Cafe Ollie launches Tuesday, selling veggetarian fare… and the occasional record

    Ypsi’s newest restaurant, Cafe Ollie, will be celebrating its grand opening in Depot Town on Tuesday, February 1. The Cafe, which has actually been open for about a week now, is owned by Ypsi locals Danielle Scherwin and Mark Teachout. The festivities are scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM, with bands playing at about 8:00. As of right now, the lineup includes Swimsuit, Jason Ajemian, Hush Arbors, and Danny Kroha. It should be a good time, assuming people aren’t scared off by the the snowpocalypse we’re told is coming our way.

    I’ve yet to eat there, but I’ve heard good things though the grapevine, and, given their focus on vegetarian and vegan fare, I know they’ve already got a number of enthusiastic supporters. (They’ll be serving meat dishes as well.) Here’s wishing them all the best.

    img_1828Oh, and in addition to coffee, food and ice cream, folks will be able to buy the work of local musicians at Cafe Ollie. A group calling itself the Ypsi Music Shelf Entertainment Distro Transnational Consortium has taken over a shelf in the cafe, from which they will be offering, “a pretty sick cross-section of self-releasing artists and low-to-the-ground friends & neighbors.” Among others, they’ll be selling works on the Life Like label, Ginko Records and Kuma Tapes. (If you’d like to find out about consignment opportunities, leave your email in the comments section, and I’ll make sure someone gets back to you.)

    The photos you see accompanying this post are of the shelf in question, which, I expect, could grow, if people actually start buying merchandise. It’s not a perfect solution to the problem of not having a local record store, but it’s a great, creative step in the right direction, and I’d very much like to see it work out for everyone involved… So, if you’ve still got a few bucks after you buy that Faygo, think about picking up a single, OK?

    OK, there’s one more thing I wanted to share with you. The following review of Cafe Ollie was written by a vegetarian friend of mine who ate there today.

    Like any new business, they’ll have to work out their kinks and put a “system” in place. We paid when we ordered, but had to ask to do so, then, when we were leaving, the guy said, “so are you ready to pay now?”

    I got the VLT (vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato, with vegan mayo on sourdough). Dining Partner got the vegan grilled cheese. We split our sandwiches, so that we could each try what the other ordered. We both agreed that the VLT was really good! The vegan bacon had the taste, texture, and saltiness of what we remember bacon to taste like. The bread was soft with a crunchy crust, and the lettuce/tomato tasted fresh and ripe. We both thought, however, that the grilled cheese was lacking. Imagine a large ciabatta roll (almost a bun) with three rectangles of cheese across it and sliced tomatoes. Basically, it was all bun and the cheese wasn’t really melted, although the sandwich was warm when it arrived. We both said out loud, “at least the bun was good”. But when you order a grilled cheese, the name of the sandwich emphasizes, well, cheese, not bun. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever had a grilled cheese on a bun. More cheese, more melted, and smaller bread would help this sandwich become as awesome as we had hoped. Both sandwiches came with a pickle spear and a pile of chips.

    I’ve read complaints about Jazzy Veggie in Ann Arbor that criticize it for having store-bought ingredients put together on a sandwich. Even though I don’t necessarily agree 100% with that opinion, I worry that Cafe Ollie might get the same complaints until they expand their menu and make better use of that huge kitchen in the back. The drink menu is too limited: coffee drinks or Faygo. We understand this is a new restaurant and they will be expanding their menu (worker-guy explained that), but wouldn’t you want to hit it out of the park from the get-go?

    They have several baked goods (cookies and cupcakes, including vegan varieties of both), coffee by the pound for sale, and homemade side dishes. I bought a vegan chocolate chip cookie to go, but I haven’t tried it yet.

    Regarding the decor, it’s way too dark and has a kind of dirty, grungy feel to it. I wish they had brightened it up and made it cleaner feeling!

    In conclusion, the VLT was good, the prices are very reasonable, and the staff attentive and polite. I will give it another chance for morning coffee, then again when they expand their menu in a few weeks and grow into themselves a bit.

    img_1832Not too bad of a review, in my opinion, given that they’ve just opened. Here’s hoping they continue to make progress, and launch successfully on Tuesday.

