Haab's Restaurant carries on anniversary tradition with meals at 1934 prices
Every third Monday in October, Mike Kabat throws opens the doors of his downtown Ypsilanti restaurant to feed a public hungry for nostalgia and a good deal.
The Haab’s Restaurant anniversary has become a community tradition.
For anyone with spare change in their pocket and two or three hours of time, Haab’s will serve a meal of chicken in a basket, spaghetti or a barbeque sandwich at 1934 prices. Monday, Oct. 19 marks Haab’s 75th anniversary.
Depending on the weather, Kabat expects to serve between 1,400 and 2,000 people.
It didn’t start out as an annual celebration.
On a quiet Saturday night in July 1981, Kabat and partner Harvey Glaze brainstormed how to get more traffic through the door. A recession was in full swing and business was slow.
“We thought it would be nice to be really busy, and we were kicking around a few ideas,” Kabat said. “We wanted to do something extraordinary.”
But when the day arrived, Kabat feared it was a dud. Shortly before the 11 a.m. restaurant opening, no one was in line, and Kabat worried he would be left with a kitchen filled with uneaten food.
“I was scared to death,” Kabat said.
A man from Canton who had just finished a dentist appointment lined up at 10:55 a.m. Others followed, and by the end of the day, Haab’s had served 1,400 meals. They only thing they ran short of was Parmesan cheese.
Kabat thought that was the end of the idea. But a newspaper editorial sang his accolades, and Kabat felt he should run it a second year. And a third. And a fourth.
Except for two years, Haab’s has offered the anniversary special every year since.
“People talk about it. This is our identity. It’s our brand,” Kabat said. “We get calls about at 10:30 p.m. on Friday nights in February from people wondering when it’s going to be. It’s synonymous with the name Haab’s.”
And, he said, it’s a fun and festive day that brings the community out.
At least for the day, the event is a losing proposition. Kabat said it costs $2 just for the raw chicken for a single meal - and that doesn’t include the French fries, honey, biscuit or labor. Kabat said he doesn’t want to know how much the day costs him.
“The more you serve, the more you lose,” he said. But what he loses that day, he gains in goodwill - and hopefully return visits.
The line begins to form in the morning and continues throughout the day. Peak wait time can be three hours, and anyone in line by 9 p.m. will be served. In past years, that has meant 150 people.
Kabat keeps a careful eye on the weather in the days before the anniversary to determine how much food to order. Cold and rainy weather means 1,400 meals. A nice day means 2,000.
Haab’s is all about tradition: The restaurant has occupied its same downtown Ypsilanti location since Otto and Oscar Haab, offspring of German immigrants, opened the restaurant during the Depression.
The restaurant, with its dark wood and pressed tin ceiling, is so steeped in tradition that Kabat first balked at buying the business. He worried a change in ownership - even if it wasn’t accompanied by other changes - would turn away customers. Nevertheless, Kabat and Glaze bought Haab’s in 1976. Glaze retired and sold his share to Kabat in 1991; he now owns the restaurant with his son, Dave.
Haab’s has expanded to include three dining rooms, and the menu has evolved over time - adding seafood and vegetarian options. But many of the original menu items remain, from the lake perch to the fresh salmon.
The doors will be open from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday. The meals cost 50 cents for chicken in a basket, 40 cents for spaghetti and 20 cents for a barbeque sandwich.
And no - there are no reservations and no carryout.
Janet Miller is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-623-2530.