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The customer is king at new Syrian restaurant, Damas

Syria native Jawad Seif may be the owner of the new Damas Restaurant in Woodland Plaza on S. Main St., but he leaves no room for doubt who his boss is. 
 
"The customer is the king," says Seif. "Any customer only has to pay if he likes the food. I'm looking to have a customer that trusts me, and I trust them every time."
 
After moving to Ann Arbor from Syria just a year and a half ago, Seif opened Damas Restaurant on Feb. 17. His Mediterranean style includes the hummus, chicken shawarma and falafel diners expect, as well as specialty items, such as stuffed zucchini and okra with rice. All of his foods, Sief says, will have freshness in common. 
 
"The rule here is that everything must be fresh. Every morning we have new ingredients," Seif says. "I'm happy because most of the customers say it's the best Mediterranean food in Ann Arbor."
 
For Seif, Ann Arbor was the perfect place to open his restaurant, as he says the community loves Mediterranean food and has made his family feel welcome from the first day they arrived. 
 
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant seats 40 and employs a staff of six. Seif decorated Damas himself with decor reminiscent of Syria. 

Source: Jawad Seif, Damas Restaurant
Writer: Natalie Burg

New 12,000 sq ft Blake Transit Center kicks off opening on March 17

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, or TheRide, will open its new, 12,019-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified Blake Transit Center to the public on Monday. After breaking ground in late 2012, TheRide says the completed building will offer a larger customer service lobby, improved restrooms and digital signage featuring real-time route information.

"Staff, including myself, who have toured the new building are impressed with the new space, and believe it will be a welcoming, comfortable, convenient, and safe place for riders," says Don Kline, integrated marketing coordinator for TheRide. "Early reactions from the public we’ve spoken to have been very positive." 

Monday will be a soft launch for the Blake Transit Center, as the lane buses will eventually use adjacent to the center won't be finished until the ground completely thaws. A grand opening event will be scheduled at that time. Next week, light refreshments and customer service staff will be available to the public to kick off the opening. 

Kline says the long term goal of the new Blake Transit Center will be to accommodate TheRide's growing ridership, which has increased by more than 80 percent since the former transit center was built in the 1980s.

"We are continuing to focus on improving connectivity in our urban core communities that in turn improves our economy, environment, and quality of life," he says. 

Next up for the ever-evolving organization will be a May 6 vote on TheRide's Five-Year Transit Improvement Plan, "TheRide Your Way." In 2013, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township were officially added to the TheRide organization.

Source: Don Kline, TheRide
Writer: Natalie Burg

Carrabba's, Five Guys and more coming to Ann Arbor-Saline Rd.

A slew of national chains including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Subway, Sport Clips and others will soon be part of Pittsfield Place, a 12-business restaurant and retail development that is scheduled to break ground later this month. 

According to Landmark Commercial Real Estate's Michael Lippitt, who is marketing the spaces, the Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. location is ideal for the project. 

"Pittsfield Place is strategically located in front of a very long-established and high-volume Meijer," says Lippett. "The surrounding retailers are some of the highest-volume stores in all of Southeast Michigan. And the market, if you compare it to the rest of Southeast Michigan, is underserved." 

The project, which is being developed by Versa in Southfield, is divided into two phases. The first, which will include eight restaurant and retail spaces, is set to break ground this month with businesses, including Carrabba's, opening by the end of the year. About 6,500 square feet of commercial space is still available in Phase I. 

All properties in Phase II have been spoken for, and construction is scheduled for completion in 2015.

"The economy is very good and leasing is very strong," Lippitt says. "Support from the township was very strong, and Meijer was very interested. All of the moon and stars aligned at the right time."

The 6.4 acres of land on which Pittsfield Place will be developed was purchased from Meijer. The development will sit between Lohr Rd. and Oak Valley Drive on Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. with parking in the rear. 

Source: Michael Lippitt, Landmark Commercial Real Estate Services
Writer: Natalie Burg

Diva Nails to open on Maple, two more locations planned

Business is booming for Diva Nails. The Arborland nail spa is preparing to open its second location next to Plum Market on Maple Rd. next week, and is already planning a third in Northville while scoping out Troy for a fourth Diva Nails. 
 
"The one in Arborland is very successful now," says Diva Nails owner Frank Dinh. "I have a different way to run the nail business. We do very very high quality work, and we'll do even more high quality at the new spa."
 
After about eight months of renovations, the Maple Rd. location looks set to meet those expectations for quality. The lavish decor includes chandeliers and upscale tile. In addition to manicure and pedicure areas, the 5,000 square foot spa will also include a bar area. 
 
"We are waiting for the beer and wine license," says Dinh. "But we would like to serve beer and wine for the pedicure clients."
 
