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Posted on Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Selma Cafe halts operations after city says it violated zoning codes

By Amy Biolchini


Lisa Gottlieb's home Wednesday at 722 Soule Blvd. in Ann Arbor, out of which she ran Selma Cafe -- a non-profit, weekly breakfast operation run by volunteers -- for four years until this week when she ceased operations.

Amy Biolchini |

The future of Ann Arbor’s west side breakfast operation Selma Cafe is in limbo as owner Lisa Gottlieb faces zoning code violation issues and works to re-gain control of its frozen finances.

The cafe, run by volunteers and donations out of Gottlieb's home at 722 Soule Blvd. served up its last meal April 12, according to a letter sent to the city of Ann Arbor offices Monday.

“We’re closed now — I can say that,” Gottlieb said. “It just makes the most sense right now.”

The city of Ann Arbor notified Gottlieb that Selma Cafe was in violation of city zoning codes in an April 3 letter from Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager.

“Our numbers have stabilized in the past year or two,” Gottlieb said. “We were serving anywhere from 150 to 200 people (each Friday) for the past several years … and that was the issue.”


Lisa Gottlieb prepares breakfast in 2010 during the weekly Friday morning meal at Selma Cafe in Gottlieb's Ann Arbor home. file photo

Rampson’s letter asked Gottlieb to respond by Monday with either a schedule of how Gottlieb would discontinue cafe operations, or with her plans to re-locate.

Gottlieb’s response was to stop all operations of the cafe for the time being, as there is another pressing matter affecting Selma Cafe’s future.

Selma Cafe’s fiscal sponsorship

Selma Cafe’s assets - consisting of tens of thousands of dollars in donations from patrons of the cafe - are frozen in an account held by Food System Economic Partnership, the cafe’s formal fiscal sponsor.

As the fiscal sponsor, FSEP’s involvement gave the cafe the nonprofit organization status it needed to legally operate as a food-service establishment.

FSEP dropped its sponsorship of the cafe March 27 after a disagreement between the two parties on its operating agreement - thereby removing Selma Cafe’s nonprofit organization status.

It also means Selma Cafe will have to find a new fiscal sponsor or gain independent nonprofit status before Gottlieb can transfer the funds out of FSEP’s control.

Under the memorandum of understanding between Selma Cafe and FSEP, that must be done by May 31 or FSEP keeps Selma Cafe’s money.

Gottlieb said she was unable to access the funds in the FSEP account two weeks before she formally was notified they were dropping their sponsorship. “Right now our focus needs to be on getting a new fiscal sponsor,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said Selma Cafe is in talks with a local 501(c)3 organization, and hopes to have a fiscal sponsorship agreement solidified soon so that Selma Cafe can re-gain its nonprofit organization status and re-gain control of its funds.

Rampson said Selma Cafe’s zoning code violations were not related to FSEP dropping its fiscal sponsorship.

The city has not gotten involved with Selma Cafe’s operations in the past four years because they had not received any complaints, Rampson said.

“We generally, because of our limited staffing, don’t get involved … unless there are specific complaints made,” Rampson said.

The city first received an anonymous complaint about traffic in the neighborhood related and that Selma Cafe was operating without a food license in 2009, Rampson said.

After Washtenaw County Public Health determined Selma Cafe was operating legally as a non-profit organization, Rampson said the city didn’t pursue enforcement at that time.

March 8, Rampson said the city began receiving complaints again about Selma Cafe operations through phone calls, walk-in complaints and written letters.

The timing of the complaints corresponded with an Ann Arbor Observer article published March 8 on Selma Cafe that mentioned Gottlieb would be adding a happy hour, Rampson said.

Rampson said complaints were a combination of the business being operated out of a home; about alcohol being served at the happy hour and others were about traffic from Selma Cafe patrons in the neighborhood.


Selma Cafe started in 2009 and is located in Gottlieb’s home on Soule Boulevard.

Her home is the last one on the block before Soule Boulevard becomes the entry drive for Eberwhite School. It's also near to the rear entry drive to the parking lot for Zion Lutheran Church.

The following is a video showing the proximity of Gottlieb's home to her immediate neighbor and the school:

The cafe hosted volunteers on Thursday nights to help prepare for the breakfast the following morning — and at night volunteers were instructed to park at Eberwhite School.

Friday morning, preparations would begin early by a crew of volunteers. Diners were instructed to arrive at 6:30 a.m. and were accepted until 9:30 a.m.

Meals each Friday morning are coordinated by local guest chefs, who also volunteer their time.

