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Posted on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Sidetrack Bar and Grill $1.2M expansion project: 30 new jobs, apartments and more

By Katrease Stafford


Sidetrack Bar and Grill has started a $1.2 million renovation project. files

Ypsilanti's Sidetrack Bar and Grill is in the process of beginning a $1.2 million renovation and expansion project that will add nearly 15,000 square feet to the business and some notable additions.

Sidetrack and Frenchie's Owner Linda French purchased the adjacent building at 52 E. Cross St. in June for $350,000 from King C &C,LLC to add to her existing 10,000-square-foot building. The building was previously occupied by Bird Brain, which has since relocated.

French said the project is starting "right away" and a hole was just cut into the building last week. Sidetrack, located at 56 E. Cross, and Frenchies, at 54 E. Cross St., will be expanding into where the Bird Brain was once located. Both Sidetrack and Frenchie's will remain open during the expansion.

French hopes to have construction done by the end of 2013.

The expansion into the second floor of the former Bird Brain space will give Sidetrack space to accommodate large parties, weddings, birthdays and other events. Also on the second floor will be a newly created bar and lounge area. The bar on the first floor of Sidetrack will remain open, French said.

Initial plans call for the creation of two banquet rooms on the second floor, that will hold up to 125 people each.

"We will restore the second floor," French said. "We're going to put in new windows to get a panoramic view of the trains shooting by. We're going to divide it up into rooms that we can use."

French has long desired to further expand and renovate the upper floors, but was always impeded by an issue of access. With the recent acquisition of the building at 52 E. Cross, access issues will be mitigated through the use of an external rear staircase. An elevator will also be added.

French plans to put residential units on the third floor, creating about four one-bedroom apartments, but French said she may add two 2-bedroom units as well.


Sidetrack has acquired 52 E. Cross, formerly occupied by Bird Brain.

Courtesy Ypsilanti

French said she will likely market the apartments to young professionals looking to live in a vibrant area.

French plans to completely knock out the current 600-square-foot Sidetrack kitchen and rebuild a new one that will be double in size. The new kitchen will allow food service to be faster and possibly increase food offerings.

"It makes it easier for staff and gives us the ability to do the expansion while we're still open," French said. "We don't plan on closing but for a day or two. Before, we were always running where we had to schedule the kitchen usage. I didn't have the space. Now all of my cooks can blossom and really use their skills."

Two new bathrooms will also be constructed in the building, French said, after customers requested she consider possibly updating the bathrooms.

"We're going to be putting in gigantic, new bathrooms," she said. "We have an outdated kitchen and the bathrooms are inadequate and overused."

The expansion project alone is projected to create 40 jobs over 24 months, according to initial plans, and French has already started to employ the services of local designers, contractors and building specialists.

Upon completion of the project, French said Sidetrack will permanently hire at least 30 individuals ranging from servers, kitchen staff, bar staff, managers, marketing staff, etc. Some of what the new hires will be doing are tasks that French once did, but is now delegating out.

"We're creating some new positons we’ve already started the process," she said.

French said she was at a crossroad in deciding whether to leave the restaurant as is or do some necessary renovations.

"At my age, I've been doing this for 33 years," French said. "It was at a point where I could leave Sidetrack alone... This was the last chance to put everything in for the next generation."

"In doing this project, the timing was just right," French said.

With all of the new additions, French's property taxes are likely to increase so she is in the process of applying for an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Exemption grant.

Properties must meet eligibility requirements including a statement of obsolescence by the local assessor, according to state records. The property must also be located in an established Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District.


Sidetrack owner Linda French expects construction to be done by the end of 2013.

Angela J. Cesere |

Exemptions are approved for a term of 1-12 years, as determined by the local unit of government. What the grant does is allows the property taxes for the rehabilitated property to be based on the previous year's taxable value. Sidetrack alone was assessed at $208,800 in 2012, making its market value $417,600.

The Ypsilanti City Council must first approve the application and may consider it as soon as January. If granted approval, the application would then go to the state for consideration. The timetable can range in time and take up to six months, according to Ypsilanti Downtown Development Director Tim Colbeck.

In French's application for the OPRA grant, she stated a 12-year exemption is imperative to the fiscal viability of the project.

"Without the tax postponement afforded by the OPRA grant, Sidetrack would not have sufficient operating income to cover the increase in both real estate taxes and operating expenses," French wrote.

In the application, French said the grant would allow Sidetrack to have its mortgage debt paid off by 2024, making available the additional cash flow needed to cover the increase in property taxes once the grant exemption has ended.

