It’s been a sweet spring in Saline. The long, loud, and disruptive MDOT Michigan Ave. improvement project finally wrapped up. All that’s left are finishing touches, lighting, and landscaping. Traffic is flowing, and pedestrians can cross the busy highway more safely using new boulevard islands. Flowers are popping up along with half a dozen new businesses, four within a stone’s throw of one another downtown.

Phil Tolliver is transforming Mangiamo Italian Grill into a second Smokehouse 52 BBQ. On a sunny May morning, he sat down, apologized for the dust, and shared why, only four years after opening in Chelsea, he’s awaiting custom made BBQ pits for Saline.

“I’m a horrible relaxer,” he says, “Plus, we’ve got ninety-minute waits on the weekends in Chelsea.”

Tolliver, forty-one, is doing a lot of the renovations himself. He’s building a stone hostess stand and a matching stone fireplace in the main dining room.

“I need to add the penny top to the hostess stand, just like the one I did in Chelsea, and I’ll be hanging barn wood on some of the walls because I want it to feel like our Chelsea location,” he says.

Tolliver expects to seat about 200, plus another twenty out back in the alley during the warmer months. He kept a handful of Mangiamo staff; they’ve been training in Chelsea since Mangiamo closed at the end of February.

“We’ll be installing a new hood system in the kitchen and three brand new barbecue pits in the pit room,” he says. “They’re handmade in Missouri. You gotta have that great barbecue smell. It’s what draws folks in.”

Tolliver previously ran the service department at the Naylor car dealership in Ann Arbor and managed the hunting and fishing department at Cabela’s in Dundee. But he wanted to get back to Chelsea. “I grew up on a small farm near Stockbridge,” he says. “It was a hog farm, so, in a way, barbecue was my destiny.”

Tolliver’s speech is sprinkled with idiomatic expressions, some familiar, some of his own making, many self-effacing, and just as many about what makes life worthwhile to him. In fact, there’s a board at the Chelsea restaurant where his staff posts what they call “Phil-isms.”

“I am literally the American Dream. I didn’t grow up with a lot. America is too great for small dreams. If it doesn’t stir the soul, it’s not worth doing,” says Tolliver, without missing a beat.

Not quite ready to pin down an exact date, he’s looking forward to a summer opening and spending time getting to know folks in Saline. “We’re a family place, meaning a restaurant that has a bar not a bar that has a restaurant.”

The menu will be just like the one in Chelsea with the addition of a few Saline-inspired items that he has yet to dream up. He has nothing but praise for the other restaurants in downtown Saline. “Dan’s Tavern is great. Salt Springs, too. It’s farm-to-table, whereas I’m strictly barbecue. At the end of the day, we all have the same battle scars. And when we need to, we can borrow from each other, me from them and them from me.”

Smokehouse 52 BBQ, 105 W. Michigan Ave., Saline. Phone TBA. Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

Sheila Vish, Jen and Zack McPherson, and John and Ruth Loomis share Tolliver’s neighborly sentiments. Each is opening a business within yards of the others on N. Ann Arbor St., half a block from Smokehouse 52.

“I’ve baked all my life,” says Vish, sitting inside Sweet Leilani’s Desserts in what was formerly Detroit Dog Co. Until recently, she sold her goods only inside Plymouth’s U.P. Pasties and at local farmers’ markets.

“It’s a huge leap to have a brick-and-mortar place,” she says. But when her friend John Aylward, who with his wife Erika owns Tecumseh’s Boulevard Market, told her about the little space on N. Ann Arbor St., Vish decided to check it out. She spoke to its landlord, Bill Stolberg of Bill’s Barber Shop next door, and took the plunge.

“We just did it. It was meant to be!” laughs Vish. “We” includes her husband, daughter, and sons. But asked who will run the cozy, 600-square-foot shop, Vish says, “Me.”

She sponge-painted the walls a light sky blue and installed a wood laminate floor. “I wanted a tranquil, tropical feel–not the tourist version of tropical but rather the feeling you get in the tropics with its soothing blues and teals,” she says. Her mother is from Maui, and, she says, “wanted to name me Leilani Sue.” Her dad said no, and they settled on Sheila, after the song “Sweet Little Sheila.”

