It wasn’t surprising when BD’s Mongolian Grill, a staple on Main St. for twenty-eight years, closed its doors this spring. While the chain once had ten Michigan locations, the last few years have seen the closings of half of them, including restaurants in Grand Rapids, Okemos, Auburn Hills, and the original location in Royal Oak. But it was surprising when a2view editor Dayton Hare found a city notice on the door declaring the space “unsafe for human occupancy or use.”

The BD stands for Billy Downs, who founded the company in Ferndale after seeing a similar concept in London in the late 1980s. It was originally named BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, but that wording caused many people to come in hoping for barbecue, not a create-your-own stir-fry bar, so the company swapped the word out for “grill” in the early aughts. 

Downs sold the company in 2008 and now owns the Ford’s Garage restaurant in Dearborn. BD’s is now owned by Mongolian Concepts, which also owns Genghis Grill and FlatTop Grill, for a total of about seventy-five restaurants nationwide. The chain named former Jimmy John’s CEO Gregg Majewski as its chief executive last year, and is now based in Dallas.

In May, a letter posted on the front door of the Ann Arbor location noted that, “​​It has been a pleasure getting to know you, being a part of your birthdays, anniversaries, first dates, celebrating the wins and getting through the losses of our Wolverines. You all have been a huge part of our lives and we will forever be grateful for the impact you have made on us.” 

The bright-orange city notice was less sentimental: it forbade anyone from entering, citing several ordinances, the 2015 Michigan Building Code, and sections of the Ann Arbor Municipal Code for “dangerous buildings.”

Despite a $225,000 renovation in 2020, an attempt to revitalize the brand, it appears that more work was needed. A PR firm representing BD’s said the company had been talking with the landlord “about about fixing crucial structural issues to remain operational and provide a safe place for our guests to dine. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to terms with the landlord and we had to make the difficult decision to close the current location in Ann Arbor, while seeking other real estate opportunities in the community.”

Originally known as the Kresge Building—keen-eyed passersby will notice the name still visible on the Washington side of the building—it opened in the 1920s as an outlet of the Detroit “five and dime” chain. By 1938, Kresge had 742 stores nationwide, but as customers abandoned downtowns for shopping centers after WWII, Kresge stores moved with them before the company abandoned the concept entirely to concentrate on its much larger Kmarts. 

After Kresge’s left Main St. in the early 1970s, Harvey Shapiro bought the building for his Kiddieland toy store. When Kiddieland in turn closed in 1992, its space was divided between Mongolian Barbecue (before the addition of BD’s) and Cafe Felix (now the Regents Field sports bar). 

What BD’s called “crucial structural issues” appear to be limited to its own space. “My family has owned the building since the 1970s, and I have been working on the property since my early teen years,” emails building manager Ben Shapiro. “We are currently in talks with legal, but I am happy to share that although the former Mongolian space has been deemed ‘unusable,’ the building itself is not unsafe. We are current on all inspections. Regents Field, as well as all tenants and businesses upstairs remain usable and open for operations. We are looking forward to finding a new viable tenant, who can bring some new light and fresh ideas to the space, as well as the downtown area.”