Special Sell Section
Independently-owned businesses make Washtenaw County great with beloved business owners that are “all in.” They work here, they live here, and they raise their families here. Read on to learn more about how their businesses contribute to our community in ways that benefit all of us.
Steve Blinder, owner
Does your business have a unique history? Blue Front has been an Ann Arbor favorite and part of the community since 1927—over 90 years! The store has gone through several phases, though the most exciting are coming over the next couple months. We have just installed a growler filling station with ten rotating taps, we now house over 1000 different beers, we have regular in-store tastings on Tuesdays and Fridays from 5-7. We also have knowledgeable staff who are all Certified Beer Server® trained through the Cicerone program in addition to one Certified Cicerone®.
What is something people might not know about you? Many locals who have been around for more than a few years may hear the name Blue Front and think it’s still the same spot they knew years and years ago—it’s not! Blue Front has changed dramatically over the last 5 years to become a premier location for craft beer and wine.
What changes have you seen in your industry? The beer industry has grown immensely over the last decade. Every neighborhood in the U.S. has their own local microbrewery (we’re blessed to be so close to the likes of Wolverine, HOMES, Bløm, Arbor, Pileated, and Jolly Pumpkin). We have kept up with burgeoning styles as well as up-and-coming breweries from just down the road to across the country.
Elizabeth Devos, owner
Why did you choose Ann Arbor as the home for your business? Ann Arbor happens to be a great place to launch Vosenna because people here care. They care about the environment, they care about small businesses, they care about diversity and valuing all people, they care about limiting the chemicals the use, they care about not testing on animals in the beauty industry, and they care about being socially conscious. Vosenna also reflects those values so it made a lot of sense to be in a place that values the ethical foundations of the store.
What is something people might not know about you? I played hockey as a kid. I originally was a figure skater, but got recruited to a mite team because they needed a defensemen who could skate backwards really well. I was on boys’ teams for most of that time, but my last year, I also did double duty on the first girl’s team in Illinois.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your parents? I lived with my grandparents for the majority of my childhood and one of the most important things my grandma taught me is the importance of voting.
Andrew Sereno, owner
Samuel Boyce, owner, chef
Why did you choose Ann Arbor as the home for your business? Where else but the best city in America? I grew up in the Ann Arbor area (Chelsea), went to University of Michigan, and now live in Ann Arbor with my wife, Rebecca, and my daughter, Vanessa.
What are some of the changes you have seen in Ann Arbor over the years? Ann Arbor has definitely become more developed yuppie style and less Tree Town hippie over the years. While Ann Arbor becomes more and more of a destination oasis in Michigan, we can’t lose sight of what made it great in the first place.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your parents? Work hard and don’t expect anything. You create your own destiny, understand and respect the responsibility that comes with that.
What changes have you seen in your industry? Awareness. Everybody is more aware in every way – whether it’s the source of their food, their own dietary restrictions, or just what they like – people know more and care more.
My business makes an impact because . . . The purpose of Fresh Forage is to change the relationship between customer, restaurant, and farmer. Our goal is to become full circle sustainable in every way we can and to truly change the food web from the inside out. The restaurant itself is the outward-facing tip of the Fresh Forage iceberg, per se. The purpose is to reinvest in projects that bring us closer to sustainability every step of the way and keep our customers aware of what project they’re helping when they buy a meal – whether it’s setting up a hoophouse, constructing a mushroom house, installing solar panels and/or wind turbines, or simply planting some more fruit trees.
Why did you choose Ann Arbor as the home for your business? Andrew and I are both from the area, and went to school together in Chelsea. We had been discussing the idea for this restaurant concept for several years and knew Ann Arbor was the place for it. Ann Arbor is such a rich and vibrant community that we really believe we can thrive here!
What are some of the changes you have seen in Ann Arbor over the years? Over the years I feel like Ann Arbor has been ever expanding and sprawling more towards the more rural surrounding areas. It has been growing and diversifying more as well which brings more richness and culture to its character.
What is the most important lesson you learned from your parents? Treat others how you would want to be treated. There is so much conflict in the world and in personal relationships that could be mitigated just by living this ideal.