Vish says she’ll “sell a menagerie of baked goods and small desserts, not huge wedding cakes but small six- to eight-inch celebration cakes.” She’ll also make cake pops, cookies, brownies, beer-braised pretzels, candy apples, chocolate-covered Oreos and graham crackers, homemade animal crackers, hand pies, cinnamon rolls, and what she emphasizes will be “normal-sized muffins.” To go with them, she’ll sell 100 percent Hawaiian Kona coffee, as well as Kona beans.

“We’ll also be selling fresh lemonade to go and other products made by Michigan folks, different from what Jen will be selling next door,” she says (see story below). “She and I will complement each other.” Vish will use many local vendors, including Pasta Eddie–her daughter’s company, named for Vish’s grandson.

“We want to offer simple, fresh, all local ingredients when we can. You can order on Facebook and then pick it up.” She’s eager to get past all the inspection hurdles and open for business. In the meantime, and going forward, she’ll still be at the Saline Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Sweet Leilani’s Desserts, 103 N. Ann Arbor St., Saline. (248) 697-6220.

Probable hours: Mon-Sat. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. (later on Thurs.), Sun. 9 a.m.-1 or 2 p.m.

One door north of Sweet Leilani’s, in the space empty since the Drowsy Parrot closed in 2014, Jen and Zack McPherson are busy with repairs, making the interior look more like it did back when it was the town’s library. They won’t be shelving books. Instead, McPherson Local will be stocked with dozens of different foods and dry goods, all made by local folks.

“Plain and simple local goods is what we’ll sell,” says Jen, sitting atop an overturned five-gallon paint bucket after a painting party. They used black chalkboard paint for the walls behind where the shelves will go so that vendors can write about their products.

“We’re restoring the interior to its original integrity, not changing a whole lot because we love the feel of it as it is. We used to drive by and wish it would reopen. We’re refinishing the wood floors and restoring all the original bookshelves,” she says, looking around the space with a big grin on her face. Her upbeat nature is infectious, and she interrupts herself over and over to give other people credit, especially the long list of friends and relatives who’ve pitched in. It’s no surprise to discover, given her positive attitude, that she’s been a preschool teacher until now. Her husband is keeping his day job in commercial construction, but she will work full-time at the shop once it opens.

The couple has two kids, ages eight and fourteen, and it was with them in mind that they decided to take the leap and open a business. “Zack and I are big supporters of the local food movement, and it’s important to us that we teach our kids about it and something bigger,” Jen says. “We want them to see that you can realize dreams by starting with a small idea and letting it grow.”

She says the idea came to them in an aha moment after visiting Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor. “We won’t be just like Argus because we won’t have refrigeration, but Kathy [Sample, Argus’s co-owner] has given us so much support, insight, and expertise. She shared her steps and missteps!”

So far, the couple has lined up a variety of vendors who sell food, bath and body products, ceramics, and jewelry. “We’ll sell my Aunt Janice’s baked goods, Why Not Pie? My friend Sicily Giacalone makes amazing hummus right here in Saline called Homegrown Hummus, and she already has a commercial license, so we’ll be carrying her products,” says Jen, before rattling off a list of other vendors including Detroit-based Cynt-sational popcorn, The Sand Hill honey from Munith, Tall Paul’s Pickles out of Manchester, Grand Rapids’ Granola Goddess, Arbor Teas, Tongue Huggers hot sauce from Lansing, soaps and other body products from Chelsea-based Lentz Naturals, Milan Coffee Works, the Old White House soap and cleaning products from west Michigan, Chelsea-based Little Flower Soap Co., One Acre Ceramics out of Milan, Ann Arbor Seed Co. products, and many more. “I want to learn their history and everything I can about what they make,” she says. When Sand Hill’s owners asked if McPherson wanted to meet the bees, she didn’t hesitate. “I put on the bee suit and I met the bees, so I can really tell my customers about the honey!” she says, laughing.

Her tone turns serious when it comes to sharing her passion for what it means to buy local.

When we talked, she’d just spent an hour talking to Donna Southwick of The News Arts & Antiques “about ways we might coordinate events for the community. It feels nice to be helping each other and to be putting money directly into our community.”

McPherson Local, 105 N. Ann Arbor St., Saline. 417-3369. Tues., Wed., & Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun 11. a.m.-5 p.m.

“It energizes me,” says John Loomis about starting a new business at age sixty.

“And it’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” chimes in his wife, Ruth. The couple will open The Cheese Shop of Saline right across the street from Sweet Leilani’s Desserts and McPherson Local, in the space formally occupied by Oxygen Plus Medical Equipment.

