Carlson, Greg Lobdell, and Chet Czaplicka founded Grizzly Peak, Blue Tractor, Jolly Pumpkin, and other restaurants and brewpubs around the state. The March cookie-cutting event symbolized a less-known but deeply felt relationship: Avalon International Bakery, revered for its pioneering role in Detroit’s revival, was closing its bakehouse and café in Midtown—and moving into a Jolly Pumpkin nearby.
Jackie Victor, Avalon’s co-owner and cofounder, says that they are seeking a smaller 5,000–6,000-square-foot bakehouse space and will continue to use the current facility until it sells. They have also begun baking a smaller selection of sweets on-site at their Avalon cafés in Detroit, Royal Oak, and Ann Arbor.
Victor bubbles with enthusiasm as she describes alliances with what she calls “small, hyperlocal, emerging bakeries’’ that will not only fill the space left by fewer Avalon products but also enhance Avalon’s “triple bottom line” model that includes consideration for the Earth, the community, and the company’s employees.
“We thought, since we’re gonna be making our product line a little smaller, why don’t we do this at all the stores?” she says. “So this new collaboration is the new bottom line.”
Joanne Bower says the Ann Arbor café on E. Liberty is adding baked goods from the Lunch Room, Matty J’s, Zaica Life, Botanical Bakeshop, and Simple Pleasures. Formerly the café’s general manager, Bower is now Avalon brand operations manager at Mission Restaurant Group, which handles operations, accounting, and marketing for the partners’ eleven locations. Most are in Ann Arbor and Traverse City, where Carlson and Lobdell were childhood friends.
Pairing Avalon’s Detroit café with Jolly Pumpkin was the culmination of a relationship that dates back more than a decade. In the early aughts, as Avalon was delivering baked goods to Grizzly Peak and Jolly Pumpkin, Maggie Long, Jolly Pumpkin’s chef at the time, made the call for better hamburger buns. “We developed it [the bun recipe] together,” Victor says. “Then, once we got it just right, we brought it to Jolly Pumpkin and other restaurants.”
When Avalon was going through a difficult transition in 2011, Long played matchmaker between the bakery and Carlson, Lobdell, and Czaplicka, who came in as investors.
“I knew Avalon’s brand,” Carlson says of meeting Avalon’s cofounders and owners. “I had always been a fan and loved their cookies, but I just really didn’t understand what they stood for until meeting them. I got to see and feel what they had created and how they treated people. So it was just kind of a nice little spiritual meeting. They’re just wonderful people.”
In a Facebook post, Victor attributed Avalon’s decision to close its premier location to changes in its neighborhood, the condition of the building, and economic factors. In an interview, she adds Covid to the list. “During Covid, much of our food service accounts went away—you know, there was almost a year gap where there were almost no restaurants … What’s happening in restaurant businesses is that people are really having to figure out how to be more flexible and more efficient and more sustainable.”
“I don’t think there’s any hospitality company that hasn’t had certain challenges because of Covid,” says Carlson. “We’ve seen tons of people not make it. In our monthly conversation with Jackie, it was clear that it wasn’t feasible for them to maintain their flagship location. So we thought, ‘Let’s see about doing this together.’
“Jolly Pumpkin and Avalon have different concepts but they’re compatible,” Carlson continues. “We have kind of a similar vibe, and we work different hours. They’re primarily at breakfast and lunch and Jolly Pumpkin, lunch and dinner.”
“We had six seats [in Detroit]; they have ninety,” explains Victor. “We had 2,000 square feet; they have 5,000. We didn’t have a real kitchen; they have a full kitchen, and they have a liquor license. It just made a lot of sense for both of us to come together. With the extra seating and kitchen space, we’ve added brunch to our menu.”
Victor sings the praises of Avalon’s partners. “I tell people I feel like I have a band of brothers. When the story of Avalon is written, Jon and Greg and Chet are gonna be the kind of quiet heroes, because they invested in the vision of Avalon and the people of Avalon. And they never got any credit, but they have been a big part of why we’ve gotten to the point that we’re at right now.”
“I feel like Jackie is a sister of mine,” Carlson says of his fellow U-M grad. “She will help everybody else first before herself. I think we vicariously get to live through her and do good deeds because of what she creates. She has always been about her community, helping and training people in need, and supporting causes. And that’s just what she stands for.”
Does Carlson see more developments between Avalon and Jolly Pumpkin? “I do, but I don’t want to say it yet,” he says. “We want to see how this goes, make sure that our brands are still independent, and that each of us is doing what we do best.”