Food is locally sourced and purchased from area farmers. Donations of $12 to $15 per diner are suggested, as the donation money is used to buy food for the following breakfasts and to fund microloans for farmers.


A volunteer serves patrons breakfast at Selma Cafe in 2010. The weekly breakfast is held to offer a gathering place for friends and community to imagine and create a new, vital and sustainable regional food economy. file photo

Each week, Selma Cafe brought in between $1,800 to $2,000 in donations, Gottlieb said.

About one-third of the donations are used to purchase food, Gottlieb said.

The other two-thirds are used to help farmers. In the first several years of Selma Cafe, that money was used to help farmers purchase kits for hoop houses from a company in Ohio, Gottlieb said.

After the summer of 2011, more grant funding became available for local farmers to buy hoop kits and so Selma Cafe started funding microloans for farmers to buy equipment instead, Gottlieb said.

This year, Gottlieb has started hosting more events out of her home: A one-time happy hour fundraiser, for which Gottlieb obtained a temporary liquor license; a Balkan dance party that about eight people attended; and two Sunday morning yoga sessions in the basement of Gottlieb’s home followed by a local food lunch. Her basement has a yoga studio that holds about 10 people, Gottlieb said.

Zoning violations

In the four years of operations, Gottlieb said she has not received any complaints or notifications of city ordinance violations regarding the traffic in her immediate neighborhood until this March, when she was first contacted by the city.

“When I heard the issue was traffic and parking congestion, I immediately made changes to address the traffic,” Gottlieb said. “As far as I’ve known, the parking issues have only happened since this March.”

With messages to volunteers and diners through emails and on Selma Cafe’s website, Gottlieb outlined a parking plan to keep the traffic down around her home.

It did not prevent the City of Ann Arbor from issuing the April 3 letter to Gottlieb, indicating that she needed to change her operations or face enforcement of the ordinance.

Rampson's letter cited a number of complaints the city has received by multiple parties about the traffic issues created by the weekly breakfasts at Gottlieb's house.

The following zoning code violations were cited by Rampson:

  • More people are involved in the operation than just those residing in the home
  • More than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated in the vicinity of the home
  • The need for parking is not being met on off-street parking facilities

“I disagree with those three violations,” Gottlieb said, explaining she knows Selma Cafe diners contributed to more than 10 vehicle trips but alleviated the problem through her parking plan. “I’ve made every possible concession.”

A vehicle trip is defined as a one-way trip to a place. The city's zoning ordinance allows for five round-trip vehicle trips that are business related to a residence, Rampson said.

Additionally, the parking need created by the Selma Cafe patrons was not being accommodated, Rampson said. City code requires users of the cafe to park in driveways and garages, not in the street.

"Any type of on-street parking is not considered appropriate for home businesses and home occupation," Rampson said.

Selma Cafe also violated the zoning ordinance for home occupation because it was run by more than just the family members, Rampson said.

City codes allow for one employee. The number of volunteers needed to run the cafe violated the performance standard, Rampson said.

“We’re an unusual unique thing; we don’t fit in to the typical ways that people are used to seeing things happen,” Gottlieb said. “So it makes sense we wouldn’t fit in to somewhat vague, limited ways of describing use.”

Rampson said Selma Cafe is in compliance with the city because they are temporarily ceasing operations.

After Gottlieb is able to secure a fiscal sponsor for Selma Cafe and re-gain control of its finances, she said she will be able to consider future possibilities for the operation.

“I am really proud of what we created, both financially for our community, for our farmers, for local food artisans … I can’t tell you the number of people that have written me and thanked me,” Gottlieb said. “Whatever that spirit of Selma Cafe has, it will continue to happen. It may not happen here, but it will continue to happen … whether it will happen in my house or not.”

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Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

The spirit of Selma is old Ann Arbor, and that spirit no longer has a place in the new Ann Arbor.

Laurie Barrett

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 10:20 p.m.

Ann Arbor was once a progressive city (as was the U). Now to belong, you need money.

Ricardo Queso

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

I am reminded of the ubiquitous bumper stickers around town. "Corporations are not people" and "Profits before People". So what does that make Nifty Hoops LLC?

John Sullivan

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

As long as it's locally-sourced food they're offering and a funky-foodie vibe shouldn't most regulations be waived? Precious boutique causes like this should be exempt from those killjoy watchdogs that demand compliance with zoning regulations and statements operating scope and transparency. Trust them. They're on a mission.

Mark Lee

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

Whew, enough vitriol for one day, good night and God bless!

Jack Gladney

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 12:06 a.m.

