After decades of neglect followed by a grueling five year, $10 million renovation, Ypsilanti’s Civil War-era Thompson Block reawakens to a new life as the restaurant and bar Thompson & Co, with market-rate lofts on the upper floors. Thompson & Co is a joint venture of Ann Arbor real estate investors Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell and their Mission Restaurant Group, which owns Blue Tractor, Grizzly Peak, Jolly Pumpkin, and Avalon in Ann Arbor.
Executive chef and Keith A. Martin, most recently at Mission’s Detroit Jolly Pumpkin, brings his family’s Louisiana roots to the southern-inspired menu—he says many recipes come straight from his grandparents. “I’ve always enjoyed southern food,” he says. “It brings the familiarity of home and a taste that I relate to. He’s starting with simple fare like shrimp and grits, Nashville hot chicken, and a fried-green-tomato BLT; down the road he’s thinking about specials like oxtails, and plans to source those ingredients locally whenever possible. The drink menu features craft cocktails, draft beer from Jolly Pumpkin and other local breweries, and a selection of “sober” nonalcoholic cocktails.
The restaurant will be open for dinner during the week, and lunch and dinner on the weekends. General manager Disa Brown says that the restaurant will add lunch during the week when staffing allows, adding that she has been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of staff she has been able to hire, ninety percent from the neighborhood. Mission offers healthcare, a 401(k), and paid vacation, which helps to attract talent.
Located at 400 River Street in Depot Town, Thompson & Co has a clean, New York loft look with a high-end vibe, contrasting with the shabby chic style of many Depot Town businesses. Brown insists that the intention of the restaurant is to be approachable and come as you are, and prices are not substantially higher than the competition.
Access is via a large, covered patio with dining room seating; there’s also an outdoor lounge area and fire pit. The high-ceilinged main space is anchored by a full-service bar, where train rails serve as footrests. A large oak tree that had grown through the roof of the building was taken down during construction, and local woodworker Adrienne Nickles salvaged the wood to create a striking wall sculpture and tables throughout. Come fall, Mash Whiskey Bar will open in an adjoining space, with live entertainment and a lounge area that can be closed off by a swiveling metal wall.
Constructed in 1861, the Thompson Block started as a hotel and storefront. Soon after completion, it became a barracks for Civil War enlistees, including the First Michigan Colored Volunteer Infantry. The building was purchased by the Thompson family in the 1880s and housed a variety of family businesses until 1950. Different businesses came and went, but it was eventually left to rot.
Its path back was long and tragic. A 2009 arson fire gutted the building, and only the exterior wall and two interior walls remain of the original brick structure. Carlson and Lobdell bought it in 2018 at the invitation of city officials after the accidental death of a construction worker in 2015. Now 160 years after it opened, the Thomson Block is once again a vital part of Depot Town.