Sidetrack will also use a $15,000 rehabilitation grant from the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority to go toward some of the cost of the renovation.

Sidetrack first opened in 1979, replacing the 1,100-square-foot space that was once the Central Bar. In the last 33 years, French said she has done several incremental expansion and improvement projects.

"When we first started this was a 65 seat bar and the bathrooms were in the middle of dining room," French said. "The kitchen was 200 square feet and then every year we tried to do improvements."

Business has continued to improve and thrive over the years, French said, even in the midst of an economic downturn. French sees between 500 and 700 people customers each day.

"Every year we grow," she said. "That's all we ever wanted to do. We have loyal customers and good staff."

Although several improvements will soon be underway, French said her main goal is to keep the tradition and historic feel of the restaurant. The first floor of the 250 seat restaurant will remain largely untouched.

"We want to leave Sidetrack just how it is," she said. "When you walk in the door, you won't notice much that we've done. We don't really want to change Sidetrack, just use the space we already own. It's a fun business and all we want to do is have fun and make customers happy... I’m very excited to reinvest in Ypsilanti."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

So the people of Ypsilanti should allow corporate welfare for this project? If Linda has committed to the project why should she be given a tax abatement? I guess giving money to PEOPLE is bad welfare but giving them to successful businesses is a good thing? Maybe we should give Little Caesars tax money to build a baseball stadium; oh wait we already did that, and to Ford Motor as well


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

Did the bank using Chalconas drop him yet? There have been more business successes in Ypsi in the last 8 years than I can count. Thanks Sidetracks for continuing the momentum!


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 5:21 a.m.

I can't wait until the food wars start between the Side Track and Aubrey's. The Side Track for Burgers and Aubrey's for Pizza. Bring it on both of you.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

They are siblings, I'm sure they have had scuttles with each other their whole life.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

ok.. as good as this sounds.. umm if you are having banquets and parties on the 2nd floor.. who wants to be above that and try to have a quiet nite?.. 3rd floor aprts. doesn't make much sense to me. All the other.. I love sidetrack.. thursday nites.. streetrods and sitting outside after... love it

Kyle Mattson

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

slave2w- I live above a restaurant/bar, granted it is not exactly like Sidetracks but it is busy most nights unlike an occasional event like a banquet or party. The sound actually isn't too bad and I actually prefer it over the silence of having a neighbor in a normal apartment where you have to deal with random noisy televisions, slamming doors, etc etc. The best part is on the weekend morning when everything is closed and dead silent.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 7:44 a.m.

Even when packed I do not find the restaurant excessively noisy. I imagine that Linda will include sound insulation just to be sure. She has been at this restaurant business for quite awhile, you know.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 1:24 a.m.

Someone really needs to copy edit this story.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 12:04 a.m.

This is the greatest restaurant in the area.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

"In French's application for the OPRA grant, she stated a 12-year exemption is imperative to the fiscal viability of the project." yeah and thats why you started the project before knowing how long your exemption will be. If a business can't afford to expand by 1/3 without a 12 year free ride on taxes maybe they should not do it? Linda is too smart to start this project not knowing the "fiscal viability" of this project without the exemption.. p.s. Best Nachos around..

Ypsi Eastsider

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 6:38 a.m.

It doesn't mean no taxes, it means taxes won't increase for 12 years.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 7:42 a.m.

Tax abatement is done all the time in Ann Arbor. I will be amazed if the city keeps any tax money from commercial enterprises.

Ypsi Eastsider

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Mark, sorry parking has been such a hassle for you in Ypsilanti. Here is a little known secret about parking in Ypsilanti. This is a reserved VIP parking spot for people from Ann Arbor but they never tell you about it so please don't share this with anyone. There is a special lot between the fence of the Auto Museum and north of the Co-Op parking. It is a very small lot but well lit and there is always a space available. You can miss it, there are big red flashing lights on either side of he entrance Simply park your car between the two specially marked raised metal parking stripes. There is no meter to feed and you can even watch you car from the restaurant windows to make sure it is safe.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 2:49 a.m.

ok.. I have to LOL that one...

Ypsi Eastsider

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

Wow Sidetrack is creating as many new jobs as Lay-Z-Boy and Lay-Z-Boy got millions in tax breaks and grants from the state.