    [note: They will be closed all day tomorrow, in preparation for Tuesday’s grand opening.]

    Posted in Art and Culture, Food, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

    Julian Assange on 60 Minutes

    For those of you, like me, without access to a working television, here’s the 60 Minutes interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that ran earlier this evening.

    Posted in Media, Other, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

      According to a source, I was right about 7-Eleven and Starbucks considering Ypsi

      rendering-thumb-450x324-60141-1Remember how, a couple of days ago, when talking about the new retail development taking shape on Cross Street, right across from Eastern Michigan University, I said that I thought that it was likely the developer, O’Neal Construction, was already in negotiations with Starbucks and 7-Eleven? Well, if I’m to believe this email that I just received, it looks like I might have been onto something. According to someone who claims to know Joe O’Neal, discussions are indeed already taking place with both 7-Eleven and Starbucks. From what I’m told, however, O’Neal would prefer to have a local business. Specifically, he’d love to have the Ann Arbor-based coffee company Sweetwaters serve as his anchor tenant. (Sweetwaters currently rents space in O’Neal’s Kerrytown development, in Ann Arbor.) Given the choice, I’d much prefer Sweetwaters to either of the other two companies that we’ve been talking about. Assuming you feel the same, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to mention to the folks at Sweetwaters, the next time that you’re at one of their three Ann Arbor locations, that you’d like to see them in Ypsi. It couldn’t hurt.

      update: There have been a lot of good points made in the comments section, mostly having to do with Starbucks, and whether or not having one downtown would be a bad thing for the community. I’d recommend you read the whole thread, but, here are a few comments, to give you a taste.

      Burt Reynolds: “Why does everyone hate Starbucks on this site I would really like to know…am I missing something…do infants pick their coffee beans?”… Fantastic question. Starbucks creates millions of jobs across the country, paying higher than minimum wage. They also provide health care to their part time employees. I’m sure the argument is they push small business owners out of the way, but that’s a slippery slope. Small businesses are great. I try to support them as much as possible. However, a struggling city like ours does not need more small businesses. We must embrace corporations as we do not have the funds to continue to be quirky. Just my opinion.

      John Galt: I feel safer in a town with a Starbucks. I like homogeneity. In fact, I thrive on it. And it doesn’t matter to me one bit that their profits leave the community. I think this corporation we call America will never be successful as long as we have locally owned businesses.

      Knox: Word on the street is that they Ugly Mug was up for sale for a while, but that they decided to keep it once Bombadil’s closed and their business picked up. If that’s the case, I’ve got to think that another coffee shop right on Cross would cause them to lose sales.

      ATF: Small local businesses funnel much more of the money you spend in them back into the community, whereas Starbucks comes in for harvesting the little money that is here- solely to invest outside of town (besides paying 15 employees here): building more Starbucks in other poor towns, globalization…. It doesn’t invest in us. And I hear there is a new 31oz size they’ve named ‘trenta’. Sick.

      Murph: There is evidence, generally anecdotal but broad, that a Starbucks presence helps indie coffee shops by serving as a gateway drug: the cachet and omnipresence of Starbucks makes it “safe” for new consumers who might be intimidated by the Mug – but who then grow into being customers of the indie shops once they realize that they do coffee much better than Starbucks. Much as Starbucks tries to commodify coffee, they can’t quite manage the category-killer big box approach that WalMart can. (And, of course, the more Starbucks *tries* to commodify the market and then saturate it, the more they fail at one of the key pieces of the market, which is personality. For much, much more on these dynamics, check out Bryant Simon’s Everything But the Coffee.)

      This is not to say that Starbucks can only help locals – while they do expand the market, they’re still obviously a new, ruthlessly streamlined competitor, and if the local competition is weak and poorly differentiated, it’ll have problems. But, really, do you think a Sweetwaters would be better for the Mug or any of the other locals than a Starbucks? I’d actually expect Sweetwaters to be more of a problem, if we’re thinking of preserving local character and not just being anti-chain.

      I wouldn’t really have a problem with 7-11 or Starbucks moving in. Either would be a solid, stable anchor tenant for Cross Street, much as Jimmy John’s has rescued a space from Cross Street’s tenant-of-the-year revolving door. (That’s not meant to disparage folks like La Fiesta Mexicana or Eagle’s Market or Tower Inn or other stable indie businesses – but there’s definitely a lot of room for more stability on the strip.)