Holy cow! My comments and hints to editor/reporters) have mostly been deleted, and I was trying to be polite and give them a nudge if they wanted to get to the real story here. Colorado sun is on the right track. And it gets better. Who knew homemade toast and marmalade could be so intriguing?

Stuart Brown

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:15 p.m.

Roadman said, "...the public can figure out why no enforcemnt action was taken against this operation for four years after the Ann Arbor Chronicle revealed that a citizen's complaint was made that was acknowledged by City Attorney Stephen Postema. " The article said, "In the four years of operations, Gottlieb said she has not received any complaints or notifications of city ordinance violations regarding the traffic in her immediate neighborhood until this March, when she was first contacted by the city. " The Chronicle article seriously undermines Gottlieb's credibility here.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 10:34 p.m. did a story published on August 12,2012 with an extensive interview with Jeff McCabe and describing his company Nifty Hoops, LLC as a manufacturer of hoop house structures. SELMA is alluded to in that article very briefly: "Proceeds from SELMA were being used to finance and build hoop houses." One of the posters in that article, an Andy Kelly, expressed concern that a non-profit entity appeared to be funding Jeff's business interests. Kelly also went down to City Hall to ask officials what he needed to do to open up an eatery establishment at his residence and he was given a litany of requirements that it was clear SELMA never obtained. Check out this link: and it indicates that Nifty Hoops and SELMA are co-sponsoring a festival in Ypsilanti to be held on April 8,2013. According to State of Michigan records Nifty Hoops, LLC is a domestic limited liability company that was registered on 8/9/11 with its registered office being at 722 Soule (SELMA's location) and having McCabe as its resident agent. The key here is the nature of the "microloans to farmers" - how does it benefit farmers? Is it structured to benefit hoop house manufacturers.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

not sure about zoning laws but i sure don't see a hairnet or gloves being used in the kitchen.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

Much humor to be found here: Conspiracy theory Forensic crime analysis Stratospheric political correctness This is the evolution of a2? Really, the whole point of SELMA is to be happy while sharing yummy local food. If this makes you really, really mad for any reason, so be it. Also, maybe too much emotion is generated without true data. For example: Consider 150 people in 4 hours averages 38 people per hour. 10 trips per day, 7 days a week is 70 trips. Of 150 people attending SELMA, there were probably 100 that arrived in 50 cars (2/car). This averages 7 trips per day on a weekly basis. Quick, someone call the national guard!


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7:59 p.m.

But what if 2 people arrive there in one minute? That's an average arrival rate of two people per minute = over 10,000 people per week. Those averages are funny things.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

"He is Lisa Gottlieb's wife. . ." He is?


Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 12:44 a.m.

Just a small token of Roadman's credibility.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 9:25 p.m.

@colorado - I looked and I see no reference of Jeff as a wife, but I do see reference to Lisa as a wife.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

Yes, see the page for Jeff McCabe


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

Jeff McCabe is on the board of directors of SELMA, per a recent Ann Arbor Chronicle article. He is Lisa Gottlieb's wife and while he was often interviewed in the early years of SELMA he has shunned the public spotlight in recent years. This post may explain why. Michigan Farm News in 2011 had an article regarding, McCabe, an engineer, and his fondness for constructing hoop houses. This article, downloadable on the Internet. It explains how farmers can obtain financing of these hoop houses via loans from SELMA non-profit revenues. SELMA never explained this relationship publicly how this great idea to benefit local farmers was really benefitting the "hoop house" industry of which Jeff McCabe is an integral part locally. The Michigan Farm News article is an example of "creative financing" being explained by Jeff McCabe. How much of SELMA's revenues are used to consruct hoop houses built by Jeff McCabe? Should Jeff McCabe sit on the board of an alleged non-profit when the hoop house industry of which he belongs may be the true "beneficiaries" of SELMA.

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

All, Lisa Gottlieb has said that Selma Cafe has never had a business relationship with Nifty Hoops. Hoop houses purchased for farmers with donations from cafe operations were bought from a company in Ohio, she said.


Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 12:41 a.m.

Obviously Nifty Hoops is part of the sinister military-industrial complex.

peg dash fab

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

The plot thickens.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

Wow. I am stunned. Jeff McCabe owns Nifty Hoops. Simply amazing. SELMA is a financing arm of Nifty Hoops? Didn't SELMA and Nifty Hoops co-sponsor an event in Ypsilanti on April 8th? Is it legal?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

Yeah...that doesn't look fishy AT ALL....nope, not one bit.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

Yes, we need zoning laws, tax laws, etc. Yet the amount of vitriol I see here saddens me. Guess what? A little flexibility does not lead to total anarchy, and a little anarchy seems to me to be sorely needed in the city I grew up in and love. Step out of line and the populace wants to sic the IRS and local authorities on you. Then they criticize the locals for not reporting their neighbors' transgression sooner. All because they ran a cafe out of their home.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

@DexterGardener: How much in non-profit revenues is Jeff McCabe's "Nifty Hoops" getting via loans from SELMA revenues to construct these hoop houses for local farmers. That is the $64.00 question.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

This is from the article on the chronicle. "Regarding the issues raised by FSEP, Gottlieb explained that she had withdrawn funds from the FSEP-managed bank account to transfer into a new account created as Selma Cafe transitions to become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit." Again...draw your own conclusions....


