Carryout and Kindness
Ann Arbor restaurants adapt to the shutdown.
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the April, 2020 issue
Note: this is an updated version of an article from the April 2020 Ann Arbor Observer that includes a partial list of local restaurants offering takeout and/or delivery during Michigan's Covid-19 shutdown. That list is now being updated in a separate article, "Shutdown Dining." Updates and additional listings are welcome there - look for the "comment" button at the end of the article.
"In the thirty-five-plus years that we have been serving the Ann Arbor area, we have never had to deal with anything like we are today," says Paesano owner Michael Roddy.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread, restaurants began paying more attention than ever to restaurant codes and health and safety standards. Many instituted measures to keep safe distances between customers, to keep everyone's hands sanitized upon entry and departure, and to scrupulously maintain kitchens, dining tables, and staff health. Then, in mid-March, Governor Whitmer ordered all restaurants and bars in Michigan to close their dining rooms at least through the end of the month, catapulting them into a new territory. Some had strong carryout businesses already; others scrambled to launch one.
The Downtown Development Authority slapped orange bags on hundreds of street parking spots, designating them as fifteen-minute parking for take-out customers and delivery drivers. Restaurants rearranged their staffs and menus for life without dine-in customers. And many began thinking about ways to help.
Even before the governor's order, Lisa McDonald and her TeaHaus team decided to provide free meals for stranded college students, seniors, and youngsters out of school. On March 10, the first day of the public schools' shutdown, McDonald and four employees assembled 300 box lunches and began distributing them from the Eat More Tea shop at 211 E. Ann. They also delivered 150 boxes to seniors in low-income Avalon Housing.
"We're not checking IDs to make sure people qualify," a breathless McDonald said, taking a two-minute breather from the lunch packing. "If people are hungry, they're hungry. And we want to
help make sure no one in our community stays hungry."
TeaHaus has partnered with Phil Attee, regional sales manager for Mammoth Distilling, Children's Creative Center owner Laurie Atwood, and Megan and Mike Turriff of M4 beer wholesaler to continue distributing lunches to students in need.
"We know that the school districts are distributing lunches, but there are still holes to fill," McDonald says, noting that some families can't reach a school's lunch drop-off location easily and schools don't provide food on weekends.
McDonald hopes to expand their efforts to offer a pay-what-you-can dinner program for families affected by the crisis. Once restaurant closures were announced, her team began calling local eateries, offering to rescue their surplus perishable foods so they don't go unused.
Eat More Tea opens its doors for box lunch pickups between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and dinners between 5 and 6:30 p.m. "These aren't just for school kids," McDonald says. "They're also for people who have become jobless or people who are working hard to make ends meet in $12-per-hour positions." She quickly adds, "I don't want to take away from the food pantries' work, but this is an opportunity to help our neighbors when they are in need. And I want to keep my staff working."
Donations have been pouring in from TeaHaus customers who learned about her project--$3,000 in grocery store gift cards and cash during the first few days. (Donations can be made on TeaHaus.com or in person at TeaHaus or Eat More Tea.)
"We took the TeaHaus lead and decided to offer free lunches to kids out of school. I was inspired by what Lisa was doing," says Caroline Kaganov, general manager of Conor O'Neill's Irish Pub on S. Main (conoroneills.com, 734-665-2968). "We've had a growing clientele for our free lunches. The first day we made thirty and had five left, but the word has gotten out. We don't ever want any child to go hungry."
First thing in the morning, Conor O'Neill's chef and kitchen staff assemble box lunches, which are kept in a cooler in the front of the restaurant. Parents and children are welcome to take meals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. "We're like everyone else: taking it one day at a time, maintaining high standards of cleanliness, and focusing on our carryout business," Kaganov says.
Conor O'Neill's employs forty people, and Kaganov says she intends to keep them as long as she can so that, "when we reopen our doors, all the familiar faces will still be here. We've always done takeout, so that's not new for us, but we never focused solely on takeout, which is what we're doing now."
"This is such a great, giving community," Kaganov says. "When people heard about our lunch program, they called or came in and asked if they could donate. I told them we've got it covered now, but when this is all over, come in, have a pint with us, and tip our waitstaff."
"We're closed when it comes to in-house dining, but we're still in the business of feeding people," notes Ahmad Hodroj, owner of the Palm Palace (palmpalace.com, 734-606-0706). "We know an increasing number of people have been affected by Covid-19. So many have lost their jobs or need to stay home to take care of children or older family members. That puts so much pressure on families. We wanted to help."
