And Two in Transition
Blimpy and Seva go house-hunting
by Sally Mitani
Blimpy Burger--Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, until Rich Magner bought the business from Jim Shafer in 1992--will still be occupying its current location through August. Magner says the building was sold out from under him very quickly at the end of the 2012, and he says he has no one but himself to blame.
"I would have done the same thing," says Magner. "The university made a very generous offer [to Shafer's widow, Patricia], and anyone would have taken it."
Magner had first refusal on the property. "She wanted me to be the one to buy it. I just didn't get around to it," he says ruefully. "The day after Thanksgiving I found out that I had thirty days to match what the university was offering." He got the impression that the deal was hurried along in case the country went off the "fiscal cliff," which would have hiked the tax rate on capital gains (the deal to avoid the cliff did raise the capital gains rate, but only on high-income households).
"I had a very strange holiday" contemplating what to do next, Magner says. In January he was just beginning to look for new places, and laid out his wish list: "It would have to be a place with a kitchen [already]--I can't afford to do a build-out. I'd like to stay around here--Packard or State area. It has to have parking. I'd even go out Packard as far away as Fraser's. That area is doing well. Or as a second choice, I guess I'd move to South U," he says, with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
He explains, counterintuitively, that even though Blimpy is a campus icon, his busiest month is August. "That's when all the food tourists are out on vacation. They've seen us on TV shows [Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Man vs. Food] and read about us. And also, that's when the building trades are working on all the student housing. We're big with
the building trades." His business also spikes on game days and whenever alums are in town. Otherwise, "come September, we're dead in the water."
As a final wish, "I'd really like to have a good place for my bears." Weather permitting, he sculpts snow bears out front, where his awning protects them from the elements.
Another iconic restaurant--and Blimpy's culinary opposite--is also moving. Seva, one of Ann Arbor's first vegetarian restaurants, had a pretty sweet deal with its landlord, VFW Post 423, and when the lease was up last year, the VFW suggested that a large rent hike was in order. Seva has been on a month-to-month ever since. At press time the vegetarian restaurant was very close to signing a deal for a new space, but didn't want to say where: "There's nothing I can tell you that's not already out there," owner Jeff Jackson wearily called out to his manager, who repeated the message into the phone.
What's already out there, reported by AnnArbor.com, is that the VFW is listing the space with Colliers and asking $19.50 per square foot ($7.50 for the basement, where the Comedy Showcase is).
On the surface, that would seem to be the going rate for comparable properties in the area, but a businessman who asked not to be named suggested that the VFW is probably going to regret it. These "sweet deals" are usually pretty sweet for the landlord too, he said. "Seva's been in there, what, thirty years? What's the VFW done for them? They just sit there and collect the rent. In this game, you've got to pay to play. Seva was what's called an 'existing nonconforming tenant.' To get a new tenant in there, there are going to be huge issues to bring the place up to what's now the code. Mechanical, handicap access, bathrooms. I think the VFW made a major mistake." The VFW Post 423 didn't return calls.
The businessman also thinks he knows where Seva is bound: 314 South Fourth. It was most recently the Dream Nite Club, which the city shut down after repeated contretemps involving weapons and underage drinking, but many Ann Arborites fondly remember it as Maude's.
[Originally published in February, 2013.]