Food, Fiats, and Minis
In the Works, December, 2012
by Sally Mitani
Maple Miller Plaza (as it's called, though it has no sign and no frontage on Miller) has been the site of interesting, if not always long-lived, food experiments, like the Mercado Sabor Latino. It will now be revitalized with two new food stops, both of which hope to be in full swing by early next year.
Several years ago, personal trainer Susan Todoroff began catering and delivering healthy prepared food (you can buy her salads at Vie Fitness). Recently her Juicy Kitchen has been operating out of a commercial kitchen hidden on the backside of Maple Miller Plaza. That made Todoroff one of the first to know about the vacancy left by Maple Gardens, and she snapped it up. "There are whole neighborhoods out here," she says, gesturing west and north, "and a real lack of places where you can get a healthy breakfast and a good cup of coffee." She hopes to have her cafe open by the first of the year, serving Mighty Good coffee, breakfast sliders, and quinoa bowls.
Meanwhile, Susan Thomas and Khaled Houamed are planning to open El Harissa Market Cafe, a Tunisian cafe, deli, and market, a few doors down in the former Mercado Sabor Latino. The couple, who met in London twenty-five years ago when Khaled was a PhD student, hope to have part of the market open sometime in December. In January they'll be taking over the commercial kitchen when Todoroff vacates it, and they hope to be selling their own food by February. Like what? "Well," says Thomas, the cook in the family (a Londoner, she says her grandmother cooked "in the big houses, as in Upstairs Downstairs"), "there's a wonderful sandwich called fricasse--fried bread filled with tuna, potatoes, and harissa," the North African spicy chili paste. "She's an amazing couscous-maker," says Khaled. He adds, "we'll be educating the community about the Berber culture, and helping the traditional farmers and producers in North Africa to achieve a good living."
They hope to import free-trade olive oil from Tunisia. "People in Ann Arbor will pay $20 for a bottle of olive oil, and they need to know that sometimes the farmer is only making a few cents."
The little wedge of land between the West Stadium post office and Boulevard Plaza (Arbor Farms/Barnes Ace Hardware) was suddenly full of bulldozers and stacks of concrete block this fall. It's being turned into a Fiat dealership--"a studio, it's called. Six cars in the showroom and six sales consultants. All service will be done across the street [at Suburban Chrysler Jeep]," says Ron MacEachern, general manager of both dealerships.
MacEachern explains that when Troy-based Suburban Collection bought the Chrysler Jeep dealership over the summer, the large company with about thirty dealerships across Michigan (including Chevy and Buick dealers on Jackson Road) also had a franchise for a Fiat dealership--one of only three Chrysler doled out in Michigan. And the clock was ticking--the franchise had to open by the end of the year. Originally, Suburban had planned to put it in Novi, but "the demographics in Ann Arbor were much more in line with the Fiat brand. The Ann Arbor community is open to European styling and conscientious about fuel economy," he says.
So Suburban hurriedly bought the lot across the street, and began knocking down the former gas station on the spot, which most recently was used as a detail center for the dealership's used cars.
Another dealership poised to open by the end of the year is Mack Johnson's MINI dealership on Jackson. "We are ninety percent done. I'm working hard to get open before the end of the year," he emails.
More bulldozers are at work on Ellsworth, just east of State, on the site of what was once Great Lakes Steakhouse and, more recently, Enzo's Sports Bar. A Choice Quick Lube mechanic next door confirmed that a long-promised Tim Horton's is finally materializing (though another has opened up the road at Ann Arbor Gateway). Tim Horton's corporate didn't return calls and emails.
[Originally published in December, 2012.]