Lets Get Real

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

This is an ambitious project and I comment Linda for taking it on. We go to Sidetrack from time to time, and the people who are complaining about parking must not be aware of the public parking lot north of Depot Street, behind the stores across from Sidetrack. Yes, Sidetrack's lot is small, and the annex lot (a bit further south) is also frequently filled, but one can park across the street all the way to Forest next to Frog Island Park, if they want to! Way better than parking in Ann Arbor, and FREE to boot. Sidetrack is not Knight's - so let them be Sidetrack. You want a Knight's pour in a big glass - go there. You can't beet the Gorgonzola Steak and the Salmon/Rice/Asparagus for the price anywhere. My biggest complaint was the wait - and with more room, that should be a thing of the past. The grant is deserved. Renovating old buildings is expensive, but well worth the investment. A new kitchen and bathrooms will be an asset, but I never go to Sidetrack for the bathroom. Like most people, I go for good food, reasonable prices, a good beer selection, attentive staff, and a bustling atmosphere: Historic building, repurposed for a positive use sustaining the community with jobs, contributing to the tax base, and giving back to the community in philinthropic endeavors. Thanks for your contributions, Linda. We hope the next generation has learned your lesson well.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Give credit where credit is due!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

Well said!

Mark McCaffrey

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:09 p.m.

The parking nightmare of Depot Town will be much worse...


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

Plenty of parking at Farmers' Market but you may have a 5-minute walk.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

parking nightmare? because you might have to walk a block or two..

harry b

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.

Remember backin 2010 or so when the US gov. along with Dingle gave the freight house $500,000 to renovate. What happens?? It was suppose to be for weddings and the farmers market. Obama said this was job creation. Hmmmmm


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Looks like that Obama stimulus money is about to bear fruit! Don't you hate that, Harry?

harry b

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

Its been three years!! In 1970 it took 3 years to build the sears tower. That was 1970, 42 years ago.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:58 p.m.

What are you talking about. The freight house is about to re-open with a cafe, an event space, and more. There were multiple articles on here about their awesome and extensive renovation process.

Top Cat

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Beer with trains is as close to pure bliss as one finds on this earth.

harry b

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

I agree. Nothing like the sound of train.

Ashley Zimmerman

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

I hope nothing other than the building changes! We go there for the great food at great prices. If the prices increased, we wouldn't go there as much.

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

Ashley, Linda said she has no plans to raise prices.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

One of my favorite places on earth where I spent many happy hours when working at EMU! Good luck to the French family. The Sidetrack is one of the things I miss most, even in my wonderful new home in the Southwest!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

Do the Dahlmans or Beals have any comments for us?

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

What I find interesting is that in Linda's OPRA application, she said she wants to protect and restore the historic nature of the building so it will stick around for years to come. The completion of the project seems as if it not only benefits the business, but the larger Ypsilanti community as well. It's always wonderful to see a business expand and even greater to see jobs being created!

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

No, I just believe that job creation in the Ypsilanti area is worth highlighting.

Honest Abe

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

What are you? A Lobbyist!?


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

Best wishes to Linda for what I know will be a successful expansion. The Sidetrack is our favorite restaurant with the best variety and quality of vegetarian dishes. No other restaurant offers a tempeh Reubin and tempeh Phily sandwich. The black bean burgers are great as are the fish tacos. My wife loves the pulled pork quesadiila. During the summer Linda serves an excellent gazpacho (try it with sour cream). The only down side is that we can not eat outside at one of the three patios during about four months each year (due to the weather which may improve as climate change progresses!)


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

This is great, I look forward to better service and happier servers! But PLEASE get rid of that smell in the back hallway. I have to hold my breath every time I walk through there to avoid puking. If you wipe out and re-do the bathrooms, kitchen and back hallway, I will be oh-so-pleased.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

Ross, per the story above the new bathrooms are on the way.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Veracity, go stand in the back hallway and take a big whiff and tell me that again. There is funk/mold/rot going on somewhere in there. Or maybe just years and years of taking the drippy garbage and leaky fryer oil containers out of the kitchan through there. It stinks. I don't notice it when seated in the main rooms, thanks goodness. And especially not once that incredibly delicious burger arrives.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

I agree about the smell. Stopped going there to eat because of it. I'll take Aubree's any day. Better service and staff.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

What smell? I am a regular customer and use the bathroom occasionally as well as the back hallway for access and have never encountered bad odors. So your experience is not typical. (You know that the kitchen access is across from the bathrooms and servers move by there all the time so I am sure that any bad smell would be recognized quickly and dealt with. Maybe that is why I have no complaints.)


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Now if you can solve the parking problem to accommodate added clientele and residents you will be doing great!

harry b

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Park at Frog Island. Lots of parking and a short stroll through a beatiful town.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

There is only a parking problem if you think the only place to park is in their closest little lot. There's existing parking in the immediate area for about 3 more sidetracks worth of patrons, IMO.

