Terry B's Sold
Coley O'Brien aims for middle ground.
by Sally Mitani
From the September, 2017 issue
"We're battling the perception that we're a special occasion place," says Coley O'Brien, who bought Terry B's in July from its namesake, Terry Braciszew-ski. Buying the most expensive dining spot in town hadn't been on his to-do list, "but the opportunity presented itself," says O'Brien, who also owns the A&W at the other end of downtown.
O'Brien knows his market. He grew up in Dexter and lives there with wife, Nicole, son, Miles (nine), and daughter, McKenna (six). And he clearly understands food service: when he bought the A&W in 2010, he says, he transformed it "from an average restaurant ... to the twenty-fourth highest-volume location in the nation" (out of 642) and "the number two seasonal A&W in the nation." O'Brien's lodestar is "good value for hard-earned money and superior, friendly service."
Does he know yet how to translate that to a place that takes reservations and has a sommelier? "Nope, it's all brand new to me," he laughs. "I still feel very green." With the return of chef Adam Boonstra and manager/sommelier Chad Roe, he has the fine-dining end pretty well nailed, but, he adds, "we'd like to be considered an everyday dinner place as well," he says, where people can stop in for a burger, fish and chips, a bowl of soup.
Miles and McKenna are consulting on the kids' menu, which currently features burgers, mac and cheese, and grilled chicken. O'Brien brought the kids into the interview, and, when pressed, they shyly added that their own favorites include pasta with pesto, spaghetti and meatballs, kale chips, Brussels sprouts, and carrots. Then they scampered off to play in the "grotto" downstairs. (You can too--see below.)
If O'Brien seems to be taking a leap, it's not as big a leap as Braciszewski took--he's a neuropsychologist. (His name is pronounced brah-sih-SHEV-ski, but we'll do what his patients do and call him Dr. B.) In 2005, he bought the restaurant that Paul Cousins had opened in 1984 and
the 1850s farmhouse that housed it. Cousins Heritage Inn was one of the Midwest's first farm-to-table restaurants (though that term had yet to be coined), but by then a new chef-owner had renamed it the Tuscan House, and it was floundering.
Dr. B gave it a new life. He added a wing on either side--a metaphor not lost on him: "like a bird flapping!" is his delighted description of the building's altered footprint--as well as a deck and elaborate bar. He removed the cramped second floor to create a cathedral ceiling and then embarked on his real mission: to get patients at his Ann Arbor Rehabilitation Centers some real-life work experience.
He'd seen colleagues do that successfully in both New Orleans and San Marcos, and "I wasn't scared of the kitchen. Most of us have gone through some kind of [restaurant] service," including him, when he was in college. He points out that "a restaurant is a microcosm of the real world," and everyone can find a place in it, whether in the front or back of the house.
In 2014, Dr. B sold his rehab center, and, though he still has a solo practice, it seemed a logical time to let the restaurant go. He's happy with the sale to O'Brien: "I prayed that something good would come of it--that it wouldn't be turned into something stupid." A fervent Christian and a plainspoken iconoclast, Dr. B believes people can accomplish pretty much anything they want to--besides practicing medicine and running a business, he flies his own twin-engine plane all over the country and plays trumpet in a band called Four Old Men and a Babe.
The last few years were rocky--a few chefs came and went--but Dr. B's final accomplishment was to install Boonstra and Roe in the top positions. Boonstra is a Dexter local who went to chef school, worked at Terry B's under Doug Hewitt (now chef at Chartreuse, Detroit's hottest farm-to-table place), and left to hone his skills at Red Haven in Okemos. Roe ditched a career in finance around 2010 because "he got bored," according to Dr. B. In love with the nightly drama of the restaurant world, Roe started waiting tables at Terry B's. He has been bootstrapping his way up since then, acquiring wine knowledge along the way.
In describing his lengthy list of renovations to the old farmhouse, Dr. B mentions that he was the one who outfitted the tiny basement room with a call button, so it could be used for intimate private dining, and named it the "grotto"--though O'Brien says that name should probably be scrapped, because of the similarly named bar across the street. His kids call it the "secret room," which seems as good a name as any. It's a little rustic, but O'Brien says it, too, is open for business.
Terry B's, 7954 Ann Arbor St., 426-3727. Tues.-Thurs. 3-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 3-10 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon. terrybs.com
[Originally published in September, 2017.]
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