open with several critical violations and MANY non critical, but gross, violations.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

I like cottage inn but agree that it has been dirty - they need to do a thorough cleaning including fixtures, walls and floors. Ihad to point out dust bunnies on a light fixture which were about to fall into my drink.

music to my ear

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

give the crew some overtime and clean it up.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

Definately one of our favorite places in town and it always will be! Love the "Kids eat free, sundae making table with an art project" they offer on Mondays.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.

I love Cottage Inn. I've been there for after school graduations, birthday parties, and just because it is amazing food! And then they added a gluten free menu so I can eat there again! I think people are mistaking charm for dirty. Places come and go but Cottage Inn has been in business for 65 years! That new pizza place won't last a year.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

I stopped going to Cottage Inn because I felt it was really dirty. The facelifts over the last 10 years do not hide the dirt. The entire restaurant needs to be gutted. If the customer-facing part of the restaurant looks bad, imagine the kitchen. Neopopolis looks very clean....


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

As a long time customer of Cottage Inn original; I agree with Patino. We need utmost diversity of businesses. Ann Arbor was once known as diverse and exciting representations of cuisine and shopping experiences. Now its majority replications of pizza, hamburgers, jewelry stores and chain stores. Briarwood is another location gone awry with too many jewelry stores etc. We lost our high brow culture in this town. I would love to see perhaps a Russian restaurant, more local small business owned ventures, and what happened to that idea of blues club on Liberty. Crepe business soon to be open is welcomed. No more empty newly built condos. It seems this town is geared to not welcoming young professional families. I would idealize A2 as lil New York of the midwest not Birmingham and such. This town is changing law of supply and demand will tell.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

While I love myself some pizza, I do agree that four pizza restaurants in such close proximity is not wise. A pizza district? Hmmm, I don't know. As Mr. Davidson of Bivouac rightly points out, pizzas can be gotten almost anywhere. What is unique about these four joints? Cottage Inn does have other dishes and NYPD sells a specific type of pizza. But what does NeoPapalis and the unnamed new joint sell? According to the owner of NeoPapalis it will be a"completely different" from what the other places are selling. Color me dubious. I think the new stores are eventually going to whither on the vine.

Richard Carter

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

I doubt any of the pizza places will have the diversity of Italian food that Cottage Inn has.

Eat Local A2

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Maybe we'll get the Travel Channel back for Food Wars, Cottage Inn v. NeoPapalis.

Balthazar Tarantula

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

I was a bit amused by the print version of this story that not once but twice referred to this location as being on Packard.

Yael Ganet

Tue, Oct 16, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

as long as folks realize it's on Williams...mmmmmm....worth the confusion, for sure!

Paula Gardner

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 8:55 p.m.

Thanks for pointing this out. I'm trying to figure out how this happened; whatever the cause, it's embarrassing.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

I am a big fan of Cottage Inn. However, in recent years the restaurant hasn't been as clean as it used to be, has chairs stacked in front of a fire exit, and in general has slipped a notch. I'd like to see walls by tables washed of food splatter too. Great food, just clean up the place a bit.


Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:16 a.m.

They do get some messy eaters LOL

music to my ear

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

and is said ,usually if the restaurant is not clean,the other area of the restaurant may also be affected. IE. kitchen bathrooms,e.t.c.