Together, they share decades of experience from cheese making to catering to helping grow a nationally recognized creamery.

For John Loomis, cheese is part of his DNA. His dad managed a dairy, and, even though Loomis balked at his brother’s idea of opening a creamery of their own, he wanted to learn the craft from the masters.

“I wanted to apprentice in the UK, but no one would take me on. They couldn’t hang up fast enough. Then I called a cheese maker in Wales who told me that he didn’t like Americans but that I could come for a fortnight.” Loomis laughs at the memory before adding, “I didn’t even know what a fortnight was! I ended up staying for two years.”

Though he was living in a beautiful part of Wales along the Pemberton coast, Loomis had no time for taking in the sights. “It was British-style cheese making all the time. Cheshire cheeses mostly.” After his two-year stint, he returned to Ann Arbor, and he and his brother and sister opened Loomis Cheese Co. on Felch St. It lasted only about five years, but Loomis then joined the Zingerman’s team and learned even more about cheese making. At this point in their story, as if on cue, the two look at each other and smile. “That’s when I met Ruth.”

“I had a mad crush on him for two years,” says Ruth, who worked in catering at Zingerman’s. “Whenever we needed a cheese tray for a catering order, I’d go get it so I could see him. It took me forever, but I finally asked him out.”

The Loomises first made cheese for Zingerman’s in Manchester and then moved the operation to a space on Airport Blvd. near the Bakehouse. Over time, Zingerman’s Creamery grew from three to eighteen employees and attained national recognition. Meanwhile, after being diagnosed with MS, Ruth took a job managing Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor. But they decided they wanted to work together. “It can be hard for employees to work for a husband-and-wife team, but eventually we realized that we really missed it, and we work well together,” she says.

John adds, “I realized I was doing jobs that took me away from why I was in the cheese-making business in the first place. The Zingerman’s Creamery got so big so fast that I was spending more and more of my time on the business end, far from the one-on-one relationship with cheese making that I love.”

Though John left the Creamery two years ago, the couple shares admiration and appreciation for Zingerman’s founders, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw. “Ari and Paul worked with us, and they understand us,” John says.

“We really value something we learned from Paul: Be curious,” Ruth adds. “People who enjoy life are curious and also share the love of food. That’s something I want to extend to our Saline customers.”

John will be making fresh soft cheeses like mozzarella every day. The shop will stock cured meats, wine, craft beers, and olive oil, as well as some prepared foods to go.

“We plan to offer classes and education about pairing wine and cheese and appreciating what makes each cheese what it is,” John says. “Cheese has its flaws, but it’s the flaws that make them interesting. Same with people, right?”

“We’ll be giving lots and lots of samples to our customers, because your mouth is the greatest sampling. Taste before you buy,” urges Ruth.

“Ruth keeps me from getting too down in the woods,” chuckles John, who confessed that he tends to get real technical real fast when it comes to talking about cheese. “She can bring me back,” he adds, making a cut gesture. Then, with bright eyes, he shares a story about meeting Bill Clapp, the original cheese maker at Vermont’s Shelburne Farms, who could diagnose with one taste precisely why a batch of cheese might be bitter.

“Bill Clapp would say, ‘Those cows grazed too far over the hill.’ He could tell that the cows had grazed too long on one meadow and were not moved around,” says John, who goes on to describe the micro-climate of a dairy farm. The hills, and what’s planted, the morning or afternoon sun, all affect the cheese’s taste and color.

The Cheese Shop of Saline, 98 N. Ann Arbor St., Saline. Daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

“Food is more fun when it looks beautiful and when people make it for you,” says Shawna Sloan, sitting outside of what will soon be Matty J’s Bakery and Cafe in The Oaks shopping center. Matty J is one of many nicknames that Sloan has for her seven-year-old son. “He thinks it means he’s part owner,” laughs Sloan, who plans to open in July. For now, while her son is still in school, Sloan is renovating the interior of what she says will be her “upscale” bakery and cafe. She’s also finalizing several of its menu options, posting sneak peeks on the cafe’s Facebook and Instagram pages, including a colorful salad of mixed greens, topped with matcha coconut basmati rice, purple carrots, pistachios, little orange tomatoes, roasted Japanese sweet potato, pepitas, green onion, and yellow tomatoes, all arranged around a centerpiece scoop of bright pomegranate seeds.

