Flowers, food, feet, & more
More Marketplace Changes
by Tony McReynolds & Sally Mitani
Gwen Kassa bought the University Flower Shop in Nickels Arcade from longtime owner Dolly Holek in February. Holek, who's in her early sixties, owned the store for twenty years and she'll be working there part time for at least a year as Kassa's sole employee.
Kassa, forty-five, worked at the Ann Arbor News for seventeen years as its human resources manager before leaving two years ago to pursue what she calls her "landscape vocation."
"I always had a passion for gardening and planting flowers," she explains, "and I figured at this point in my life I might not get another opportunity." She studied for and received her landscape design certification with the intention of opening her own landscape design and gardening service, but she put those plans on hold when she learned the flower shop was up for sale.
It's been a flower shop for fifty years (its many owners include a member of the Metzger family) and does everything from selling flowers to providing floral arrangements for wed-dings and other special events.
Kassa is just happy to be in business for herself. "I had been wanting to do it for about the last five years I was at the Ann Arbor News. I just decided to take that leap." With the paper's imminent closing, she adds, "In hindsight, it was probably good timing."
University Flower Shop, 7 Nickels Arcade. 668-8096. Mon.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. www.universityflowershopannarbor.com.
In early April, three of the four No Thai! partners were sprawled on chairs in their newest No Thai! on Plymouth Road in the Courtyard Shops, waiting for a building inspec-tion, and looking like a tableau of slacker indolence. Except that they're opening their third restaurant in about as many years, so at least someone here must be a Type A, though it's hard to say who. Victor Kim, who handles IT and accounting, was fiddling with his laptop. Noerung Hang, head chef, wandered outside for a
cigarette. Jeff Cho, human resources and scheduling, laconically volunteered to handle the unexpected drop-in Marketplace Changes interview. Fourth partner Brian Kim (no relation to Victor), who handles "aesthetics, branding, and logo," wasn't there, but his contribution was felt in the paint color, a somehow simultaneously soothing and energizing light green called "celery bunch."
Cho confirmed that they were pretty calm about opening their third restaurant. There won't be any menu changes: they knocked out their concise menu of Thai fast food when they opened the first restaurant on South University and haven't seen any reason to change it.
The new location will seat thirty to forty, but the kitchen is huge. Cho explains they will use the space to centralize the food prep. Meat and vegetables will all be cut here and ferried to the other, much smaller No Thais. "That was our major goal in getting a place this big, but we have high hopes for this location, just like we did for the Kerrytown location. They're all completely different locations. Here you don't have the foot traffic, but I think this is an area of growth for Ann Arbor. Campus is pretty full now. The Briarwood area is pretty full now. So this was a good area to get tapped into."
The four partners were college friends (they're now around thirty), and three of the four live together. Victor Kim is married and lives with his wife on the north side of Ann Arbor, while the others share a house near Briarwood. And if you envision the three bachelors standing over the sink eating No Thai! takeout, banish the thought. They rarely touch the stuff. "We eat like normal people," says Cho. "In fact, we grill almost every Sunday."
No Thai!, 1745 Plymouth Road. 663-8080. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. noon-10 p.m. www.nothai.com.
"Our basic premise is that people come to a Foot Solutions store because they're looking for a solution for their feet," says Michael Bell, who with his wife, Dana, just opened a Foot Solutions franchise in the shopping strip in front of Quality 16 theaters.
Michael Bell discovered shoe ergonomics while working in a ski shop in Colorado, when he found he had a genius for fitting ski boots. Now he's a board-certified pedorthist-that is, someone who can make doctor-prescribed shoe inserts. While that may sound like a niche business, pedorthists don't see it that way. "Most everyone can use an insole, whether it's an accommodative insole or a functional insole," he says. "Accommodative" is pedorthist-speak for something, usually bought off the rack, that makes you more comfortable, as opposed to the functional insole that helps the foot move differently-those are mostly doctor-prescribed.
A visit to Foot Solutions most likely begins with a free thirty-to-forty-five minute assessment of your foot situation. You'll be questionnaired, measured, palpated, and finally escorted to an electronic scanner that eventually coughs up a colorful array of graphs, charts, and images-yours to keep-indicating where your feet and gait fall short of the ideal.
Though the 250-store chain aims to provide one-stop shopping for any foot problems, what it looks like is a shoe store. The shoes on display are mostly sandals and walking shoes in a chunky, healthful, wholesome style. All can accommodate orthotics-even the gorgeously elegant made-to-order Tower & Johnson men's dress shoes.
Michael says the most popular shoe in the store is probably the Chung Shi brand. With its rocker-bottom heel it's as identifiable as an Earth Shoe or Birkenstock. The heel propels you forward, Dana says, "forcing the foot through a natural gait cycle. It helps a lot of problems: plantar fasciitis, heel pain, lower back pain." Dana has an M.B.A. and a master's in public health and is close to becoming a board-certified pedorthist as well.
Foot Solutions, 3780 Jackson Rd., Suite D. 998-3668. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. (also by appointment). www.footsolutions.com/annarbor
A few months ago, when the Kasham brothers closed both Big Moe's Coney and Greeko's Coney-Grill, they observed that east Ann Arbor was glutted with coney islands and diners-they named six that had opened within a year in a half-mile radius of Big Moe's. Now there's one less. Naser Derneika has subleased his east-side King of Queens Coney Island to Jamal el Mokadem and his uncle Abbas el Mokadem. The two have turned it into Kaboba's, swapping eggs over easy for cheap and kid-friendly Middle Eastern eats.
The el Mokadems both work full time as engineers, but have always wanted to own a restaurant (one of them is usually there in the evening). Keli, Jamal's wife, was waiting tables the afternoon we stopped in, though she doesn't have any more time on her hands than they do-she's a full-time nursing student with four young children. Still, she found time to quickly paint a picture of the restaurant's mission: cheap, fun food and no tipping. "We have four children, and you have to think of things to eat that are creative"-hence, the "shish kapeanut" and "shish colada," two recipes she, Jamal, and the kids invented at home. Both are just $2.99, as are a bunch of other, more traditional, Middle Eastern sand-wiches, most with generous servings of grilled, marinated meat and a dollop of rice wrapped in a pita. Vegetarian sandwiches are only $2.49. Full-meal versions are around $9.
As for the no-tipping policy, Keli points out that McDonald's and other counter-service restaurants pay real wages and don't do tips. But it's taken some training to get customers used to the idea at a restaurant with table service. "At first people would say, 'No, really, we have to tip,' and so we'd give them food for it. I mean, someone would leave two dol-lars, and we'd give them a few pieces of baklava. Now that we have regular customers, they understand and they're really appreciative."
Kaboba's, 4003 Carpenter Rd. 879-1134. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m. www.kabobas.com.
[Originally published in May, 2009.]