Saline Marketplace Changes, Spring 2011
by Billie Ochberg
From the March, 2011 issue
Three siblings and their spouses, Peter and Laurie Toarmina along with two of Peter's sisters and their husbands-Mary and Len Sheko and Rosemarie and Ron Tolson-are excited to finally open the doors of their two beautifully renovated eateries on Michigan Avenue just west of Ann Arbor Street in the heart of downtown Saline. Formerly home to Kelly's 107 bar and the Saline Café, Mangiamo Italian Grill & Bar and Mickey's Downtown each has its own street entrance, but the two are connected on the inside and share a single phone number.
Mangiamo means "Let's eat" in Italian, and at 2,400 square feet, the place has plenty of room for eating everything from lasagna to ravioli to fettuccini and, of course, the family's famous pizza. Over a dozen Toarmina pizza parlors dot southeast Michigan. "Those are owned by the rest of my family," explains Toarmina-he, Mary, and Rosemarie are three of eight siblings.
Their grandmother perfected the Toarmina pizza sauce recipe generations ago. "She was making pizza when Tom Monaghan and Mike Illitch were still in diapers!" says Peter with a proud smile. Baking good pizza is serious business-they even had to reinforce the floor to support their new 3,500-pound "deck" pizza oven. Compared to the conveyor ovens used by most pizza chains, the deck oven demands more attention from the chef. But "it has three sides of stone instead of just one," says Toarmina, opening the oven to demonstrate. "It makes a better-tasting pizza." The pizza oven sits right out in the open, surrounded by additional bar-height seating.
Framed photographs of Italian villages adorn the restaurant's freshly painted walls. It seats about 148, divided between the front dining room and a more private back room that offers plenty of windows and can be reserved for larger groups.
Laurie and Mary spent a month salvaging the pink tables left behind by Kelly's. They repainted them in black, then applied an epoxy layer with swirls of contrasting colors that give them a
shiny finish that looks almost like marble. Otherwise, everything is new, from the light fixtures to the quartz countertops surrounding the pizza oven. Peter says they made a point of using as many local suppliers as possible, including Saline-based contractor Dave Rhoads, who built the wide wooden staircase to the second floor. (The upstairs may eventually become a banquet space.)
The bar side offers another 2,000 square feet of dining space. While the restaurant has caramel-colored hickory floors, the oak floor here is stained dark, giving it a more authentic bar ambience. Patrons may order anything off the restaurant menu and eat while watching one of the bar's six giant television screens. The beer system is also brand new, with ten beer lines. The family will offer a variety of Michigan beers as well as all the popular favorites, including Guinness on tap. "Guinness requires its own separate line," Peter explains, "because Guinness is made with a different ratio of CO2 and nitrogen."
Next door, Mickey's Downtown ice cream parlor (don't worry, Mickey's Dairy Twist isn't closing), has its own entrance, but restaurant patrons may order anything from the Mickey's menu. Mickey's Downtown is decorated like an old-fashioned parlor: red-and-white-checked tile floors, shiny chrome tables, and stools with red-cushioned seats. Laurie Toarmina made the matching red and white awning by hand. Another Toarmina sister, Pam, is perfecting her pastry recipes, which will also be available on the restaurant's dessert menu.
Wrapping up his guided tour of the extensive renovations, Peter joins Laurie, who's seated behind the bar doing paperwork and talking to their grown daughter, Lisa, who will work as one of the bartenders. Suddenly, we hear high-pitched, gleeful shouts: "Grandma, Grandma, come look!" Peter smiles as he gazes at Lisa's two young daughters, who are visiting. "That's what we work for. They're everything." La familia! Mangiamo!
Mangiamo Italian Grill & Bar and Mickey's Downtown, 107 W. Michigan, 429-0060. The restaurant and ice cream parlor: daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. The bar: daily 11 a.m.-midnight, with a limited menu after 10 p.m.
Jeannine Mickeleit thrives on long days and hard work-a good thing, since her work day starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends no less than twelve hours later. The hours don't appear to faze her at all. She's bright-eyed and smiling at 11 a.m. when she takes a short break to sit and talk about her latest business venture: opening her third Biggby Coffee franchise in Washtenaw County. Her first two are in Ann Arbor. Her newest will be in Saline, on E. Michigan Avenue in the small shopping center next to O'Reilly's Auto Parts and across from Walmart. The space, formerly occupied by Caffe Dolce, is being renovated Biggby-style but will retain the drive-through window installed by the former owners. "We did an extensive market analysis and traffic count," explains Mickeleit. "It's a great location for people driving to and from work who want to get a coffee on the go. Parents driving their kids to and from school won't have to get kids out of the car just to get a good cup of coffee." (The café will also have plenty of seating.)
