Tuesday, February 5, 2013

[NEWS BITES] The Lunch Room in Ann Arbor opening restaurant in Kerrytown

About a year and a half ago, food cart culture was a hot topic around these parts -- How do we circumvent the laws preventing them from operating and become more like other cities where the mobile model has proven successful? How is the mobile model preferable for some start-ups in terms of lower barrier to entry and potential to evolve into brick-and-mortar (and is the latter even a feasible end-goal)? And let's not forget all the brick-and-mortars who got a bad case of the It's-Not-Fairs.

Since then the furor has died down and while we still have nothing in greater metro Detroit the mimics the food cart culture of Portland or the roaming herds of food trucks in Austin, but we're at least used to the idea now, and some of these concepts have successfully been able to spin their mobile start-ups into bonafide brick-and-mortars.

Mark's Carts in Ann Arbor, more than anywhere else in metro Detroit, has acted as something of a mobile-to-permanent food business incubator. After a successful first season when Mark's Carts opened in 2011 (as well as, admittedly, a catering business that took off stronger and faster than the owners expected), eat catering and chef services was able to open their own small retail space where they serve hearty home-cooked foods for lunch and dinner carry-out, and also have the large kitchen space in back for their catering.

Now Mark's Carts has a brand new graduate to the brick-and-mortar program. The Lunch Room, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, has announced they will now be opening their own restaurant in Kerrytown. And before Mark's Carts they originally started as a pop-up, so there's a feather in the cap for that food business trend too. The full press release is copied below; they hope to open in June.


This spring The Lunch Room will become the second business from Mark’s Carts to move to a permanent, year-round location (the first was eat, in the fall of 2011, to 1906 Packard). The award-winning vegan eatery will take over the space last occupied by Yamato restaurant at 403 N. Fifth Ave. on the west side of Kerrytown Market & Shops, nestled between Everyday Wines and Zingerman’s Events (formerly Eve’s). Projected to open in June, The Lunch Room will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Saturday and Sunday brunches. Proprietors Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo are seeking to create an establishment that will be noteworthy for its hearty and delicious plant-based food; compelling, attractive interior and exterior design; and spirited ambience that includes live music. The Lunch Room is grateful to Trillium Real Estate for their assistance in securing such a prime downtown location.

“Kerrytown Market & Shops is thrilled to welcome The Lunch Room to our community,” stated Karen Farmer, Manager of Kerrytown Market & Shops. “We’ve patiently waited for the right fit, and feel we’ve got that with Joel and Phillis. Their wonderful food and positive energy will make them a great addition to our unique collection of local businesses.”

The restaurant will provide Ann Arbor with exciting new vegan fare and will greatly increase the city’s vegetarian cuisine offerings. The restaurant menu will feature new entrees such as veggie burgers, tacos, roasted root veggie pasties, tempeh reubens, and udon noodle seitan stirfry -- as well as many of the items that made the food cart famous. There will be rotating dinner specials including pizza; paella; mac & cheese; veggie sushi platter; panang curry; Cuban black beans & rice, and breaded seitan cutlets with rice, broccoli & gravy. Among the new breakfast and brunch offerings will be breakfast burritos, French toast, cauliflower-spinach frittata, potato pancakes with applesauce & sour cream, oatmeal-fruit-granola platter and more. A bakery display case will show off The Lunch Room’s cookies, pies and pastries. The restaurant will also sell fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, coffee, root beer floats and Boston coolers, and coconut-milk ice-cream sundaes with hot fudge and other homemade toppings.

The Lunch Room promises to become a destination not only for its food, but also for its decor. Adam Smith and Lisa SuavĂ© of Synecdoche (Si-NEK-duh-kee) “simultaneous understanding” are designing the space as a showcase for their dynamic modern architectural style that accentuates materials, space, and light. Holders of Master’s degrees in Architecture from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College, the pair were the 2011 winners of the Young Architects Forum of Atlanta for a temporary outdoor installation called Edge Condition. They will work in conjunction with Lunch Room co-owner and graphic designer Joel Panozzo and plant artist Andy Sell (aka Foraging Florist) to create a bright and beautiful space, incorporating  and blending elements of indoors and outdoors, to enhance the dining experience.

The Lunch Room got its start as a “pop-up” restaurant in the fall of 2010, when next-door neighbors and vegan foodies Engelbert and Panozzo began serving 5-course meals on their signature cafeteria trays to private parties of 40-60 people in retail locations throughout Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. In April 2011 The Lunch Room joined the inaugural group of food carts at Mark’s Carts, selling sandwiches, salads, entrees, soups and baked goods from a cute, wood-paneled food cart. During its two seasons as a food cart it gained a reputation for making nutritious, delicious food that happened to be vegan yet appealed to people of all eating persuasions. The Lunch Room became most famous for its BBQ tofu sliders, banh mi chay (Vietnamese baguette) sandwiches, loaded nachos, Saturday brunch plate, cookies and ice cream sandwiches, as well as for being a place where smiling proprietors greeted customers by name and created a community spirit.

The Lunch Room serves plant-based foods made from scratch from fresh, high-quality ingredients. It makes every effort to use products from local vendors and to use locally grown, seasonal vegetables and fruits. Many of its menu items are gluten-free and the proprietors make every effort to accommodate guests with any food allergy.

The Lunch Room food cart was recognized in annarbor.com in July 2011 for achieving profitability after just five weeks in business. That October The Lunch Room won an Awesome Award from Ypsilanti’s iSPY Magazine. In June 2012 The Lunch Room received another honor: Best Food Cart in Washtenaw County in Current Magazine’s Readers’ Choice competition. It was recently favorably reviewed in Current Magazine’s Vegetarian Odyssey.