Joining the move to Ann Arbor
From the November, 2018 issue
"I've seen this area grow," says Dalat owner Son Le. "More and more people are moving to Ann Arbor. Other places they're leaving, but they're moving here." Now Dalat has moved, too: in early October, nine months after closing its downtown Ypsilanti location, the traditional Vietnamese restaurant reopened on the Main St. side of Woodland Plaza.
"I always wanted to move here," Le says. Though he and his parents owned their former building, he says, it was in Ypsi's historic district, which made it "tough to maintain the property." He says that even simple renovations, like putting up a real sign, would have been costly and time-consuming. They weren't sure whether more extensive work, like renovating the vacant upper floor as an apartment, would pay off. So they sold the building last year, enabling both the move and his parents' retirement.
Le says he and his co-owner, wife Tran Nguyen, are thrilled with their new space (formerly frozen yogurt shop Orange Leaf). "If you own in a good location, that's a big help, but owning a place where you can't have business? That's tough."
The initial menu in the new spot was nearly identical to the old: Vietnamese home-cooked dishes including pho, stir-fried rice noodles, and rice-paper shrimp rolls. But in "Ann Arbor, I think, more people go for vegetarian," Le observes. "We just put one dish in there with young jackfruit and other vegetables [item #44 on the menu], and so far people finish their meals! Every order they've cleaned their plate." The menu now has eleven vegetarian items, many of them vegan.
While the Ypsilanti restaurant had a relatively reserved interior, Dalat's walls are now a standout lime green, with bright orange accents to match. Le says that when they moved in they tore down a wall and installed a full kitchen, but they kept the paint just as Orange Leaf left it. "We love the color green too!" says Le. The sign out front is the
same vibrant green.
Dalat is a sit-down full-service restaurant with separate lunch and dinner menus, but the atmosphere in the dining room is relaxed. In the afternoon, the sun shines through the large front windows and brightens the wide-open room. Le says he and Nguyen have more plans for the space, but for now they're focusing on finding help during the service industry's current shortage.
Le estimates that as many as three quarters of his Ypsilanti customers came from Ann Arbor. Now, he says gratefully, some of his Ypsilanti customers are finding him in Ann Arbor. "Our family's been living in Ypsilanti since Day One," he adds. "It's just that we find it hard to do business there. "
He and Nguyen had been searching for the right place in Ann Arbor for years, but "for people who've just started out, it's hard to move here because it's bigger capital to start with." He still thinks it was worth it. "We get more traffic here [even though] we haven't advertised. A lot of people still don't know that we've moved here!"
Dalat, 2216 S. Main. (734) 487-7600. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sun. dalatrestaurantannarbor.com
[Originally published in November, 2018.]
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