Final work on the new Diva Nails will complete in the next week. Dinh will employ a staff of 10 initially, and expects to grow that number as the spa's clientele increases. His Northville location does not have a open date yet, but Dinh says he expects it to be ready for business soon.


Source: Frank Dinh, Diva Nails
Writer: Natalie Burg

$12M Kingsley Lane Condos could add up to 21 units to downtown

The demand to live near downtown Ann Arbor could be fed a bit more with the proposed Kingsley Lane Condos. The long-delayed project has been been submitted to the Ann Arbor Design Review Board. Currently, the development plans include 21 units, but that could change based on the demands of prospective tenants. 
 
"We started out with an average unit size of 1,000 to 1,100 square feet, but we've already started talking to people about combining units," says Tom Fitzsimmons of Huron Contracting, who is working with developers Peter Allen, Mark Berg. "We've been contacted by about ten people so far. People are interested in larger units."
 
Regardless of how many units it will ultimately contain, the approximately $12 million project will be about 40,000 square feet and include two new buildings and an existing structure on Kingsley Lane. The goal of the project, says Fitzsimmons, is to build the kind of space people are looking for.
 
"We're trying to make nice spaces people are comfortable in, so that includes large decks, balconies, lots of indoor and outdoor space and nice master suites," he says. 
 
If the plan moves forward as planned, Fitzsimmons hopes the Ann Arbor City Council will approve that project in August, and construction would begin immediately. He expects the Kingsley Lane Condo project would then be completed by late 2015.  

Source: Tom Fitzsimmons, Huron Contracting
Writer: Natalie Burg

Painting with a Twist studio to open on Oak Valley Drive

Letitia Tenner began her career with Painting with a Twist from the ground up. Originally project manager in the IT services industry, Tenner's first experience with the "paint and sip" franchise was a customer in Farmington. After falling in love with the concept, she decided to open her own Painting with a Twist in Ann Arbor. 

"Although there are other art entertainment business out there, I knew that I wanted to be a franchise partner with Painting with a Twist," says Tenner, who was impressed by Entrepreneur Magazine endorsing the company as the #1 Paint & Sip in the country. "Additionally, the founders are very passionate about community give-back and it's a part of the culture of this business via the Painting with a Purpose program."

 The 2,400 square foot studio will celebrate its grand opening the weekend of April 10 in the Village Centre on Oak Valley Dr. in Pittsfield Twp. Renovations on the space began in mid-January and included opening up the formerly segmented space into two large studios. 

"[I] wanted a nice large window storefront so that people visiting neighboring businesses could observe our art sessions while they're in progress," says Tenner. "I met with representatives from Pittsfield Township and they were enthusiastic about our business concept."

Tenner expects to hire a staff of 10, including artists, art assistants and office staff. She is looking forward to participating in the company's Painting with a Purpose initiative, during which the studio will partner with local non-profits to host events that will benefit the organizations. 

Source: Letitia Tenner, Painting with a Twist
Writer: Natalie Burg

Tomukun Noodle Bar expanding on success with Korean barbeque next door

Growing up as a Korean American in Troy, going out for Korean barbecue with his family was a big part of Tom Yon's upbringing. With the success of his four-year-old Tomukun Noodle Bar on a roll in downtown Ann Arbor, he's now bringing that tradition to E. Liberty as well with Tomukun Korean BBQ. 
 
"I thought that Korean barbecue would be a great idea," Yon says. "It's something that's very close to me, close to my heart."
 
When Grand Traverse Pie Company closed in the building next door to his noodle bar, Yon says he knew the opportunity was right to bring the Korean barbecue experience to downtown. The dining concept allows customers to chose their own raw meat and grill it, with the assistance of servers, right at their own table. While some Korean barbecue restaurants are more formal, Yon says Tomukun Korean BBQ will be contemporary and modern. 
 
"It's a lot more casual, a lot more minimalistic," he says. "It will be a place for friends, drinking beer and drinking soju. It's kind like a Korean barbecue/bar." 
 
The 3,150 square foot space has undergone considerable renovation to install the individual grills at each table. The new restaurant will seat about 85 guests between the dining area and bar. Yon anticipates opening at the beginning of April with a staff of about 30 employees.

Source: Tom Yon, Tomukun Korean Barbeque
Writer: Natalie Burg

Unique mind-body fitness studio coming to Jackson Rd.

A new concept in fitness is coming to Ann Arbor. As people have become more aware of exercise being one part of overall wellness, trainer Elaine Economou wanted to give her clients a place to go for every aspect of their health. After about a year of planning, she and partner Robin Krienke will be opening Move on Jackson Rd. with the aim of doing exactly that. 
 
"Once people start making changes and start feeling better in their bodies, they start asking themselves, 'What else can I do?'" says Economou. "They start to think more carefully about what they eat, what they wear, what kind of skin products they use." 
 
Move, which is slated to open March 10, will offer clients guidance on all of those questions. The fitness center will offer personal training, group classes, as well as massage, a juice bar and retail area. 
 
