Five Marketplace Closings
Hibachi, Brahma, Wild Bills and more
by Sally Mitani
Hibachi Grill ("and Supreme Buffet," as its website grandly added) opened last summer and closed at the end of the year. An Asian business owner who didn't want to be named ("I could be sued!") explained that the entire Asian community of Ypsi and Ann Arbor knew it didn't have a chance. It's simple arithmetic: "There's already an Asian buffet [Asia City] just down the road. They're doing okay, but people aren't exactly lining up outside. Now, let's say Hibachi is paying--I don't know, let's say $10,000 a month in rent. Okay, so maybe they think somehow they're going to get 200 people a day at $10 a head?" He seemed to think that might be a reasonable business plan, even with the cost of running a buffet, where you have to cook a lot of food whether anyone shows up or not.
"But if that doesn't work, then what do you do? You lower your prices. But if you lower them to $7 a head, then you need to get 300 people a day in there. And where are all those people going to come from? Did they think they were going to steal 300 people a day from Asia City?"
When Selina Chen, whose family owns the North Carolina-based chain, opened the restaurant, she said there were fifty to eighty of them, and more to come. The Dunn, North Carolina, store is still open. They provided a number for Selina Chen, but that number now seems to belong to someone else.
Close by on Washtenaw, the Brahma Steakhouse also closed. It was opened early last year by Louie Vushaj, uncle to Sava Lelcaj, who owns the popular State St. restaurant, Sava.
Lelcaj says her uncle would rather not comment on the project. He's "been in the industry for a long time, and it just didn't pan out the way he hoped." She adds, "It's a tough location, so I wish the next operators tons of
luck." According to a hastily erected sign and banner, those next operators are already on board, and hoped to reopen by mid-January as a Mexican Cantina called Maiz.
Asked for the who, what, where, when, and why of the Baskin-Robbins franchise closing at 2731 Plymouth Rd., Justin Drake, PR manager from corporate, wrote back in the careful manner of PR managers everywhere, saying, basically, that the store closed.
Another ice cream place, Stucchi's, closed several months ago on South U, and Virginia Hart gave a more vivid account of the store's travails. Hart was behind the counter at the other Stucchi's, the one on State St., owned by Sara and Jim Seta. Ashvin Amin owned the South U Stucchi's (he used to own the State St. franchise too), and he's part of a team that goes back to the old pre-franchise days, when Hart herself was the ice cream maker, the factory was in Saline, and Chris and Dave Fischera owned the company.
Hart says illness forced Amin to close the South U shop. She's behind the counter on State St. because the factory is now up near Lansing. Casey Askar, who also owns Papa Romano's and Mr. Pita, bought Stucchi's in 2008 and moved it there. "I didn't want to move. But they have to keep me on," she says. "If anything ever happens to the factory, I can still make the ice cream."
Wild Bill's Tobacco closed less than a year after it opened. Landlord Walid Dimo (owner of Dimo's Deli and Donuts and the tiny W. Stadium strip where Wild Bill's was located) says: "They signed a five-year lease, and next thing I know, their attorney is calling me and saying they'll be out in three weeks. When they wanted to rent it, the owner told me what a great tenant they would be, yada yada. Against my better judgment I rented to them."
Even though Wild Bill's, a Michigan-based, family-owned chain, seems to be expanding around the state by leaps and bounds, Dimo explains: "This is not a blue-collar town. Smoking is not popular around here. Most of their customers were people who roll their own tobacco." He adds: "You know who's calling me to rent the space now? [Marijuana] dispensaries. No thank you."
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[Originally published in February, 2013.]