What changes have you seen in your industry? I think the biggest change is the divergence of food choices. Today there seems to be a split in the types of food offered and readily available to many people. The scale of food production has gotten out of control and unhealthy which has prompted growth of many more healthy options all across the U.S.
Corinne Sikorski, Manager
How is a cooperative different from a privately owned business? A cooperative is a business that has been organized by a group of people to provide goods or services that may not be available in the community, or the pricing for them may be out of reach for the consumers. The intent of a cooperative is to provide those goods to serve the owners, and not to make profits for the stock holders or owners. Being a cooperative also means that the owners will have an overall mission of what they want the focus of the organization to be. Ours started out as a group of people in Ypsilanti who wanted more wholesome and fresh foods. This was at a time that organic, whole grains and farm fresh products were not readily available in the groceries stores, so member owners of the cooperative pooled their resources, and worked toward obtaining products directly from farmers.
What changes have you seen in your industry? Cooperatives around the country were a huge part of the push to have food grown and processed organically. As consumers became interested in better food, commercial grocers saw the profits to be had, and they too invested in organic, natural, free range meats, food in bulk, and just overall better food! So, today we see good food everywhere, which has helped change the food system for the better from what it was in the mid twentieth century.
My business makes an impact because . . . Our mission continues to be for food that is beneficial for people as eaters, growers and producers and for a sustainable environment. Food cooperatives struggle with the competition around us, but they continue to be leaders in assuring there is integrity in the food system and labeling. Assuring that things like organic growing standards are maintained is still important, as profit can get in the way.
Max Steir, Owner
Why did you choose Ann Arbor as the home for your business? We began developing Salads UP as seniors at the U of M with the hope to create a healthier, more convenient option on campus. We thought that people would be really into that.
What are your hobbies? For the last two years my hobbies have become limited as my main focus, some might say to an unhealthy extent, has been Salads UP. But, I am an avid Boston sports fan from New York since my father was from Boston and raised me to be a sports nut. In addition, I am also a huge Michigan fan, and very dedicated throughout the year to the football team and basketball team.
What is something people might not guess about you? I am a dairy free pescatarian. I also can recite from memory the seeds and teams of the last 10 men’s NCAA tournament sweet 16’s, just a natural accident.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your parents? If you are in tune with everything about yourself from your anxieties, to your passions, to your weaknesses, and to your strengths, then you are truly in control of your happiness and your success.
What changes have you seen in your industry? The biggest change is people wanting food more quickly and conveniently at an exponentially growing rate. The growth of third party platforms that offer technology and services to enable restaurants to provide delivery and advanced ordering to customers is huge and not going anywhere.
My business makes an impact because . . . We provide so many people with great job opportunities and in addition give our team and customers healthy and fresh options as well as fast and fun experience that many competitors cannot match.
What do you love most about your job? I love building what many people would refer to as a restaurant into a fine-tuned organization primed to grow with so many great and talented people. Salads UP has gone from an idea, to an operation, to a company in just three years, with three stores that employs 70+ people. When I take a step back and look at what has been done, I am proud but never satisfied!
Silvio Medro, Owner
Why did you choose Ann Arbor for your business? I chose Ann Arbor for my business because of the high cultural level of food. People appreciate to eat well here, and I knew they would like it.
What are some of the changes you have seen in Ann Arbor over the years? Lots of new high rise buildings, less parking, and a harder time finding employees. The city is becoming more multicultural, and more people from around the world are studying and working in town.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your parents? They taught me to work hard and have integrity. Most importantly though, they taught me to enjoy what you are doing, or don’t do it at all.
What changes have you seen in your industry? There is more competition with restaurants are opening on every corner. Business has been getting more and more challenging. There is also a lot more diversity and open-mindedness in the restaurant industry in regards to food, dishes, and creativity, which I like. We are able to diversify our dishes with the ingredients we get from our farmers.
My business makes an impact because…… My business makes an impact because we want to work closely with our local producers and farmers, keep our local economy alive and serve the freshest food to our customers.
What do you love most about your job? The autonomy I have in creating and cooking. I am so lucky to be able to meet the nicest people that come into my restaurant everyday.