For the previous five winters, Cultivate, the Ypsilanti coffeehouse and tap room, set up a tent over its beer garden to protect guests from the elements. But as the winter of 2022 approached, Cultivate hadn’t received approval from the city to erect the tent again.
Without the permit, Cultivate would have to depend on limited indoor seating. Instead, it decided in January to temporarily close–a looming financial disaster for area food pop-ups, which relied on Cultivate as a venue for their cooking.
Enter a group of Ann Arbor businesses, which have stepped in to fill the void left by Cultivate’s departure.
“We’ll take anyone who wants to come,” says York co-owner Tommy York. “There are so few places where people can let their hair down and relax.”
In warm months, York has hosted as many as three pop-ups a day, and even winter hasn’t shut them down. When the weather gets too dire, pop-up chefs have the option of using York’s kitchen or the space that houses Ricewood, the Asian fusion BBQ place.
The HOMES campus on Ann Arbor’s west side will host Cultivate regular Basil Babe, the dumpling enterprise run by Haluthai Inhmathong with help from her mother Vasanna, the former owner of Siam Square. Before Cultivate closed, she served her Thai dishes there every Wednesday night.
John Mears, who had a regular Tuesday night gig for his Lucha Puerco pop-up at Cultivate, has found a new location at Side Biscuit. Its owner, Jordan Balduf, transitioned from pop-up to brick-and-mortar last year (Observer, April 2021).
Normally, Side Biscuit would be closed on Monday and Tuesday nights, but Balduf says he wanted to lend Mears a hand after he lost gigs at both Cultivate and Dolores, the Ypsilanti restaurant that shut in January after ten years in business.
“We figured we’re closed on Tuesdays, he can come in, use the space,” Balduf says. “We can collaborate on some menu items and just give him a creative space while we wait for the weather to warm up.”
Balduf also may team up with Inhmathong on late-night service, either after Side Biscuit closes on Sunday nights, or on Monday, the other day when he steps away from the stove.
Tommy York says Cultivate’s hiatus and the departures of other area restaurants have made locals more determined to support the venues that survive.
“People are saying, ‘Holy smokes, my local Coney could be gone, or my deli could be gone,'” he says. “There’s a renaissance going on. People are taking a second to figure out what’s important.”