The Palm Palace offers free children's meals daily--a novelty and challenge for chefs who specialize in Middle Eastern cuisine, not chicken fingers. "We had a joint discussion about what kids like to eat, then we went out and bought foods targeted to kids," Hodroj says.
He also bought 200 specialty food containers and self-sealing bags to maintain hygiene. Although he doesn't know how many lunches he provided during the first week schools closed, in less than a week he had to restock his containers and bags.
"The meals are ready and available any time we're open, from ten a.m. to ten p.m.," he says. "We don't want anyone to hesitate to come or feel embarrassed about getting help."
If parents order online, they will see a special code that indicates no charge. If they come in person, it's free too. "They are welcome to as many meals as their family needs. One woman came for nine meals. She said she had a lot of kids and was watching her sister's family."
Hodroj says he intends to keep his staff fully employed. "We're doing our best to help everyone make lemonade from lemons. I can't begin to tell you how blessed I feel that we are able to do this. It's a great cause. ... God willing, we'll continue running this program. God is great. And we all hope this storm goes away soon."
Zingerman's Deli is taking online orders for pickup or delivery for sandwiches, salads, soups, & deserts ((zingermansdeli.com, 734-663-3654), groceries (zcob.me
Conor O'Neill's was one of many places that quickly rethought takeout services and menus. "Conors Curbside" features a limited menu of in-house favorites ("Fish and chips is our biggest item, followed by shepherd's pie and corned beef and cabbage," says Kaganov) plus a new "Feed 4 for $40" family meal, featuring a salad, choice of four of entrees (shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, or fisherman's pie), and bread pudding. Staff will deliver the meals to customers' cars, either in front of the restaurant or in the lot behind--where parking is now free--between 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Across Main St., takeout and delivery options at Jolly Pumpkin (jollypumpkin.com, 734-913-2730) include a "date night in a box ... Your choice of a starter, pizza and two 375ml bottles of Jolly Pumpkin beer for $20!"
Paesano (paesanoannarbor.com, 734-971-0484) has a "Curbside 2Go" menu of favorite Italian entrees for takeout, as well as family-style orders for three and wine. "Everyone wants things to go back to normal as quickly as possible, so we can resume our normal routines and enjoy our summer movies on the patio and fun wine dinners. Until then, we will be here to continue providing dining options for lunch and dinner," Roddy says. "No-contact delivery (through DoorDash) is available upon request," the website notes.
"Takeout is new for us, but we're giving it our best effort," says Dan Sutter, general manager of the downtown Knight's Steakhouse (knightsrestaurants.com, 734-887-6899). "Our traffic has always been very dependent on U activities. When the U closed, it crippled our business." And then came the governor's mandate to close dining rooms. "We're now in a position to miss graduation weekend, three days where we typically serve 1,000 or 1,200 meals a day."
Initially Sutter's biggest concern was handling his supplies of produce and fresh foods. "I have six days to move through those perishable goods, and food pantries and homeless shelters have strict regulations about donations."
Sutter plans to offer a complete menu, with food as the same price at in-house and wine and beer 50 percent off. He plans to "blast" social media platforms and hope for the best. "We may have to adjust, but we'll take it one day at a time. There's no handbook for confronting this situation. Meanwhile, we're taking health issues, cleanliness, and service very, very seriously. Weeks ago we launched a quadruple-down effort so people can feel safe ordering food. Our standards have always been stellar, and we're keeping them that way."
Sutter encourages all takeout customers to prepay with a credit card over the phone to minimize contact with money and staff.
The Grange Kitchen on W. Liberty (grangekitchenandbar.com, 734-646-2968) is offering its usual specialties, including wine and beer, as well as a new family-size meal plan for carryout. Nearby, Pacific Rim (pacificrimbykana, 734-662-9303) offers takeout with curbside pickup, as well as delivery options.
Spencer (spencerannarbor.com, 734-369-3979) is doing both dinner takeout and offering frozen foods (apple galette, rye biscuits for four, ricotta tortellini, chicken paprikash) for later, with cooking instructions. Pickup is available 4 to 8 p.m., every day but Tuesday.
Vinology on S. Main (vinologya2.com, 734-222-9841) offers curbside-to-go dining, including bottles of wine "at competitive prices." Staff will bring orders to curbside cars.
The new Blue LLama Jazz Club (bluellamaclub.com, 734-372-3200) is doing dinner takeout and livestreaming performances by local artists. Anyone with tickets for canceled or rescheduled events can transfer them to new show dates or request refunds.
Shalimar (shalimarrestaurant.com, 734-663-1500) is offering free delivery to Ann Arbor addresses. Customers can collect their order from the alley in back or parking spaces along Main St. Servers will bring a food bag to the car, "maintaining distance and wearing gloves."