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Someone should issue a Freedom of Information Act request with both the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to seek production of all documents relating to SELMA so the public can figure out why no enforcemnt action was taken against this operation for four years after the Ann Arbor Chronicle revealed that a citizen's complaint was made that was acknowledged by City Attorney Stephen Postema. I wonder what Postema did to ensure timely investigation and enforcement of compliance with zoning ordinances was effectuated. To me it is clear someone at City Hall may have "dropped the ball" on this matter, causing SELMA's neighbors four years of unwanted aggravation from apparent possible nuisance activity. I also would like to find out how many big shots at City Hall ate at or otherwise have some meaningful connection to SELMA's operators. SELMA's website had a full-page endorsement of Fifth Ward Councilman Mike Anglin at one point that can still be accessed. There has been suggestions that possible "pulling of strings" may have occurred. Lisa Gottlieb has been employed by Washtenaw County as a social worker and the county bent over backwards in trying to give an interpretation to applicable health codes conducive to SELMA and to negotiate solutions to what they concluded had been non-compliant conduct in SELMA's operation.


Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 1:09 a.m.

"I also would like to find out how many big shots at City Hall ate at ...SELMA's" Given their enthusiasm for natural food and encouragement of local sourcing, I would imagine quite a few. There was also participation from Zingerman's, including some of the cooks volunteering. Are you going to boycott Zingerman's, Roadman? I know, you preferred the now defunct restaurant chain that skimmed its proceeds to fund Lebanese terrorists (Hizbollah) until the feds caught up.

Steve Bean

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

You sound like just the man for the job.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 5:11 p.m.

The following zoning code violations were cited by Rampson: More than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated in the vicinity of the home. Help me better understand this....if a home owner is renting parking spaces on his/her lawn during U of M football games to six or more vehicles. Is the home owner violating city ordinances?

Usual Suspect

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:57 p.m.

".if a home owner is renting parking spaces on his/her lawn during U of M football games to six or more vehicles. Is the home owner violating city ordinances?" My guess is it's because the person renting out the parking spaces on his is not the one who is causing the traffic (that would be the football game), but simply taking advantage of it's presence. Just a speculation.

Jojo B

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

Probably. But an argument of "you're doing something that's questionable, therefore shouldn't I be able to continue doing something that is much more obviously wrong" is lame.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

Here an August 2012 Article from about the affiliated "hoop-house" business: Some commenters are skeptical.

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

Selma Cafe has never had a business relationship with Nifty Hoops, Lisa Gottlieb said.

L. C. Burgundy

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

The whole financial situation with the requested donations to Selma going through to purchase or finance the purchase of hoop houses for McCabe's apparently for-profit business has me highly skeptical about the legality of what was going on, regardless of how well-intentioned it was. Their online financials reveal there was at least a $1000 collected in excess of expenses each week...but where was the money really going after that? You can't collect money under the guise of being a non-profit business and then forward it to your for-profit business... I don't live near this area of AA, but I find it hard to believe neighbors actually tolerated 4 years of a weekly, apparently uninspected, restaurant business being run next door. Good intentions do not earn you an exemption to zoning and health code.

lucinda walsh

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

I think any knowledge of potential violations of the tax code should be reported to the IRS. If there are irregularities, the IRS even gives rewards for that kind of information in some cases.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Some have asked for more details on Selma Cafe's problem with FSEP. The prior story on Selma, linked in the 4th paragraph above, has near the end a link to the Ann Arbor Chronicle story, with more info re FSEP and Selma.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Thank you VERY much for that heads was very telling.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