Raised in Hamburg, Germany, Mickeleit moved to the United States to pursue her education-she earned master's degrees in German, secondary education, and business administration. After working as a financial advisor and then as a teacher, she decided to put her business background to work and bought her first Biggby franchise.
Mickeleit hopes the Saline café will be ready by March or April. In the meantime, she's busy interviewing potential employees, looking forward to learning more about Saline, and getting involved in its community. As a former teacher, she plans to connect with Saline teachers, especially those in the arts, so she can display student art on the café walls.
Biggby Coffee, 6961 E. Michigan, 418-7003. Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. (The drive-thru will open at 5:30 a.m. weekdays and 6:30 a.m. weekends.)
When Caffe Dolce suddenly closed last year, Kim Kaster lost her sense of equilibrium. She had worked at the café for years, finding there a refuge of sorts, customers she cherished, and a job that offered a vital contrast to her life as the mother of two sons, one with disabilities. And even though Kaster's face lights up with a smile as she describes with loving gratitude all the ways that her son and her family have made her a better person, she felt she needed something to fill the void Caffe Dolce's closing had left in her life.
Given her background in accounting (and her husband's secure job at GM), her family encouraged her to open her own café. The rest was serendipity. Sweet Kiss Bakery was closing (see story below) and its space was up for lease. (It was Caffe Dolce's original location before it moved 100 yards east on Michigan Avenue.) Kaster went to look at the space, but her eye was drawn to the much larger location next door-a corner spot recently vacated by Dominic's Liquor. She knew right away that she wanted it for her Brewed Awakenings: it's a bright corner where customers could linger without feeling cramped. "I want people to feel like they're in their living room," said Kaster shortly before her March 1 opening, "and I can't wait to open and see my customers again. They're like family to me."
In addition to coffee, tea, and a wide variety of house-baked goods-scones, muffins, and coffee cakes-Kaster has brough back many of the familiar items that Caffe Dolce once served, including soups, salads, sandwiches, and a variety of panini for both breakfast and lunch. She has partnered with the Culinary Arts program at Saline High School and lined up a student to help with the baking. She'll also be hiring two students from Saline's Young Adult Program, which helps young adults with disabilities develop the life skills they need to transition to more independent living. Kaster's older son is a part of that program and is already getting the word out. "He's our best marketer," says Kaster. "He tells everyone that Brewed Awakenings [has] the best coffee."
Her younger son developed the café's website and hopes to work there this summer. Kaster's husband isn't quitting his day job, but he'll help out on weekends. "I had a T-shirt made for my husband," laughs Kaster. "It says: I work for my wife at Brewed Awakenings Café."
Brewed Awakenings Café, 7025 E. Michigan, 681-0078. Mon.-Fri. 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
While Brewed Awakenings and Biggby were under renovations for their grand openings, another café quietly opened for business in mid-January. Riverside Café-Deli-Grill renovated the space formerly occupied by ATA Black Belt Academy in the Parkside Plaza strip mall on W. Michigan Avenue. "We plan to have a grand opening later in March," said manager Tanya Pop, as she took carryout orders from a fast-forming lunch line in February. Riverside Café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for dine-in or carryout. Its menu includes soups, salads, and a wide variety of deli sandwiches and hoagies, grilled burgers, fries, onion rings, and a daily Mediterranean special like grilled kabobs. Prices are reasonable, ranging from $1.50 for a toasted bagel with cream cheese to $8 for a half-pound Angus burger.
Ryan Holt, who works nearby at Fastenal, was in for his second meal in the three weeks since Riverside opened. "Last time I got a breakfast sandwich, this time I'm trying lunch. It's convenient for me," said Holt, who got his sandwich to go.
Pop was so busy preparing lunches that she couldn't sit down for an interview. "Let me know if there's anything you need or if I can make anything better," she asked her customers as they left with their orders.
Riverside Café-Deli-Grill, 699 W. Michigan, 470-6553. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sweet Kiss Bakery closed its doors at the end of November. "Sales were down, and it was too hard to maintain two businesses," says owner O.J. Chang. She's now concentrating on her other business, located right next door: Top Notch Cleaners & Alterations.
Ken Powell closed his Town & Country Bikes at the end of January after experiencing a dramatic decrease in bike sales since Walmart opened. "The funny thing is, folks were bringing in bikes they bought at Walmart for us to fix!" Powell says. He still owns and operates three other Town & Country Bike stores-in South Lyon, Livonia, and Brighton.
[Originally published in March, 2011.]