If there’s a kind of retail that is in no danger of disappearing here, it’s the grocery store, especially the upscale one. Matt and Marc Jonna opened their second Ann Arbor Plum Market on Plymouth Rd. in November, and not only does it bookend an eight-year boom in Ann Arbor’s grocery store scene, it’s a full circle for the Jonna brothers. In 1992, their parents, Ed and Juliette, opened the Merchant of Vino Warehouse just down the road in the Plymouth Mall. (Way 1 Supermarket is there now.)
Though specialty markets selling fancy foodstuffs had long dotted the local landscape (Zingerman’s, anyone?, and before that Big Ten Party Store), the upscale supermarket with multiple checkout lanes was a new phenomenon. “At first people thought it was a trend,” says Marc Jonna, “but it seems to have become permanent.” The Jonnas are doing their part: after selling the Merchant of Vino to Whole Foods in 1998, they launched Plum Market in 2007.
When the Maple Village Plum opened that year, both brothers were on hand. Now, with five stores (including one in Chicago), a small market at Detroit Metro Airport, and a large catering service, it took a conference call to set up a chat with one of them, overseen by Todd Belden, Plum’s marketing coordinator. Marc Jonna was pleasant and talkative, but not remotely tempted to take the bait when asked to comment on any of the competition. “We look at what our guests–our clients–are looking for, not at what everyone else is doing … Competition creates education, and it’s good for everybody.”
Since the Maple Village Plum opened, a second Whole Foods, Aldi, Costco, Lucky’s Market, an enlarged Arbor Farms, and even a GFS west-side edition have added to the tangle of local grocery options, but Jonna says, “People kept saying, ‘Can you come back to your original side of town?’ It’s been really tough to get the right real estate, but when we got the opportunity [the former Cleary University building] just seconds away from our first store” in Plymouth Mall, they jumped on it.
Foodies are always demanding new thrills, and the latest one seems to involve craft beer. This Plum has a craft beer bottling station. It also has a Class C liquor license, which allows them to sell tickets to wine and beer tastings, overseen by sommelier Madeline Triffon. Belden emails a reminder that Triffon, a U-M grad, was only the second woman in the world to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers exam. Snagging her in 2011 was a coup for Plum.
“Everyone is always asking for what’s the next trend,” Jonna says. If he knows, he’s not saying–but when it appears, Plum will surely be on it. As Jonna says, “innovation is one of our guiding principles.”
And as for some competition closer to home, how about that big, renovated Busch’s across the street? “They’re a good company,” says Jonna. “Once again, we think we’re uniquely different.”
Plum Market, 3601 Plymouth Rd., 545-7250. Daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. plummarket.com
John Busch and director of marketing John Hunter were perhaps a little more candid than Jonna as they led a walk-through tour of the newly renovated Busch’s Fresh Food Market. “We’re a full-service grocery store, and we’re the upper end of whatever town we’re in,” says Busch, though “upper end means something different in Clinton than in Ann Arbor. This area is so educated, people travel so much, and people eat much more diversely.
“When I grew up,” he laughs, surveying the expanded prepared foods section, “it was a meat-and-potatoes life. I was in my mid-twenties when I learned that there was a kind of Parmesan cheese that didn’t come in a green can.”
The company offers full-service shopping, but in a smallish, friendly space. “This one is about 37,000 square feet. I think Kroger over there”–he gestures toward Traver Village–“is over 80,000. It works for them, but it’s too overwhelming” for a lot of people.
Busch claims this renovation had nothing to do with Plum–it was just part of the periodic upkeep of the fifteen Busch’s stores that operate in southeastern Michigan. They closed in some space in front to provide sunny seating and Wi-Fi where customers can enjoy prepared foods and drinks. And the food aisles were gussied up: with wood endcaps and shelf dividers, the interior now looks like a food library.
Like the Jonna brothers, John Busch learned the grocery business from his parents and works with siblings. Joseph Busch’s first venture was Country Market in Clinton, opened after his service in World War II. That expanded into a small chain that he sold to a larger chain; when that chain went belly up, he and partner Charlie Mattis bought back the stores in Clinton and Saline.
John bought out his father in the mid-1980s, and he and his brothers, Tim and Doug, started renewing and expanding. The first Ann Arbor store, on S. Main, opened in 1990. Plymouth-Green followed two years later.
Even wearing a suit and tie, Busch apparently has the demeanor of a caring local grocer. More than one stranger approached him as he strolled through his store, asking him why this or that had been moved or complimenting him on the upgrade. An employee told him he needed a toaster in the new cafe. “Good idea,” he said, writing it down.
Busch’s Fresh Food Market, 2020 Green Rd., 994-7200. Daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m. buschs.com