A fresh start on North Main
And other Marketplace Changes
by Tony McReynolds & Sally Mitani
From the July, 2009 issue
The "Pita Bite coming soon" sign that appeared in the window of 207 North Main shortly after the latest tenant went out of business made a pretty bold claim: "The Best Food in Town." In early June, brothers Frank and Ed Istanbouli gave Ann Arborites a chance to test it when they opened their new Middle Eastern restaurant in the former Seajoy's Kitchen space.
Pita Bite specializes in Lebanese dishes, but Frank says they prepare many of them a little differently than most places. For instance, they cook shish kabob sans skewer.
"When it's on a skewer, you never know if it's a leftover," Frank explains. "Ours is always fresh. We marinate the meat, then slice it into layers and sauté it on a griddle with onions and flavored Lebanese spices." Other Middle Eastern entrees include chicken kabob and beef and chicken shawarma. The restaurant rounds out the menu with seafood, steaks, sandwiches, burgers, and salads, with lunch entrees starting at $8 and dinner entrees at $12.
The brothers are natives of Lebanon. Frank, fifty, moved to Chicago in 1984, and Ed, forty-two, joined him two years later. Frank studied to be an engineer, but a year shy of his degree he decided he didn't want to work for anyone and left school. After trying out several different entrepreneurial efforts, including driving a cab, he settled on the restaurant business, opening his first place twelve years ago. Ed, who'd spent the previous six years running a limo service, followed suit with his own restaurant, and soon the brothers co-owned a third.
Frank, who'd started a family in Chicago, was firmly settled there, but Ed, single and restless, moved to Ypsilanti last year to see if he'd like living in a smaller city. He likes it so much that he convinced Frank to relocate and open Pita Bite. Frank's glad he did. "We were looking for a good place to open a business and [a good place] to live at
the same time," he says.
Pita Bite, 207 N. Main. 585-5196. Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight. www.mypitabite.com
After six years of trying to run the Chocolate House of Ann Arbor while holding down full-time day jobs, Vicky and Rob Ponitz sold the business to their nephew, Alex Molnar, who changed the name to Carillon Chocolates in mid-June. Molnar, twenty-five, had worked in the shop two years ago and had a clear idea of its strengths and weaknesses. "I saw a lot of potential in it," he says. "The location's great, and it's a nice old building. But my aunt just couldn't put in enough time. And they priced themselves too low for Main Street."
Molnar is styling Carillon Chocolates as both coffeehouse and chocolate shop. He's even roasting his own beans. Operating the roaster, he says, is a whole lot easier than making chocolate, so he's grateful most of the staff stayed on to help with the candy making. He's offering two different regular coffees, two decafs, and espresso each day, and he's considering moving opening time up an hour to 8 a.m. to catch more of the morning traffic.
He's completely revamped the décor to attract the coffeehouse crowd, with a colorful new paint job, comfortable chairs and tables, a couple of easy chairs, and a couch. He offers free wi-fi as well.
On the chocolate side of the business, Molnar is putting a bigger emphasis on organic and locally made ingredients. Customers looking for gifts can purchase premade boxes of chocolates and truffles or have a custom selection put together on the spot. In addition to handmade chocolates, the café will also offer cakes and cheesecakes from Old World Bakery in Ypsilanti and Stroh's ice cream.
Molnar had begun studying for his MBA at Eastern Michigan when his aunt and uncle offered him the shop. He considers it an opportunity to put what he's learning into practice while still in school. "I'd much rather do the real thing than read about it in the classroom," he says.
Carillon Chocolates, 330 S. Main, 222-0552, Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. www.carillonchocolates.com
Need a new watch battery? Everything Battery gives them away for free every day. Don't know how to install it? They'll do it for a couple of bucks, depending on the watch.
Brothers Tom and Mike DeLaTorre opened the business on Jackson Road at the beginning of June. They sell almost any kind of battery, but specialize in batteries for camcorders and cell phones. In fact, the store carries 100 different kinds of cell phone batteries-and can special order 200 others. Those tiny button batteries are the smallest in the store. The biggest are motor home batteries, and they're monsters. Three feet long by a foot wide by a foot and a half high, and weighing in at 130 pounds, they go for $300.
Tom, forty-six, with his mop of black hair and ebullient personality, looks a little like Chico Marx, only without the comic-opera Italian accent, and he's enthusiastic about batteries. He worked at Batteries Plus on Packard for a year before leaving in 2007 to open his own battery store in Pinckney with Mike, who's now fifty.
The brothers knew they wanted to open a store in Ann Arbor-"it's an underserved market," Tom says. They raised the money by franchising the Pinckney store. Tom, who's big on the battery business and its future, says they hope it will be the first of many franchises. "The average household has thirty devices that take batteries," he says. "Now you can get them all in one place."
The DeLaTorres have boxes of loose batteries they sell for fifty cents each. They also rebuild batteries for devices like cordless tools. While such batteries are typically rechargeable, they eventually wear out. It's often cheaper to rebuild the battery than buy a new one-or a new tool. The brothers even custom-build batteries, like the one they just built to spec for the University of Michigan's Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering Department. It's a special waterproof battery designed to power a floating research buoy.
Everything Battery is a couple of doors down from the children's resale shop Grow With Me. Their hours are roughly the same, too, and Tom jokes about cross-promoting the two businesses. "Who needs batteries more than parents with children?" he asks.
Everything Battery, 25 Jackson Industrial Dr. 585-5457. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. hours uncertain.
[Originally published in July, 2009.]
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