Ren Farley

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

It will be great to rent an apartment will full sized windows to allow you to see the trains on the Michigan Central. And when the commuter rail is established some of the increasing number of people employed in downtown Detroit may wish to live in historic Ypsilanti.

Penny for your thoughts

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

I have been to Sidetracks when there has been absolutely NO parking across the street either, so no, there inst always abundant parking. Most people are willing to walk but not for many blocks because they cant find parking. =(

Honest Abe

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

Seems like people want to take 3 steps once they exit their car, and POOF!, they're inside the restaurant. There is PLENTY of parking. If you cannot find parking, then you must be lazy. I own 3 properties right there near Depot Town and have been here since 1950. Excluding large events like the Heritage Festival, there is ALWAYS parking. There just may not be a space at the front door!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

There is also parking at Hudson Motors where you can then ignore the no pedestrian crossing sign and cross anyway when traffic allows rather than going around 3 sides of a square to get there legitimately.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

Ridiculous. Just drive down river street, south of cross. That street just about always has room for 100+ cars. People are such crazy little lemmings behind the wheel, only checking their pre-conceived "spots".


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Katrease, great reporting. Unbelievably thorough. Linda deserves all the best. We started going there in 1980 for lunch and always loved it.

Katrease Stafford

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

Thanks, justcurious!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Hopefully they will increase their very small portions to go along with this expansion.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 9 p.m.

I've always shared the appetizers and in some cases they are large enough to share with more than one person.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Try the tiny appetizers.

harry b

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

I have trouble finishing the burger.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

Those tiny baskets they put their burgers in must have all of you fooled.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

Yeah, I've never left tracks without a to-go box. No idea what you're talking about.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Goofus must usually graze at All-You-Can-Eat buffets. My wife and I usually have to take home doggy-bags of food that we just did not have room to eat but is too good to leave on the plates!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2 p.m.

I don't know of anyone who walks away unfullfilled.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

There is ample parking behind Aubree's in the big city lot, for free none the less. I know it might require you to walk a few hundred yards and I am sorry for that.


Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 4:40 a.m.

Yes, Michigan WOMEN do not walk. Average BMI north side of 40. women will not walk to this place. Heck, if you watch them, they will sit in their car idling for 15 minutes waiting for a better parking spot at Briarwood that will only improve their positioning 15 or 20 feet. Pathetic!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

People are too lazy to walk!


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

This is Michigan. We don't walk.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Delighted to hear that Sidetrack / Frenchies will expand. It's a great place with good food and friendly staff people. As others have mentioned, parking is an issue throughout Depot Town, especially during the summer, when lots of people want to come and "hang out". A couple of banquet rooms / meeting spaces will mean better atmosphere and less crowding for the events / gatherings / meetings I attend there, if the organizers are allowed to use those spaces.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1 p.m.

I love this restaurant but parking is an issue. Left once as I could not find a place to park. Love the service and food.

Honest Abe

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

There is PLENTY of parking. All you have to do, is look for it. There is a decent sized lot, just north of the freight house. It's roughly a 1 minute walk. You can also park at the Miller motors, You can park on River St, You can park behind Aubree's near the Farmers market, you can park on Cross St. There is always a place to park.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

I'm really glad to hear of the expansion. I hope that with the addition of the two large spaces that the Frenchie's side might be able to be used more for smaller groups that would like a place away from the busier Sidetracks side. I enjoy the food and atmosphere. It's really great in the summer to sit outside. In addition to the great burgers already mentioned by others, the fried mushrooms are truly incredible.I am concerned that parking may be an issue with the larger capacity. Overall, I would give a top rating to Sidetracks.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

Sounds like a marvelous endeavor. My best wishes to you and yours on being very successful. And, thanks for adding more jobs.


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 11:25 a.m.

If Blimpy's doesn't make a come back this place has a great burger, great staff, and a great atmosphere. Their burger has been featured in GQ magazine. I love sitting there outside mid drink, mid bite and then a train come whaling past at 50 miles per hr blowing its horn. I love the location and their food. Now parking to accommodate this expansion. Hmmm.

Boo Radley

Sun, Dec 23, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

And even if Blimpy's doesn't make a come back this place will still have a great burger, great staff, and a great atmosphere. ... but better than Blimpy's, and the staff will be nice to you.

harry b

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Stop telling people about it, its too crowded as it is. Especially on a nice day. I love sidetrac.

Matt Tuck

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

Sidetrack is wayyyy better than blimpy burger


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

sayzme, isn't that the truth?


Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

Sidetrack is MUCH better than the grease you'll get at Blimpy's