“I’m working on an arugula salad topped with fennel, bacon, fresh green peas, micro greens, cottage cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper,” adds Sloan. Once open, the bakery and cafe will offer two to three daily options. It will have a full espresso bar serving Ann Arbor-based Mighty Good coffee. On the sweeter side, the cafe will offer daily pastries, cookies, brownies, and bars.

“I’ll also be baking everyday cakes. A more European thing, they’re not super-sweet cakes, but they’re flavorful like my glazed apple cake. They’re not decorated cakes. That takes a whole different skill set that I don’t have. I spoke to the owner of Sweet Leilani’s, and we’re relieved that we’re offering very different things,” Sloan says.

For Sloan, upscale does not mean a dress code or out-of-reach prices. “Upscale means I seek out organic products and focus on high-quality local, fresh ingredients and sustainability, and that means a lot of footwork to create the market and the demand,” says Sloan, who is in contact with several local farmers. She knows John and Ruth Loomis from her own stint at Zingerman’s: Sloan managed the bread department at the Bakehouse for ten years. “I’d like to use Loomis cheese for some of my dishes,” she says. Like Jen McPherson and Sheila Vish, Sloan shares a deep commitment to buying local and making an investment in the community. “If we don’t support local, local disappears,” says Sloan.

Sloan credits much of her business expertise to the training and years of experience she got at Zingerman’s. “Friends tell me that what I’m doing will take a lot of work, and it will, but Zingerman’s was a twenty-four-hour-a-day operation where I had thirty-five to forty employees. We made four million loaves of bread a year. This won’t be that!” Sloan left Zingerman’s a couple years ago to have more time with her son and figure out her next step, which turned out to be Matty J’s.

“I thought about finding a space in downtown Saline, but I wanted a place that had already been a restaurant,” she says. “It’s a lot more affordable that way. This was perfect.” Sticking with her commitment to sustainability and local products, she is hiring BgreenToday to install chemical-free bamboo flooring. Whitewashed brick walls will be installed in a dining area that will seat about twenty. A handmade flip-down wooden bench will be mounted on one side of the entry for counter seating opposite a couch and comfy chairs on the other side. Customers will order food at the counter.

“I’ll be baking fresh bread daily, and our prices will be competitive for the area; my goal is to have more people eat my bread rather than less.” She’s eager to find out what customers want and welcomes suggestions via Facebook or email (

Matty J’s Bakery and Cafe. 972 E. Michigan Ave., Saline. Phone: TBA. Tues.-Sat. 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Closed Mon.

Matty J’s replaces Gabriel’s Cheesesteak Hoagies, which closed its Saline location April 1. “The landlord didn’t let us renew our lease,” says an employee who preferred not be named, reached by phone at the Ypsilanti location. “I guess the onion smell was too strong for the businesses next door.”

Emagine Theaters opened its doors in mid-March. Nothing remotely resembles what was once the space that housed Country Market. Moviegoers are welcomed into a vast, pristine lobby with several lounge areas, a full bar, and an array of dining options and beverage stations. Owner Paul Glantz was on hand for the afternoon press tour of his tenth luxury theater complex in Michigan.

“I’ve loved the movies ever since I was a little kid growing up in Redford Township. I was an only child, and my mom would take me to the movies all the time. We’d go to these great old theaters like the Mai Kai in Livonia, the Terrace Theatre, or La Parisien in Garden City. We’re talking a long time ago,” laughs Glantz. Tall with white hair, dressed in a nicely tailored suit, Glantz was eager for guests to take the tour.

“Have you been inside? Have you tried the seats?” he asks, referring to the leather power recliners, about 1,000 total in the nine theaters.

A television crew was setting up its cameras for a live interview, but Glantz was in no rush. “There is nothing better than dinner and a movie,” he says before talking about what he doesn’t like: sticky floors.

“Hygiene and cleanliness are very important,” he emphasizes, explaining that the plastic trays for food fit into the seat cup holders and can be easily washed after every use. “It’s more hygienic,” he says.

He’s as enthusiastic about Saline as he is reminiscing about going to the movies as a kid. “We’re here to be a contributing member of the community. I’ve learned that when you give willingly, it comes back in spades. I’ve been in touch with the Saline Area Social Services Foundation, and we’re talking about projects we can do together. Back in 2008, when the economy wasn’t so good, we’d offer a free movie night for folks down on their luck.”

Emagine Saline. 1335 E. Michigan Ave., Saline. 316-5500.