Wedging onto South U
by Sally Mitani
The Glassbox Cafe is one of many new businesses springing up around the Landmark high rise on the corner of South U and Forest, but it may be the greatest retail land grab of the year. "It was a bit of random luck" says owner Jason Friend. "I know people from Campus Realty," and he talked them into letting him turn some of their ground-floor office space into a coffee shop. "I guess I caught everyone in a good mood."
Glassbox has floor-to-ceiling glass on two of its three sides: the building is a wedge-shaped flatiron on the point of land where South U meets Washtenaw.
In early April, all the reflecting glass and solar heat was actually getting on Friend's nerves. He insisted on conducting the interview in the sunny but chilly courtyard where he had just set up a few outdoor tables. Friend says his wife, Alissa, got him into coffee. They both worked in the business in New York and moved to Ann Arbor mainly because she fell in love with the town (she's currently taking a breather from the business while raising their three children, though "she's occasionally taking a shift").
The tiny shop has a laser-like focus on a few well-made beverages: a short list of espresso drinks; brewed coffee made to order in an Aeropress (barista Hannah Wood says the machine is rare-to-nonexistent in area coffee shops); and, a surprise hit to everyone, the juice drinks. The juices perfume the entire shop, because many of them are made with fresh basil and mint. Wood candidly offered that the most popular is one made from mint, orange, and blood orange because, at $3.75, "it's a little cheaper than the others."
Glassbox Cafe, 1335 South University, no phone. Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
[Originally published in May, 2013.]