Latitude, a fast-casual eatery fusing Indian and Mexican flavors, has launched in the busy downtown block between the Michigan and State theaters on E. Liberty.
Ann Arbor native Shaikh Sakib rebranded the restaurant after his other partners withdrew from what had been Qmin, a Pan-Asian fusion concept. “Basically I was left with this,” he says amid the dubstep playlist pulsing through the dining room, which offers counter and picnic table-style seating for twenty-three.
A graduate of Huron High School and Eastern Michigan University, Sakib had long shown an entrepreneurial bent, but he was fresh to the restaurant business in 2019, when the partners signed a five-year lease on part of the former American Apparel space in a two-story, historic building.
Their hopes for Qmin did not survive the ensuing pandemic, and Sakib tried to reopen it on his own last year before deciding to reimagine the cuisine and settle in as its chef. “Before, it was everybody’s baby. Now it’s my baby,” he says.
The new name refers particularly to 23.5 degrees north, also known as the Tropic of Cancer, which passes through Mexico, India, and Bangladesh. “Everything on that latitude is what I happen to like,” says the thirty-nine-year-old of Bengali descent. “The Mexican food—I really love cilantro, I really love lime, I really love the freshness of those things. And I grew up with curries and things like that, so I kind of wanted to blend those two.”
Soft flour and hard corn tacos are the popular picks early on. Variety three-packs for $15 provide the chance to sample mango mahi mahi, paneer tikka, and lamb keema, among other creations. The chef’s own favorite, the cilantro jalapeño chicken, also available as a bowl with rice or greens, happens to be the slowest-selling so far, he smiles unapologetically.
“It’s a love of art, of innovation, with quality,” Sakib says of his approach, “so basically no compromises.” From squeezing the juice out of limes rather than pouring concentrate, to forsaking a deep fryer in favor of a $22,000 combination oven for healthier proteins, his standard starts with food he’s willing to feed his family, which includes his wife and two young children.
The staff of seven is all new, managed by Katelyn Olson, most recently with Miss Kim in Kerrytown. “The moment I saw her,” Sakib says of his Indeed hire, “she brought something, an energy that would match mine. I’m always just like, go go go and wanting to better things and just pushing to the limit. Not everybody is like that.”
Growing up with two working parents, Sakib cultivated creativity in the kitchen early, and his initiative has seen him through several lines of business, starting with Ann Arbor Shouts, a short-lived periodical he published in 2007 as a U-M undergrad before ending up at EMU for his accounting degree. With the Observer as his “model,” he got freelancers, sought advertising, and went to press.
“We got like three issues out, and being an undergrad engineering student, I couldn’t keep up with it. It was just a different ballgame. But I learned a lot from that.”
Latitude, 619 E. Liberty St., (734) 929–2608. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. & Sat. & Sun. 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Closed Fri. latituderestaurant.co