Yoshi's Opens, at Last
After some tough love by the city
by Sally Mitani
Yoshi's, the long-awaited successor of Dinersty, has finally opened. The nominal owner is twenty-nine-year-old Yasir Kaskorkis, an M.B.A. His benefactor is his father Aboud, a courteous, dapper man who speaks with a heavy Chaldean accent and who is usually on-site. They were all smiles when they finally opened on July 6 and loath to talk about the troubles with the city that delayed their opening.
Instead, they wanted to talk about the food. Yasir says that while the menu--falafel, hummus, baba ghanush, shawarma, kafta--probably looks standard Middle Eastern to most people, to more discerning palates the spice mix should taste subtly but recognizably Chaldean. The tight-knit Christian community from the Middle East has laid down deep roots in Detroit, but Chaldean cuisine is not so familiar in Ann Arbor. The shawarma is made from slow-roasted beef tenderloin; the hummus from dried, not canned, chickpeas mixed with fava beans, which is the true (and increasingly rare) recipe, according to Yasir.
Yoshi's is much larger than Dinersty, because it also includes the neighboring space formerly occupied by Pamela's, a hair salon and spa that moved closer to campus. The expansion caused most of the fourteen-month delay, because it meant Dinersty's kitchen was no longer "grandfathered"--at which point a whole bunch of new requirements kicked in. Neighbor Karl Lagler of Antelope Antiques recounts a long litany of demands the city made on Yoshi's after the original plans were approved: new sprinkler heads, new drains, a $40,000 range hood, fire alarms on all four floors of the building. And then there were technicalities: the Kaskorkises put in two new bathrooms, but an inspection determined that the sinks were a quarter inch too large to permit handicap access.
Wendy Rampson, the city's interim manager of planning and development, says city records don't indicate by how much the sinks exceeded the standards, but it doesn't matter: "In some areas there's room for a little bit of tolerance, but nothing in the state barrier-free design
rules allows for any tolerance, and inspectors don't have any authority to grant a variance." Furthermore, she points out that all contractors and architects have been using the same rulebook for a number of years now.
She attributes many of the other problems to the original architect failing to note that the new restaurant would spill over into former nonrestaurant territory. Tony Savoni, who reviews all Ann Arbor building plans, says that when it was discovered that Yoshi's was annexing Pamela's, the former salon became a "multiuse space," requiring that an architect demonstrate that Pamela's had been built to the stringent worst-case-scenario required for restaurants. According to Savoni, "the first architect didn't do that, the second architect didn't do that"--but eventually architect Andrew Hauptman was able to prove that the space fulfilled the more robust requirements for "nonseparated use."
Yoshi's was finally granted a certificate of occupancy in June, but there are still unresolved issues, most notably the dishwasher--or lack of one. The Kaskorkises originally were going to serve on plastic, Lagler explains, until he and some other well-meaning neighbors convinced them that "people in Ann Arbor are ecology minded." But "even though every other restaurant around here has the kind of $500 dishwasher you have in your house," Lagler says, the city wants Kaskorkis to put in a much more expensive industrial system.For now, at least, they're stuck with plastic.
Tom Hackett, owner of nearby Afternoon Delight, sympathizes, but says that the city's demands are not unreasonable or capricious. "If I had to replace my dishwasher, that's what I'd have to do. You need to plan this out in advance. You need drain boards, a garbage disposal. It's expensive to do as an afterthought."
In addition to the dishwasher, Yoshi's still has an unsettled problem with signage, though in the context of the other headaches, it's something Yasir is willing to laugh about. "Yoshi" was Yasir's childhood nickname, and it was chosen as the restaurant's name in a rush to submit paperwork. Turns out, Yasir says, the name "means something in Korean. I don't know what. But lots of people come in here expecting to find Korean food." The Kaskorkises immediately recognized the need for some signage identifying it as a Middle Eastern restaurant--but they face another round of paperwork and meetings with the historic district commission to get that approved.
Yoshi's, 241 E. Liberty. 769-9674. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. www.eatatyoshis.com
[Originally published in September, 2009.]