Central provisions, past and future
Earlier this summer, Zingerman’s Deli was very happy to welcome local food purveyors, Steve Hall and Abby Olitzky of Central Provisions who threw a special summer-themed dinner for sixty lucky guests over two seatings. Steve and Abby run Central Provisions as a sort of working larder that’s “part restaurant, part market, part kitchen-in-motion,” and creates everything from summer picnic baskets, to private dinners, to light fare for weddings and holiday parties.
“We’re not really in the catering business, “says Steve, “because it’s just Abby and I, and we want to focus more on the quality and detail that goes into selecting good cheese and charcuterie, and creating small plates for a smaller gatherings.” Thus, they try to limit the menu to around 25-30 people. This is also necessary, because as Steve explains, “We’re actively looking for a permanent space to house our restaurant, and we’ve learned to be patient and wait for the right place to come along.”
And they have specific criteria in mind: “We want it to be accessible, a neighborhood spot. A space where people feel comfortable coming for a meal, or maybe just some of our pasta sauce, or a chutney. Or even a cup of sugar, if that’s all they need.” Steve envisions a location near downtown, but a bit “off the beaten track.” He cites the locations of the old Jefferson Market and Angelo’s as examples of the kind of space they’re looking for. “We just want to be involved in feeding our neighborhood.”
Steve has the advantage of knowing the town. He’s an Ann Arbor native who attended school in Rhode Island. After college, he followed the advice of Horace Greeley, and went west to San Francisco where he worked for Mission Cheese. Steve describes the place as very “cheese forward” serving good charcuterie, wine and craft beer. It was working here that he met partner Abby Olitzky.
Abby is a san Francisco native, who went to NYU and minored in food studies. Afterward, she attended culinary school in New York, then returned to San Francisco to work as a pastry chef at Italian eatery, Delfina, blocks away from Mission Cheese.
“We met over Zingerman’s bread, of all things,” says Steve with a smile. “I courted her with Zingerman’s Onion Rye.”
Thus, a partnership was born. The couple knew they wanted to open their own place, but the SF Bay Area proved far too costly. So, they moved back to Michigan intending originally to open something in the city of Detroit. “There’s a lot of excitement there around urban agriculture and food.” But, they were again hesitant in the face of the volume of businesses opening in Detroit.
“We were a bit worried about being lost in the shuffle,” says Steve. “And Ann Arbor had become comfortable, so we decided to stick around here and see what we could do.” Toward this end, they both took jobs at Zingerman’s, Steve in the Deli, and Abby as an instructor at BAKE!, the cooking school at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. “Working at Zingerman’s has given me a chance to try new foods and products, and incorporate them into what we do.”
Abby’s brief tenure at BAKE! was fortuitously interrupted when a friend at Sweet Heather Anne called with an opportunity to play a more integral role in managing a business, in addition to overseeing the company’s baking operations. This experience has proven useful as their business has grown.
Together, they’ve built Central Provisions into a business that’s gaining recognition in the area for the thoughtful approach they take to their menus. The food is outstanding and creative, and made from carefully chosen ingredients. They serve homemade pickles and preserves, as well as a fine selection of domestic cheeses and charcuterie. Their Facebook page sums it up nicely: “We believe in locally-sourced ingredients, traditional techniques, and simple seasonal cuisine.”
Looking ahead, Steve says the priority is finding a space to house the business. But, he tells me they’re also talking with a canning company about packaging their homemade foods for retail. And they’re working with David Klingenberger, founder of noted fermented veggie purveyors, The Brinery, about created a signature kraut blend. When I suggest that this seems like quite a lot on their plate, Steve just smiles and says, “Anything and everything…” More philosophy than slogan, it embodies Central Provisions approach to their food, their business, maybe even their outlook on life. It’s a big world out there, why not try it all?
Anything and everything, indeed.
See you soon!
Central Provisions will be serving An Autumn Dinner on Saturday, October 11 at Green Things Farm.
Celebrate the harvest season with Steve and Abby, and enjoy a bountiful, family-style meal. Afterward, take a farm tour with Nate and Jill, then enjoy a tasty beverage and a toasty bonfire. Contact Central Provisions (centralprovisionsgmailcom) to reserve your spot. Seats are limited, so don’t delay!