      Besides which, the AA.com article you originally cited says, “EMU students, O’Neal said, have few off-campus areas to hang out. He’s hoping a coffee shop operator will anchor the 2,200-square-foot west corner space, which is listed at $25 per square foot.” Considering that storefront rents in most of downtown Ypsi are generally in the $10-14/square range, I’d find it pretty incredible if any non-chain even looked at this space.

      And Murph’s absolutely right when he says that our home grown companies aren’t likely to pay $25 a square foot for retail space on Cross Street, at least not right now, when they have other options.

      Posted in Ann Arbor, entrepreneurism, Food, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

      Should there be a Depot Town stop on the Amtrak line to Chicago?

      In a new article on AnnArbor.com intrepid curly-haired reporter Tom Perkins looks into the possibility that Ypsilanti may once again have a stop on the Amtrak line to Chicago. Here’s a clip:

      The question was posed by an audience member at the Michigan By Rail’s forum Dec. 9 at Washtenaw Community College: Why doesn’t the Amtrak train stop in Ypsilanti?

      After the meeting, Derrick James, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs for the Midwest, approached Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber and told him the first step was for the city simply to ask.

      And so on Tuesday, the Ypsilanti City Council will consider a resolution asking Amtrak to explore adding a stop in Ypsilanti. The effort is separate from the planned Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail, which was originally scheduled to start running in October, but was delayed because of logistical and funding issues.

      The council’s resolution to approach Amtrak Midwest’s government affairs office would start the process to get an Ypsilanti stop, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman. Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation would have to seek approval from Norfolk-Southern Railroad, the freight train company that owns the rail lines, and make sure the new stop wouldn’t interfere with freight traffic.

      Amtrak also would conduct an economic analysis to determine whether an Ypsilanti stop would be beneficial to its service. One of the concerns Magliari noted is the proximity of train stops in Ann Arbor and Dearborn.

      Depot Town “is very attractive, but you are also very close to other stations,” he said.

      Depot Town currently doesn’t have a place where a train can stop. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and MDOT are funding a 300-foot platform with a kiosk on the west side of the tracks, and the Ypsilanti Freighthouse is inching closer to opening at least part of its historic structure, which includes a bathroom and a cafe…

      As Tom noted, this has nothing to do with the Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line, which, as I understand it, is still in the works. Speaking of which, if you haven’t yet, please call your elected officials and urge them to support the newly reintroduced rail bonding bill in the Michigan Senate. (We discussed it in depth at the end of the last legislative session here.) The bill, introduced by Rep. Wayne Schmidt, is now HB 4035, and, if passed, would allow us to match the $161 million in federal high speed rail funds that were awarded in late 2010. If we don’t come up with this match, we will lose the federal funds, which will be reassigned to other, more forward looking, states. I’d encourage you to write to everyone from our new Governor, Rick Snyder, and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Mike Finney, who has, among other things, been charged with overseeing state-wide transportation initiatives, to your State Senator. This is particularly true if your State Senator is Republican Randy Richardville of Monroe, who represents the Pittsfield/Saline area. As the new Michigan Senate Majority Leader, it’s doubtful that this can happen without his support. (Ypsi’s new State Senator is Democrat Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor.)

      As for whether or not Ypsi should have a stop on the existing Chicago line, I’m not sure. Given how close the Ann Arbor station is, I don’t know that it makes sense. Yes, it would be cool if we could grab the train to Chicago from Depot Town, but I’m not sure it makes sense to have two stops so close to one another in this instance. (The Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line we’ve been talking about, however, is a completely different animal, and it’s imperative that we get a stop on that one.) But, I’m glad to hear that there’s a movement afoot to have Amtrak look into the feasibility of it… Who knows, maybe they’ll suggest shutting down the Ann Arbor stop and moving it to Ypsi, which, in my opinion, would be cool. There are, however, those who don’t want a Depot Town stop, as it will, in their opinion, make it more difficult for the customers of existing businesses to find parking. If you’re interested, you can read an earlier discussion we’ve had on that issue here.

