Susan Todoroff adds a cafe
Juicy Kitchen's fast slow food
by Sally Mitani
"I wanted it to be cheerful, warm, and inviting. I wanted you to walk in and not know you're in a strip mall," Susan Todoroff says of her Juicy Kitchen Cafe. Her father cut down some pine trees near his hunting cabin up north and had them milled. Her husband, George, used them as horizontal paneling halfway up the walls of the former Maple Gardens Chinese restaurant. Susan painted them with a turquoise translucent wash.
"It took me three tries to get the right color. George also framed the slate blackboards, made the tables. He just knows how to do things."
"It's not rocket science," says George modestly. A quiet and soft-spoken contrast to Susan's sunny vivacity, he is on site a lot. He owns several businesses that supply cable TV and computer technology for horse racing tracks, but they can be run from afar and require only a light touch.
Juicy Kitchen, Susan says, offers "everyday healthy gourmet food." That means, she says, that there's "not a lot of salt, not a lot of fat, not a lot of sugar in our baked goods. People have always appreciated that in my home-delivery business, but I didn't know how that approach would carry over into a restaurant."
Todoroff found her way into the restaurant business via catering. She's heavily involved in the sustainable local food movement, which is how she snagged Dan Vernia as her chef.
Vernia, former chef de cuisine at the Ravens Club, met Todoroff at the Selma Cafe, the weekly benefit breakfast for local food growers, where they both volunteer. (See Inside Ann Arbor, p. 11.) Vernia was looking for an easier job, "so I'd have more time for my pro-bono activities" (his name turns up in almost anything involving local sustainable agriculture). At the cafe, he says, "I'm down to about forty hours a week. That's kind of like half time for me." He's still on good terms with Ravens, where he hosts a monthly networking
breakfast for farmers. He sometimes uses Todoroff's commercial kitchen in the evenings for his volunteer work.
The cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and sort-of dinner, closing most days at 6. In early February, Susan was riding the rollercoaster of new restaurant ownership, learning how to reallocate her energies. She was having trouble keeping up with the demand for her baked donuts (they're made of an expensive spelt flour, which explains the $2.25 price, but they still sell out every day. She moved the opening back from 6:30 a.m. to 7. "I need the extra half-hour of sleep," she explains, "and we rarely get people before seven."
"The breakfast sliders are here because I wanted to have a reasonably priced [$5-$7] healthy option for people to grab and go with coffee. The whole-grain stuffed French toast--people say it's the best French toast they've ever had." For lunch/dinner, she's settled on a couple of staples, while she rotates and experiments with other soups, salads, and sandwiches and prepared foods. Chicken dumpling soup is on the menu daily, at least for now. Grilled romaine Caesar will probably remain a staple all year: "I used to do it at home for dinner parties. You grill the lettuce so it's a little bit charred on the outside, crunchy on the inside."
"People ask what's good, and ... well, I wouldn't have it on the board if it wasn't good."
Juicy Kitchen Cafe, 1506 N. Maple (Maple Miller Plaza), 585-5562. Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri. 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. juicykitchen-a2.com
[Originally published in March, 2013.]