Zingerman's History

We Love This Book: Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor, a Q&A with the Authors


Ann Arbor is home to many beloved restaurants—students, townies and visitors alike all have their favorites. Co-author Jon Milan and Gail Offen pay homage to the most popular eating hangouts in town (yes, Zingerman’s Deli is included) with their new book Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor.

Dave Willit's Oyster Bay Catering circa 1905

Dave Willit’s Oyster Bay Catering circa 1905

Filled with fantastic photos and interesting snippets about current mainstays and institutions that have shut their doors, the book is broken up into a few fun categories, including “The Legendary and Long Forgotten” (with some spots dating back to the early 1900s), “Local Favorites and Student Standbys”, and “Still Here and Going Strong” among others. The Introduction to the book is written by Zingerman’s Co-Owner and Founding Partner Ari Weinzweig.

“While I do not want to say that any of the iconic restaurants in this book are acts of God, I do not think it’s stretching things too much to say that for those who visited them regularly in their day, these places were akin to a religious, or at least near-religious, experience. They inspire. they provided a sense of security and stability,” writes Ari.

Here’s our interview with the authors:

Q: Why were you motivated to take on this project?

Jon & Gail: So many great memories (and relationships!) are made while in college—and many of those happened in and bars. We all look back wistfully at these places. We looked for a book that captured that. And not finding one, we wrote one. We wanted to rekindle those memories. Ann Arbor is such an idyllic place. And its restaurants are every bit part of that unique quality—they couldn’t be anywhere else. Luckily, we were able to talk to people that can still tell their stories. We also had help from two much-admired local historians with memorabilia collections: Jan Langone and Susan Wineberg. And Ari helped, of course!

Le Dog's Jules Van Dyck-Dobos (courtesy of Jules and Ika Van Dyck-Dobos)

Le Dog’s Jules Van Dyck-Dobos (courtesy of Jules and Ika Van Dyck-Dobos)


Photo courtesy of the Janice Bluestein-Langone Culinary Archive - JBLCA

Photo courtesy of the Janice Bluestein-Langone Culinary Archive – JBLCA

Q: What were one or two fun things you discovered during the process?

J&G: 1) Love why Jules from Le Dog won’t sell pop—they refused to deliver to him during the Art Fair in the ’80s, and he said the hell with them and stopped serving pop! 2) The Fleetwood refused to close for visits from both Guy Fieri and President Obama. 3) The Nobel Prize winner for physics in 1960 was Donald Glaser, who taught at U of M. He won for his invention of the bubble chamber, which traced subatomic particles. Local legend says he got his ideas while watching bubbles in a glass of beer at the Pretzel Bell! 4) The incredible interrelationship between restaurant and restaurateurs—how so many of the same individuals have come together, over the years, as partners, friends and advisers. For example, the people who worked together at Maude’s becoming partners at Zingerman’s, and the Gandy Dancer was a training ground for the Main Street Ventures group. 5) The incredible history of restaurants that have occupied certain buildings over a period spanning as many as 150 years. Some locations have hosted as many as five or six—and some, only one. 6) There are more than 500,000 University of Michigan alumni (and we know every one of them will enjoy this book)!

Inside the original Pretzel Bell Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Inside the original Pretzel Bell, photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Q: What makes a restaurant iconic in Ann Arbor? Is there a formula?

J&G: Of course, every generation has its icons. Our own experiences were more ’70s and ’80s focused—and we tried to make the book multi-generational. These are places that, when you say you are going to Arbor, you hear, “Is _____ still there? You’ve got to go.” Or a must-stop for out-of-towners on game day—Pizza Bob’s and Krazy Jim’s are two examples. And for locals, ones where you meet your friends. But we also looked at a lot of social media that referenced Ann Arbor, and certain names always rose to the top. When we told people we were writing this book, the three places they always asked about were Drake’s, Pretzel Bell and the Whiffletree. But, in short, an iconic restaurant is one that when you say its name, the other person grins and nods. Then immediately tells you a story about it.

Photo by Jim Rees

Photo by Jim Rees

Q: If you could pick one shuttered restaurant to bring back, which would you pick?

G: Drake’s! Drake’s Sandwich Shop (on North University from 1935-1994) brought joy to generations of Arborites, young and old. Comfort food, candy, tea and an upstairs called “The Martian Room.” What can beat that? Would also love to have some Whiffletree fries, Indian Summer pizza, Central Café huevos rancheros, DeLong’s hot trout sandwich and Steve’s Lunch bibimbap!

Q: Are there any new Ann Arbor restaurants that you think will become iconic?

G: Spencer has a fresh and delicious take on food. Slurping Turtle certainly has wowed the locals, as well as Frita Batidos and Mani Osteria. And although I haven’t been to Ricewood BBQ and Cardamom, they have fanatical followings. I look forward to the opening of Miss Kim in Kerrytown. (And although it will never be, I’m addicted to Haifa Falafel on Washtenaw!)

A vintage photo of Zingerman's co-founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig

A vintage photo of Zingerman’s co-founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig

Q: Why did you choose Ari to write the forward?

J: We both agreed that Ari and Paul’s unique approach to quality, service and the restaurant business, in general, is the foundation of a new generation of Ann Arbor restaurants. Ari has written many books, of course, and we’ve always devoured the long-form journalism that is Zingerman’s newsletter (a good read over a good sandwich). So, approaching him seemed like a good choice. To our delight, he provided the introduction to our book, while juggling the time he was investing in completing the fourth book in his Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series. We couldn’t have been more pleased and honored by his contribution.

Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor will be in stock at Zingerman’s Delicatessen very soon, and you can also purchase it on Arcadia Publishing’s website.