Voting for the Underdog
Catrina Vlisides opens Detroit Dog Co.
by Billie Ochberg
"I always vote for the underdog," says Catrina Vlisides when asked why she named her new Saline restaurant Detroit Dog Co. She says the name reflects both her passion for Detroit and a desire to raise awareness about a town that so many dismiss as a dying city. With a contagious grin, Vlisides lights up and rattles off a list of great Detroit food companies like Kowalski Meats, Faygo Beverages, and McClure's Pickles--all featured on her menu.
"Detroit's a vibrant place with a glorious history, and I want to pay tribute to it," says Vlisides, standing outside DDC (her nickname) in the old post office on North Ann Arbor Street. She aims to offer "something cool and fresh that stems from an appreciation for history, design, business and, of course, exceptional service."
Vlisides, who lives in Saline, has deep roots in the restaurant business. "My grandfather, Stephen Vlisides, came to Detroit from Greece for the auto industry." It was 1919. Instead of working in the plants, though, he opened a restaurant across the street from the GM Building. Later, he moved to Ann Arbor and opened a place called the Charcoal House on State Street. Vlisides' father, Nick, and her brothers, Stefan and Andrew, run the Sevens Cafe in Ann Arbor's 777 E. Eisenhower Building. Her dad, she says, is a big supporter of her new venture--both financially and emotionally. And Vlisides, a 2002 Ypsi High grad, until recently worked as an assistant manager at Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor, owned by Top Chef contestant Eve Aronoff. "Frita's is where I learned the concept of fast casual," she says, "a new wave that combines good food and great design."
Vlisides hired Saline High School welding students to construct DDC's exterior sign. Just inside the entrance, she's having Detroit muralist and graffiti artist Sintex paint a ten-foot-tall retro mural of a girl drinking Faygo. Bricks for a new wall were salvaged by Reclaim Detroit from structures demolished in the Detroit
area. Vlisides points out the name "Clippert" stamped in one. Founded back in the 1880s, Clippert Brick was one of Detroit's oldest brickyards when it closed a hundred years later.
Countertops made from salvaged wood, also from Reclaim Detroit, line three sides of the approximately 200-square-foot dining area. A fourth counter is mounted on the restaurant's exterior, so patrons can set down their Faygos and perch outdoors (Vlisides plans to invest in heat lamps when the weather gets colder).
DDC's menu nods both to Detroit and to new food trends. The Frito dog, for example, is topped with chili, cheddar, and Frito chips. The Rock City dog is wrapped in bacon, deep fried, and then topped with cheese and grilled onions. The Boblo Island BBQ is covered with the house-made sweet and savory coleslaw, onion rings, and BBQ sauce, while the Mexicantown has chorizo, avocado, tomato, jalapenos, cheddar, and sour cream. Dogs are priced from $3.29 to $5.79, and all come in buns from Ed's Bread, right around the corner.
Sides include hand-cut fries, onion rings, deep-fried pickles, and jalapeno pops. Customers craving a creamier drink than Faygo or canned pop may order a classic milk shake made with Calder's ice cream. Even sweeter dessert options include deep-fried cookie dough or a deep-fried brownie.
Detroit Dog Co. plans to maintain an active presence on social media, including a Dog of the Month suggestion page on Facebook. Vlisides will feature the winning ideas on her rotating menu board. "And don't worry," assures Vlisides, "even if you don't see a Chicago-style dog on the menu, we'll have it for you."
Detroit Dog Co., 103 N. Ann Arbor, 323-7927. Tue.-Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Mon. detroitdogco.com
Is it a good idea to polish your old coins with a silver cloth? "Oh boy, that's a big no-no! It's about the worst thing you could do," exclaims Bill Ortell, with a twinkle in his eye. He throws up his hands and mimes nearly falling off his chair.
The rule, Ortell explains, is "never clean a coin." Coin collecting is all about protecting and preserving the condition of the coin, so, if you think you have a valuable coin, hold it by its edges wearing lintless cotton gloves. Common household silver cleaning cloths have solvents that may harm a coin.
Ortell's enthusiasm and colorful anecdotal stories about collecting (and caring for) coins may be just the draw you need to finally see if any of those old pennies you've been saving have value. Ortell is an entertaining character and relishes any opportunity to share his expertise with customers, or at Rotary clubs or Kiwanis meetings. He sat down on a recent sunny September afternoon in his soon-to-open downtown Saline shop, Main Street Coins & Collectibles. Local coin collectors may already know Ortell. He took over D&R Coins in Milan a couple years ago after that shop's late owner, Ralph Lefler, retired. Ortell refers to Lefler as a local legend. The two first met back in 1973, when he ran Lefler Liberty Coin Sales in Ypsilanti. At that time Ortell had established a rather impressive collection including his prized possession, a 1909 S-VDB Lincoln penny. The S stands for San Francisco mint; VDB stands for Victor D. Brenner, the man who designed the penny--and, initially, put his initials on both sides. Just days into its production, the federal government ordered the Mint to remove the initials from the back, thereby making those few that were produced with them all the more valuable.
Years later, when both Ortell and Lefler were living in Milan and Ortell was close to retiring after forty-two years working as an electrical engineer, Lefler floated the idea of having Ortell take over his Milan shop. Ortell was ready to retire from engineering but not ready to stop working. Even though Lefler sold him the shop, he hung around to help out. Sadly, Lefler passed away this September.
Ortell has strong ties to Saline: he and his wife raised their four children here. He figured moving the shop to downtown Saline might bring more foot traffic. "Plus we're eBay PowerSellers," explains Ortell. That means his operation maintains reliably high sales volume coupled with consistently positive feedback on eBay. His expertise is coins, and his business partner, Len Griffis, knows all about collectibles like fancy china, silverware, and old watches.
Ortell hopes to be open by early November. If you're lucky, he'll do a magic trick for you: he can make a coin disappear right before your eyes. If it's your coin, don't worry; he won't keep it.
He prides himself on offering a good deal. "My motto," he says with a smile, "is, 'I'm good-lookin', fair, and honest.'"
Main Street Coins & Collectibles, 108 E. Michigan, 439-7015. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-p.m. Closed Sun.
Reincarnations in downtown Saline, formerly Reincarnations Resale, now has a shorter name but twice as much as space. Owner Michele Ingalls now manages the store as an antique mall. She cleaned out the 1,800-square-foot basement, rearranged the 2,100-square-foot first floor, and created booths on both floors that she leases to dealers on a monthly basis. It makes for a far greater range of items and a fun way to meander in and out of the roughly eight-by-eight-foot booths and see what people collect and sell. The twenty-six booths feature everything from vintage fashions and jewelry to mid-century modern kitchenware along with carefully displayed cottage chic items, kitsch and eclectic collections. If you need Hawaiian shirts and muumuus, for example, booth 20 in the basement is the place to go with its two long racks of vintage Hawaiian shirts for men and women, plus all sorts of dresses in a variety of vibrant floral prints and styles. Booth 29 offers a mix of antique games like vintage bingo cards and domino sets along with several old printers' trays and antique wood windows. Ingalls also sells her own collections, including an impressive variety of vintage tin sign reproductions illustrating everything from superheroes to beer to sewing supplies.
Reincarnations, 109 E. Michigan, 470-6480. Mon.-Wed. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 a.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m. www.ReincarnationsResale.com
[Originally published in December, 2013.]