Formerly Expressions Design Studio, the 2,800 square foot space has been thoroughly renovated, including the addition of bathrooms with lockers and showers, the creation of separate rooms for training, massage and group classes, as well as loft-style storage. The Jackson Rd. location, Economou says, was perfect for her clientele. 
 
"The west side of Ann Arbor really appealed to me," she says. "It's an up and coming corridor. I train clients in Chelsea, Dexter, Saline and a lot of clients in Ann Arbor, so I was very clear about wanting to be on that corridor."
 
Move will open with a staff of about 25. According to Economou, the studio will welcome clients of all fitness levels, from experiences athletes to those just beginning to improve their wellness.

Source: Elaine Economou, Move
Writer: Natalie Burg

Total Hockey opens 9,500 sq ft store on Oak Valley Dr.

Missouri-based retailer Total Hockey celebrated the opening of their new Ann Arbor location this week, the company's third in Michigan. The 9,500 square foot store is located in the Oak Valley Center near Target. 

"In general there are a lot of factors that go into the real estate selection process, but certainly proximity to an ice rink is definitely on the checklist," says Total Hockey Marketing Manager Andrea Roewe. "We like to be convenient enough for people to stop in on the way to or after a game."

The new location is Total Hockey twentieth store nationwide, and the retailer has continued expansion plans. The store focuses entirely on hockey and includes both memorabilia and equipment for hockey players at a range of price points. 

"We have a price range for everyone, whether you're a high-end player looking for the latest and greatest, or for newbies, we have everything to help get parents acclimated to the game," Roewe says.

The new Total Hockey store opened on Monday and employs a staff of 15-20 workers. Total Hockey has a particular focus on youth players and in involved in programs that help young players take part in the sport.

Source: Andrea Roewe, Total Hockey
Writer: Natalie Burg

Thingsmiths bring 3D printing services to S. State St.

Nearly everyone has had a thought, at one time or another, that began, "Wouldn't it be cool if someone made a thing like this?" If the entrepreneurs of Thingsmiths have their way, those fleeting thoughts will never again have to trail off into nowhere. Thanks to their 3D-printing on demand service, they plan to help anyone make whatever they can dream up.

"The aim with Thingsmiths is to build a company where anyone can go to have nearly anything made," says Owen Tien of Thingsmiths. "I believe that in the very near future service bureaus such as ours will be in every city, fundamentally changing the way people look at the means of production, and how we all do business."

That big vision is beginning with a small, 200 square foot space on S. State St. that opened as Thingsmiths in late 2013. The staff works with any customer's idea for an object, creates the design and prints the item for them. Tien says Ann Arbor was the perfect location to start such a business, as the community is full of "creative and curious people." Thus far, their customers orders and ideas have not disappointed.

"The response has been really fantastic," says Tien. "You don't open a business without being optimistic, but I would consider myself cautiously so. It's blown away my expectations, and I've felt very fortunate to be able to help so many people get their idea made."

Thingsmiths currently employs a staff of three. Tien says the shop is the first "truly consumer-oriented brick-and-mortar retail 3D printing store" in the state.

Source: Owen Tien, Thingsmiths
Writer: Natalie Burg

Simply Spanish joining Mark's Carts lineup this year

When Xavi Vitta moved to Ann Arbor from Spain years ago, what he missed most was the style of restaurant he was used to at home.
 
"Something less ceremonial than a restaurant, with outstanding food," he says. 

With Simply Spanish, a food cart coming to Mark's Carts this spring, he intents to bring exactly that to Ann Arbor. Simply Spanish will feature authentic Spanish foods that are simple, made with fresh ingredients. 

"Eating well has also been a pillar in my upbringing," says Vitta. "I would like to share the joy of eating well with others."

According to Vitta, the food cart format is a perfect fit for his concept, enabling a wide variety of customers to share a few tapas during their meal. The cart itself will reflect the Spanish culture as much as the food, decorated in graphics that celebrate the ceramic art of Gaudi. 

Vitta plans to open Simply Spanish in April of this year with a staff of two, which he intends to grow to three based on demand. He is looking forward to sharing his culture with the Ann Arbor community through his tapas style cuisine. 

Source: Xavi Vitta, Simply Spanish
Writer: Natalie Burg

Menna's Joint to add unique cuisine, 30 jobs to E. William St.

College towns across Michigan have been familiar with the "the Dub" sandwich since Menna's Joint opened in East Lansing in 2003. Now with six locations, the home of the grilled sub/burrito hybrid will soon open a seventh on E. William in Ann Arbor. 
 
"The dub is a unique product and we deliver it to our customer in a variety of ways," says Hank Andries, Menna's Joint owner and president. "We're looking to complement the market in Ann Arbor. There is a lot of competition here, but we're hoping we fill a portion of the market."
 
