For decades, Ann Arborites have squeezed their cars into the tiny parking lot behind Knight’s Market on Miller Rd. and headed inside the cramped store to shop for meat, groceries, and prepared and frozen dishes.
Now, they have another, much more spacious option.
In early June, the Knight family opened Knight’s Southside Market on Plaza Dr., one row back from the Zingerman’s complex that includes the Bakehouse, Creamery, Coffee Company, and ZingTrain.
The industrial park market replaces Knight’s Family Kitchen & Catering, which operated on Jackson Rd.
In contrast to Knight’s original digs, purchased by the late Ray Knight in 1952, there’s plenty of parking, and far more choices inside the brightly lit space. It joins a collection of Knight-owned businesses that also includes three restaurants, two in Ann Arbor and one in Jackson.
“We couldn’t have nearly this amount of gourmet items at the original, which is just … small,” says Don Knight, who runs the family’s restaurants and launched the market with his nephew, also named Don Knight. The younger Knight is the son of Jeff Knight, the group’s president.
The two Dons also opened Knight’s Downtown on Liberty in 2014.
As at any Knight’s establishment, meat plays a starring role. Steaks, chops, and other cuts are stocked inside a glass butcher case; a deli case next to it features Boar’s Head products.
A refrigerator case is stocked with grab-and-go items, many straight from the menu at the restaurants, like pot pie, meat loaf, soups, and desserts.
Fresh produce is available, as are dairy products and a variety of staples like pasta and crackers. Several shelves hold Zingerman’s bread, and there’s a display of Zingerman’s candy, as well as Knight’s swag, such as T-shirts, glassware and insulated grocery bags.
Beyond a doorway, out of customers’ view, lies a gleaming, full-size commercial kitchen, which Knight says will become the center of the company’s catering business.
Although Knight’s never publicized its private parties, Don says his father annually catered three events for 1,000 and numerous celebrations for 200 people or more, all supplied from the original market.
Now, that operation can shift to the industrial park. Knight thinks catering now will become “a very nice business” for the group, which is aiming for about $14 million a year in 2022. The kitchen also will become a commissary, making soups and other food items sold by all the outlets.
Once things get up and running, Knight says there may be some collaborations with its neighbors at Zingerman’s. The businesses have talked about creating a shared outdoor space, where customers from each can enjoy their food and drink.
As word spread that the market was open, long-time Knight’s customer Esrold Nurse stopped in to see the new operation.
“We’re so happy to see you,” the retired U-M assistant dean told Knight. “In fact, the only restaurant we ordered from [during the pandemic] was you, because we wanted to see you survive.”
Along with customers’ loyalty, Knight says the company got financial support during the pandemic from an unexpected source: gift cards. In addition to the Knights’ own businesses, they’re sold through Costco, not far from the new market.
“At one point, they told us that we were the highest-grossing gift cards in the entire Midwest,” he says of Costco. “Now, people can buy a gift card and just come over here.”
Knight’s Southside Market, 3660 Plaza Dr., ste. 5. (734) 222-9210. Daily 9 a.m.-8 p.m.