All five Main Street Ventures restaurants--Palio, The Chop House, Real Seafood Co, Gratzi, and Carson's have combined forces to offer a "greatest hits menu" viewable only at carsonsamericannbistro.com and available, 4-8 p.m. Tues.-Sun., for "no contact" carried carryout at Carson's by calling 622-0537. Customers can use DoorDash.com for delivery.
Another group of local sibling restaurants--Mani Osteria and Isalita on Liberty downtown and Mikette in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth Rd.--have combined their menus for online ordering at maniosteria.com
Detroit Street Filling Station (mkt.com
Blom Meadworks (drinkblom.com, 734-548-9729) offers curbside pickup Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. You can also order four-packs, growlers, howlers, and kegs of anything on tap.
The Gandy Dancer (muer.com, 734-769-0592) offers takeout and pickup between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., with "a limited menu to maximize our resources," says manager Charlene Gulliford. "Fortunately, we already had GrubHub in place ... We'll also deliver takeout to a customer's car."
This is no doubt a mere sampling of what's actually available. The 2019-2020 Ann Arbor Observer City Guide, online at AnnArborObserver.com, lists every restaurant in the city, including information on takeout and delivery.
"And don't forget to buy gift cards," urges Ed Davidson, owner of Bivouac and a member of the Greater State Street Business Association. "Those cards can help a business stay solvent during this time."
"I wish we had a crystal ball and could predict how long these extraordinary measures will be necessary," Conor O'Neill's Kaganov says. "But we don't. So we'll make the best of the situation and help each other--businesses, customers, neighbors, and our employees--in as many ways as we can."
[Originally published in April, 2020.]
On March 25, 2020, John Hilton wrote:
Star's Cafe (734-996-0299, https:
/) is open for curbside carryout and delivery 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (closed Sun.) /starscafeonline.wordpress.com /our-menu /
On March 28, 2020, John Hilton wrote:
the Dexter A&W ( 734-426-4427, https:
/)is set up for curbside carryout - order on the side facing Main St., circle the building, and pick up on the side facing Mark's Auto Service. Call ahead welcome, credit cards only for the time being. /www.facebook.com /DexterAW /
On March 29, 2020, Jim Manheim wrote:
Takeout delights for those tired of eating their own cooking: 1) Eat on Packard (734-213-7011, http:
/) has frozen chicken pot pies that you heat up for 75 minutes. Likely safer than going to the supermarket. 2) Ayse's Café (734-662-1711, https: /www.eatannarbor.com / /) is open 12-4 Mon.-Sat. and has great food. They give it to you cold, and you heat it up yourself. /www.aysesturkishcafe.com /
On March 31, 2020, Shari Piracha wrote:
I was pleased to see your timely article about local restaurants offering "carryout and kindness." Thank you for sharing what some of our area eateries are doing to survive and help the community thrive during this challenging time. While we are lucky to live in a place where a range of options is available including fancy fare, those are not the restaurants that provide affordable day-to-day service to the majority of us who live on everyday incomes and everyday budgets even in the best of times. Many of our beloved neighborhood "mom and pop" restaurants are also finding ways to continue to bring our families joy and "nutritious-delicious" sustenance we can actually afford. These smaller restaurants are likely harder-hit than the big-name, more affluent places you featured.
I see you added a comment mentioning STAR'S CAFE, which has the misfortune of being under construction right now and therefore appearing to be closed even though they are definitely open, serving fabulous Middle Eastern food at reasonable prices. Thank you for giving this big-hearted family a shout-out. They are open for curbside carryout and delivery 9 am - 7 pm Mon - Sat (closed Sun). 734-996-0299. https:
/ /starscafeonline.wordpress.com /our-menu /
I'd also like to share another gem: BELL'S DINER is a simple traditional diner that also offers Korean specialties. They have been faithfully serving Ann Arbor families for decades. They are currently open for carryout from 8 am - 8 pm seven days a week. (734) 995-0226. http:
Looking forward to hearing from other readers about other special places that might value our support during these difficult weeks. Please share!
On April 9, 2020, Sally Mitani wrote:
Generous and community-minded, Hutkay Fusion owner Swaroop Bhojani is offering free lunch boxes "for everyone in need," from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues.-Sat. For more info, call 786-8312, says a poster in his window. He's also been delivering free food to the Washtenaw Shelter Association. Hutkay Fusion, 3022 Packard, is also open for pickup and delivery for paying customers during its normal business hours, see Hutkayfusion.com.
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