Andries had actually considered the space prior to former tenant Topper's Pizza's occupancy, but the timing wasn't quite right. When the property broker reached out to Andries last time, however, everything fell into place. 
 
"It was really just about waiting for the right opportunity," Andries says. "There is a lot of demand for space in Ann Arbor, and not a ton of supply. It was just a matter of timing for us."
 
The 1,500-square-foot space will undergo primarily cosmetic renovations as Menna's Joint prepares to open. The restaurant will have seating for 14 diners, as well as offering delivery and carry-out options. Andries intends to open Menna's this spring with a staff of about 30 employees. 
 

Source: Hank Andries, Menna's Joint
Writer: Natalie Burg

Forthcoming Style Trader store expands on local resale franchise

The Ann Arbor-based children's resale franchise Children's Orchard now has locations in states all across the U.S. In addition to growing out, the business is now growing up, with a new store concept that will soon debut in Ann Arbor on W. Eisenhower. 
 
"Style Trader is a new concept that we're looking to franchise," says General Manager Jennifer Fields. "It's nice to be bringing it home to Ann Arbor, in a sense, but also to be building on the concept of walking from Children's Orchard to Style Trader in one trip." 
 
The Ann Arbor Style Trader, which will open in a 2,500-square-foot space in Colonnade Shopping Center, will be the second of its kind. The first opened in Livonia in July of 2012. According to Fields, however, this will be the first time the concept is tested in close proximity to Children's Orchard, which she suspects will be a winning combination. 
 
Style Trader will focus on upscale clothing lines and styles that are no more than two years old, giving shopper access to the newer fashions and lower prices. While Fields says she anticipates moms and teens will enjoy the store, she's already been surprised by the success of the Livonia location's men's apparel. 
 
"It's a fun environment that's not just for women," says Fields. "Nowhere else is doing resale for men. We couldn't believe how many men have been coming out in Livonia."
 
Renovations are already underway at the E. Eisenhower store. Fields plans to open Style Trader in early March and celebrate with a grand opening later in the spring. The store will employ five to six workers.

Source: Jennifer Fields, Style Trader
Writer: Natalie Burg

First Martin plans for hotel, mixed-use on Huron and Ashley

The intersection of W. Huron and N. Ashley has long been a sleepy one, but plans for a new mixed-used hotel development aim to change all that. Local developer First Martin has proposed a 85,000-square-foot, six-story hotel for the site that would include 110 rooms and about 6,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space for a retail or restaurant tenant. 
 
"There aren't a ton of vacant or nearly vacant parcels downtown," says Mike Martin, vice president of First Martin. "This site has just two single story buildings, and is certainly not improved to its full potential."
 
While the project has the potential to bring temporary and permanent jobs to the site, as well as a new option for Ann Arbor visitors, Martin says one of the most visible impacts of the hotel would be creating new pedestrian activity on the relatively quiet intersection. 
 
"We think there is a strong benefit for this type of use to activate the corner," he says. "A lot of the positive feedback we've heard is that this will help energize and add a pedestrian experience to a corner that is anything but that now."
 
First Martin will partner with a national chain to manage the all-suite style hotel, though the developer is not yet ready to release the name of their partner. The total amount of investment the project will bring to downtown is also yet to be determined. Martin is hoping the project will receive final approval in July and the approximately one-year long construction will begin in the fall. 
 

Source: Mike Martin, First Martin
Writer: Natalie Burg

Study shows alternative transportation important to downtown Ann Arbor

A recent survey conducted by Ann Arbor's getDowntown program found that more than 80 percent of respondents rate the availability of alternative transportation options as important to attracting customers, clients and employees to downtown. The survey included responses from 194 employers or decision makers and more than 600 downtown commuters.
 
"Employers recognize that to attract and retain the talent they need, we need to have a strong alternative transportation system," says getDowntown Program Director Nancy Shore. "Over time, this means that employers are more likely to purchase go!passes and find ways to accommodate their employee’s interest in walking and biking to work."
 
That's exactly what is beginning to happen. The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and Downtown Development Authority have recently reported a "sharp increase" in the number of getDowntown's go!passes used by commuters to downtown. Twenty percent of decision makers also reported having employees who would not be able to get to work without their pass.
 
According to Shore, the good news only encourages getDowntown to continue to develop the go!pass program. They are now looking at the possibility of making the go!pass into a "smart card."
 
"This would make it even easier to board the bus and we might be able to find ways to connect it to other transportation options like the Bike House or even parking," Shore says. "I’d also like to see us develop a way for go!pass users to track their go!pass use online."
 
Additionally, Shore says the AATAs 5-year transit plan would be a huge benefit for the downtown commuters and employers, giving riders access to bus options later in the evening and on weekends.
 

Source: Nancy Shore, Get Downtown
Writer: Natalie Burg
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