      If you’ve got the time, I’d suggest reading Tom’s article (linked to above) and the comments which follow it. They’re pretty entertaining. Here’s one of my favorites. It comes from my friend Murph, who, I think, did a damned fine job debunking some of the assertions made by the anti-rail contingent.

      MDOT has Michigan Amtrak ridership statistics online dating back to 1994 – Fiscal Year 2010 saw the highest Michigan Amtrak ridership in that period (even including the Toronto service in the numbers for the ’90s).

      Even above that record ridership, for 1st quarter FY 2011 (Oct-Dec 2010), Michigan Amtrak ridership was up 23% on the Detroit Chicago line; Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago was up 30%, and Grand Rapids-Chicago up 8%. Revenue increases were even higher than ridership on all three routes.

      Michigan residents (like Americans across the country) are more and more looking to rail as effective and efficient transit.

      Meanwhile, the myth that fuel taxes pay for roads is an attractive one, but just that – a myth. As of 2009, non-”user fee” revenues were providing a nearly 50% subsidy of road construction and maintenance, up to $70B a year. This subsidy will only increase, as driving miles are dropping annually, and fuel taxes even faster.

      Transportation – both road and rail – are critical to our economy and quality of life: the subsidy of either is not per se a problem. Rather than obsessing over its existence, we need to make sure we’re looking at what we’re getting for it – and the statistics show that even a minimal and chronically underfunded rail system can attract riders away from driving. With gas prices headed up, added rail service deserves a serious look.

      update: Murph apparently can’t stop talking once he gets started on this subject. He just left the following comment here, on this site. I thought that I’d move it up here so that everyone else could see it.

      It’s important to avoid seeing this as an all-or-nothing deal – as you mention, there are a few different things in the works, including the A2-Detroit commuter line and the Midwest high-speed rail initiative, which primarily focuses on upgrading speed, frequency, and reliability on existing Amtrak routes.

      I can tell you with some certainty that a service that qualifies as “high-speed rail” won’t stop in Ypsi (or Dexter, Chelsea, Grass Lake) – as some commenters on AA.com note, a big piece of speedy service is a limited number of stops. If you have to slow down, stop, unload, load, start up again every ten miles, you’d never make good time, so providing good service means being selective about stops.

      The solution is having the right hierarchy of service – ultimately, in this case, you might get on the commuter in Ypsi and switch over to the Chicago line in Ann Arbor. A commuter would have lower top speeds, but more stops and more frequent service, good for shorter distance travel, while the high-speed line would have more limited stops and schedules, but cover distance more quickly. (Much like you use the freeway for some types of driving, surface streets for others, or in combination.)

      From the Michigan By Rail forum mentioned, I recall there being discussion that, depending on environmental clearances, SEMCOG may be able to build platforms at the Ypsi and Wayne/Westland (airport transfer) stops this spring/summer, even if the commuter service per se doesn’t begin yet – so could Amtrak just start offering a stop, once they’ve got a platform that meets Federal requirements? I’d think of this as an interim arrangement until the commuter service was able to serve Ypsi, and the service hierarchy above is able to take place.

      It seems a pretty reasonable arrangement, though, assuming Amtrak & MDOT were able to get sign-off from the freight companies (Amtrak has particular time windows it has to hit in the track schedules, especially once it gets into the congestion around the southern end of Lake Michigan). Not only could it provide an additional, incremental service option, but might also help start producing numbers for the commuter line. We can’t expect an Wolverine-schedule stop in Ypsi to bring anything close to the ridership that a commuter-schedule stop would, but it would give us more data to shove into the models.

      As far as the financial myths around transit, I strongly recommend Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transit, by Paul Weyrich and William Lind. The book includes ten papers written by these two conservative think-tankers, presenting the conservative case in support of transit, especially rail. (For a gentle introduction, check out The American Conservative magazine’s Center for Public Transportation.)

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Rail, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

      Orgasm Inc.

      I don’t have time to write a comprehensive post at the moment on the, either real or imagined, epidemic of female sexual dysfunction, but, at a friend’s suggestion, I just watched the trailer for the documentary film Orgasm Inc., and I wanted to pass it along in hopes that it might lead to an interesting Saturday night discussion…. Please feel free to use aliases.

      Posted in Health, sex | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

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