Several points I would like to present: (A)how much of the "donations" were recorded contemporaneously via cash register or other verifiable recording device? - this would allay concerns that Mc Cabe and Gottlieb could "skim" cash undetected into a mattress; (B)how much of the "donations" went into capital expenditures and what is the current disposition of those assets - for example if SELMA purchased plates, forks, knives, can openers etc how are these accounted for and what happens to them if SELMA discontinues operations; (C)what type of insurance coverage did SELMA have - I do not believe homeowner's coverage would extend to situations if some "donor" slipped and fell on their property and injured themselves or if a fire occurred while a "volunteer" was cooking and property damage occurred since these activities would be outside the scope of residential living arrangements? (D)did SELMA have a CPA prepare financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and have these statements ever been audited? (E)did SELMA ever obtain non-profit approval from the relevant authorities to serve alcoholic beverages to "donors" - the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has stringent regulations that SELMA should have researched before serving liquor to anyone - this includes the requirement that licensees carry adequate Dram Shop Act liability coverage - what would happen if a "donor" was served alcohol while visibly intoxicated and injured someone in a car accident? (F)is SELMA formally incorporated and , if so, as what type of entity and under what appellation? It is my hunch that the IRS, State Treasurer, Liquor Control Commission, Attorney General's Office could have a veritable field day in trying to investigate SELMA's operations and that their political connections carried the day to allow them to operate "under the radar" of county and municipal regulatory bodies f


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 2:12 a.m.

I wondered that too re: insurance. One of my best friends from college is a food inspector (not in this state though) and she had a fit when I told her about the breakfast thing. (She then treated me to some really, really gross stories). But what if someone had gotten food poisoning? My friend told me that getting food poisoning from ice (of all things) is not uncommon and it takes fairly stringent rules to avoid spreading germs this way. I have no idea what was done in that kitchen the other six days of the week....

Jack Gladney

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

I've gotten the inside story from someone who used to be involved in both the 'cafe' and the other business that it funds. But alas, to even hint at it here gets your comments deleted. Perhaps another news outlet will pick up the ball and run with the story. It has nothing to do with zoning laws.

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 7 p.m.

You are right, Jack. Local farmers can get hoop houses via 3-year loan at 6% interest per annum. And Jeff McCabe, board member of SELMA is a hoop house constructor.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

Does it have anything to do with their use of funds?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Ok I just looked at Selma Cafe's financials.... Their "financials" section of the site only contains simple spreadsheets that detail food cost and donations taken in (and she didn't even start recording donations until 2012). They detail NO other financial information at all. Go look at it yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Ricardo Queso

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

They are fortunate the neighbors have been patients enough not to drop a civil suit on their heads.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

Would really like more details on what the problem is with FSEP agreement. Also some seem surprised that a residential area is not considered by most to be appropriate for this. Guess I can't figure that out as it seems pretty obvious that it is not. Good example of why zoning laws exist.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

Something more is going on here than appears on the surface. Suddenly, the city clamps down after 4 years of tolerance. A bunch of hostile comments pile on ion this thread, with many votes for them. I don't know any of the contestants, and I don't know what the underlying issues are. But this abrupt large-scale (organized?) onslaught is strange. I suggest that investigate what is really going on more in depth.

Stuart Brown

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 3:51 a.m.

demistify, please explain to us less informed why the Selma Cafe cannot operate out of a church? Did the operators try this option and find it not viable? They have had four years to right this situation.

Steve Hendel

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 2:09 a.m.

What is going on? Paranoia.

Jojo B

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

@demistify: I'm just one person like you who has no insider interest in Selma. But I happen to appreciate our zoning laws. I'm not part of any large-scale organized onslaught. Perhaps I may humorously suggest you redirect your paranoia the other way... why are there so many commenters who suggest that zoning laws should be ignored? Perhaps it's a conspiracy of Selma friends and family to rig the board in their favor! :)

Colorado Sun

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

@demistify: The "four years of tolerance" of city and county regulators are inexcusable. City Attorney Steve Postema told the Ann Arbor Chronicle in 2009 that they were "working on" neighbor complaints with SELMA management. The problems persisted. Do you expect the neighbors to have to retain an attorney to file a nuisance abatement proceeding against SELMA to shut this operation down?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

"Or does it work only with all the free labor?" That's just one small way that being a 'non-profit' can make you a TON of extra capital. If you were to add up fair pay labor costs, I bet they would STILL turn a profit too...


