With shopping malls struggling, BD's rethinks downtowns.
by Micheline Maynard
From the February, 2020 issue
It still says "Kresge" on the side door of BD's Mongolian Grill, but out front and inside, the restaurant at the corner of Main and Washington has a new look.
In January, senior executives from BD's came to Ann Arbor for a ribbon cutting to unveil a $225,000 renovation of the stir-fry restaurant, which opened in 1994, two years after the chain was founded by Billy Downs, the BD in the name.
Downs sold out in 2008 (he now owns a burger-and-brew franchise in Dearborn called Ford's Garage). The buyers' expansion plans faltered in the Great Recession, and BD's joined Genghis Grill and Flat Top Grill under the umbrella of Texas-based Mongolian Concepts.
Mongolian Concepts has nearly 100 restaurants around the country, but not all are flourishing--a BD's in Okemos closed in 2018, and one in Royal Oak this past December. Chief operating officer Paul Carolan says shopping mall locations especially are struggling.
That's made downtown stores like Ann Arbor's more important. Carolan says the new look they're piloting here will become the template for renovations at other BDs . Along with a brighter orange-and-red color scheme, they've opened up the entry so that it can hold different configurations of tables. A cafe-like counter with tall chairs along the front window and a long communal dining table behind it provide space for laptops or mealtime meetings.
Carolan points out that BD's build-you-own format easily accommodates a range of diners, from vegetarians to those following protein-heavy keto diets. That minimizes "veto votes" in which members of a group veto a restaurant because it can't meet their dietary needs.
"We're just excited for you to come and spend a lot of money," he says.
[Originally published in February, 2020.]
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