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

"this abrupt large-scale (organized?) onslaught is strange." I don't think so strange. Maybe it reflects pent-up frustration in this residential neighborhood as this commercial-scale operation defies the zoning laws and the City ignores the problem? Why do the people running this feel the law doesn't apply to them? Why on earth don't they move this to an appropriate location? If the concept is as good as said here, wouldn't it work there? Or does it work only with all the free labor?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

For those saying let her do what she wants with her property, I wonder how they would feel if an auto mechanic decided to open a part time shop in their neighborhood? 150-200 cars per week could come in and out of there just like the restaurant. Maybe a non-profit used car lot too. Maybe she can put together a giant shopping club where she takes orders from people and goes to costco and resells the items to the people as well. If she is truly a non-profit, then I am sure plenty of churches have commercial kitchens she could use.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

That specifically happened down in Easy St. years ago. It started to become a major eyesore for the area because it looked like a junkyard.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

There must be a church kitchen she could run this out of........ Funny how the rules should never apply to me...?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

I think the cafe is wonderful idea and it sounds like it has done great things for our local farmers, but I find it difficult to believe that the founder cannot find a more appropriate location for the cafe.

lucinda walsh

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

Quick question. Did any benefits, such as money or advertising, ultimately go to the for-profit business of Lisa's husband, Jeff McCabe, Nifty Hoops? If the answer is "Yes" I wonder if that is a conflict of interest. Thank you for your input.

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

Thank you for your question. Lisa Gottlieb told me explicitly that Selma Cafe never had a business relationship with Nifty Hoops, and that all hoop houses purchased with donations from the cafe were bought from a company in Ohio.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

Payment was in the form of cash "donations". Pretty hard to track.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

I'd love to see the books and any sort of accounting on both of these enterprises. For all we know, the two of them went to bed at night lying on a mattress stuffed with twenty dollar bills.

lucinda walsh

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

This matter is well outside my field of expertise, so I have another question. If Selma Cafe were really a for-profit operating under the guise of a non-profit wouldn't this couple have business and personal tax issues going back to the start date of Selma Cafe?

lucinda walsh

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Another quick question. Thank you for your patience. Did Selma Cafe's volunteers put up materials sold for-profit by Nifty Hoops, thus adding to the value of the products sold by the company? Again, conflict of interest on the part of a non-profit or not?

Lynn Liston

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

I don't there is any question about the good intentions of Selma Cafe or the actual good that it has done for local farmers. They have been part of a terrific 'support local food producers' initiative here in Ann Arbor. It's unfortunate that their own contribution is now presenting as a problem for the neighborhood, but another way to look at this situation is that this activity has succeeded beyond expectations and has outgrown its current location. Maybe this is the right time to look for a larger venue so this work can continue. I hope that a business or possibly another non-profit such as a church, school or center can help them find a place to keep up their work.

Colorado Sun

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 5:49 a.m.

@Amy Biolchini: Then why does Jeff McCabe constantly mention SELMA's farmer funding of hoop houses at the same time that he speaks of Nifty Hoops. Is Jeff McCabe's company getting any revenue from SELMA directly or indirectly?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Lisa Gottlieb told me directly that Selma Cafe never had a business relationship with Nifty Hoops, Jeff McCabe's enterprise.

Colorado Sun

Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 7 a.m.

"I don't there(sic) is any question about the good intentions of Selma Cafe or the actual good that it has done for local farmers........" What good has it done? Show me a farmer who praises SELMA. The primary beneficiaries of SELMA are "hoop house manufacturers". SELMA is a finance arm of these manufacturers. Let's have Jeff McCabe disclose his financial stake in the financial transactions? Does he pay himself a salary and/or retain a profit for SELMA-funded hoop houses he constructs via his limited liability company?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

The neighbors were more patient with the situation than I would have been. Allowing zoning violations like this could lower the property values in a neighborhood as residential can become commercial.

Dan Ezekiel

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

SELMA has been a joyful, creative gathering place for those who care about locally-sourced food. Let's thank Lisa and Jeff for opening their home. If the gathering has now grown too big for the neighborhood, let's look for creative (and legal) ways to continue it.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

Ok so I went to the FSEP website to see if they had any statements on this issue. This is what they said about Selma in the FIRST paragraph on their front page: "Unfortunately, significant violations of the terms of our memorandum of understanding have made this termination necessary." What are these "significant violations" they speak of? This is the second paragraph on their front page: "In addition, the scope of SELMA Cafe's activities and programs have expanded beyond the original intent of the agreement, such that the two organizations' missions are no longer closely aligned." They list their "misson and values" on their I'm thinking this is actually something specific. The first thing they list is "transparency" by the way.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

"FSEP dropped its sponsorship of the cafe March 27 after a disagreement between the two parties on its operating agreement - thereby removing Selma Cafe's nonprofit organization status." The REASON they were dropped is probably VERY pertinent to this whole issue. I would like to know what the disagreement a non-profit they should have ZERO problem with transparency.

Chase Ingersoll

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

Can we quit re-hashing the same stupid actions of the city and come up with a solution so that these people can keep doing what they were accomplishing ? As public servants, the city bureaucrats should be required as any CEO would require their subordinates to never bring a criticism without also offering a legitimate solution to the problem. This is a classic example of people without power, finding unity, charity and community and government with the power, doing its best to disrupt all of those good things. I'll bet there are a lot of us who wish we had made it to one of these before the city shut her down.

Usual Suspect

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

"As public servants, the city bureaucrats should be required as any CEO would require their subordinates to never bring a criticism without also offering a legitimate solution to the problem." It's the city's job to find a place for this person to run her restaurant? How do we get to that conclusion?

Blue Dog Red

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

So by your logic, any law-enforcement agency should be provinding alternative solutions to lawbreakers? Sorry, this group knows perfectly well that they are doing something not only inappropriate for their neighborhood but against city code. It is their sole responsibility to find a alternative, whether that takes the form of finding a different location or a push to change the city zoning code.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

Possible solution----they can find a site in a commercial area to continue their activities.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

Excuse me? Why is it the City's responsibility to figure out an answer for Lisa? I actually think a few good ones have been suggested here, such as the rotating basis. And if you think the people attending these breakfasts are "without power" you clearly haven't been to one to see the attendees and aren't paying attention to who is cooking. $15 for breakfast?

Usual Suspect

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

The people asking for us to ignore the laws here are way out of line. You know what's going on is wrong for a neighborhood, but somehow you want everybody to look the other way because it's or a good cause. Funny how this is happening in the same area that encompasses much of the crowd that wanted everybody to look the other was on leash laws at Slauson. I'm sorry to say it, but knowing this is a heavily liberal area, it's really not a surprise that in both of those circumstances there were presumptions that they didn't have to follow the same laws that everybody else has to follow.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

It's probably just the crowd that eats there every Friday.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

As if that sort of behavior is at all unique to liberals. May I remind you that it was mostly conservatives whose "above the law" mentalities created the economic meltdown? (And if you ask "which economic meltdown?" the answer is "all of them.")


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

Yeah, but just put up the wrong fence ...


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

"so Selma Cafe started funding microloans for farmers to buy equipment instead, Gottlieb said." I'm curious about the wording here. Does this mean you are using donated funds from a non-profit to loan people money that is intended to be paid back with interest?


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 6:26 a.m.

Yeah kind of like KIVA where you loan money to someone on a small level and charge them like 20% interest because no one else will loan it to them. I think in this case the interest maybe was not that high but lots of non-profit micro finance companies exist and they make a lot of money, but they reinvest it and pay their workers so they are still not for profit. Obviously she had an organization holding her money or using it or something because now she is trying to get it back. Seems to me the complaints were probably the umbrella organization she was partnered with, they saw in opportunity to get some free funds to keep and jumped on it. I may not like that fact that she was running a large thing in a neighborhood, but I hope she gets the groups money back. She should just move it to a weekend day and use one of the school cafeterias and have it be a program where kids can learn to cook breakfast.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

Wondering that myself!!


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Selma Cafe is a good idea but it should be located somewhere to accommodate all the traffic, not in a neighborhood. What if every house had a similar activity?


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

On a farm would definitely be more appropriate setting. Or some place more rural


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

So she just annexes the school's parking lot on Thursday evenings? What if the school is holding an event on a Thursday evening? If you look at the website for this "café," you'll see that chefs from many prominent local restaurants participate in the weekly breakfast. Why can't these chefs host the breakfasts at their restaurants on a rotating basis? Many of the restaurants in question don't serve breakfast anyway, so they have space available on Friday mornings. Clearly, relocation of this weekly event is the key to its continuation. When you're serving 150-200 people each time you open, your operation is simply not appropriate for a residential neighborhood, no matter how honorable its cause may be.

Wheat Beer

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

A little more research needed on the hoop house business. Which enabled this organization to prosper from government grants. Non-profit? Sounds like the breakfast gig and hoop house business were bringing in some real cash. In the long run the city may have done them a huge favor.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

"I've made every possible concession." Yep, that's kinda getting to the point. You can't really run an operation like this out of a home in a residential neighborhood, no matter what kind of concessions you might make.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Dan1737, I think the difference between living near a church and a school and a residence that is essentially running an occasional business is obvious. You purchase a home near a school or church and you know what you are getting involved in. But a neighbor that decides to start a business that involves the kind of traffic that this one does is not something that one expects when living in a residential neighborhood. It might not seem fair, but this should come as no surprise to Ms. Gottlieb.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:19 p.m.

@Dan - maybe after all of those normal everyday disturbances generated by school and church they just don't want another four hours of that every week. Makes perfect sense to me.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

The neighbors shouldn't have to complain to get the city to do their job in the first place.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Why? No complaints for 4 years and then the city interprets the zoning regulations in a way that would make a meeting for a dozen people at your house to discuss fundraising for your kids' school PTSO also a violation? Bad judgement on the part of the city. I also find it hard to understand the neighbors complaining about a 4 hour event once a week after choosing to live a block away from a school and church, each of which generate much more traffic in the neighborhood.

Dirty Mouth

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

What if the city donated one of the properties along Main street (about to be razed at great expense) to the Selma Cafe organization and what said organization banded together with other interested citizens and rehabbed the house in order to have a permanent home for the Cafe? Probably won't happen anyway cause the city is so greedy, but if we use or brains we might come up with an alternative location for Selma. I'm sure of it.


Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

I think SELMA needs an umbrella 501(3)c under which to operate. It is not one itself.

Dirty Mouth

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 9 p.m.

I disagree. The community center is an excellent idea as is a property across the street. Selma is a 503(c) organization, correct? It is not unheard of of cities providing building at greatly reduced rates to charitable organizations that have a positive effect on the community.

Local Yocal

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

At that same location directly across the street is the Community Center to rent/lease . Not to sure if they have a commercial kitchen but then again the current house may not have one either. But they do have parking. And any how, warm weather is here so every one who is able can just bike there.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

no parking.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

Why don't they rent property like every other restaurant?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

That would be a horrible precedent. I know I have the skills to completely rehab a house - where's my free property on Main Street?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

Having a good cause, (which it seems to be), does not mean the rest of the rules don't apply to you.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 6 p.m.

The rules are for "the little people." Certainly the rules do not apply to the ruling elites, or their friends.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

Agreed. Lots of legit businesses do a lot of good for the city and they also follow the law.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

What exactly is this "good cause"? Selling local foods (like other restaurants and grocers)? Making loans to farmers (are these interest free)? Trying to create a unique ambience in their restaurant? I don't see how they are helping anyone but themselves, to the detriment of their neighbors.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

They should just rent a hall and run their business from there. Why are they avoiding that obvious solution?


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

It would reduce their profit margin. Let's not fool ourselves, this is a business and should be zoned as one.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Because it wouldn't have the same "quirky" appeal. You can have breakfast at a restaurant any day... but to eat at someone's home, now that's unique.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

Wow! Our city government is great! Shut down those scofflaws. Go figure!

mike gatti

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:23 a.m.

It is the diligent enforcement of zoning regulations that prevents us all from falling into a state of anarchy.


Sun, Apr 21, 2013 : 5:21 a.m.

+1 for Mike fjord... While I agree with you on your larger point of urban sprawl isn't a good thing. It, urban sprawl, is what the people have wanted. A cafe does NOT belong in a neighborhood home.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

In this case, perhaps ... but in general, poorly conceived zoning laws are a huge reason why the U.S. has become a landscape of sprawling subdivisions located nowhere near shops and other amenities. The perverse idea that we must keep residential areas separate from commercial areas has turned us into a car-dependent culture, and contributed to everything from obesity and poor health, to air pollution, global warming, and energy dependence, to disillusionment and decline of community, and on and on. Zoning laws are not inherently bad, but ill-conceived, arbitrary zoning laws are a detriment to human existence. That said ... I don't believe this café is appropriate for the neighborhood in which it's been located, because the design of the neighborhood doesn't support the serving of 150-200 people in just a few hours.

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Not one complaint in four years? Lol. Uh huh.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

It would be interesting to learn of a clear definition for a "vehicle trip." For example, of I parked my car "somewhere," and went for a "walk," and just happened to make several stops during my "walk," and happened to go to SELMA, then continued my "walk," is this a vehicle trip? What is the distance radius of destination to constitute a trip? If I parked my car at a park-and-ride, and then rode a bus to the nearest SELMA bus stop, is this a vehicle trip? The city is opening a giant can of worms over this issue. I guess that all of those football parking operations that park more than 10 cars on a football Saturday will be subject to zoning violations. Also, if they serve food, they will be subject to County Health Department regulations. City a2 is so funny. They focus on minutia as a means of attention diversion from critical issues. It's like having a "Festifool" party all year round. . . So it is with SELMA: spend time and energy to enforce nebulous rules for an organization that has great benefit and has caused no harm.

Long Time Resident

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

Isn't zoning wonderful? The bureaucrats can micromanage your life right down to how many people can visit your home per day. 6 is too many if they come for a " business purpose "; 1,000 is fine if they are"friends". Did you ever realize how much freedom you have lost to busybodies in the name of planning?