Food

By Kevin Alan Lamb

WE LIVE IN A TIME WHEN IT IS DIFFICULT TO TAKE 10 STEPS before someone offers their uninvited opinion or advice on how to act, think and run your business.

Rather than lead by example or applaud those pioneering a unique path, we often criticize others who face the changes we weren’t willing to make ourselves. As such, it is refreshing to discover a place, space, and concept designed to help their clients find their own way.

“The D-Loft Cafe is focused on being a hub for the food professional,” says Brandi C Shelton, founder/ owner.

“We assist new and established professionals to grow and maintain their customer base while assisting them in the development of business concepts that increase their brand awareness, financial stability and most importantly creativity. The Cafe works daily on the enrichment of small food businesses by working hand-in-hand with the creator/ owner and continuously developing new and out of the box thinking for the future.

“We work to provide things not normal to a banquet space or hall. Social connections build. A banquet hall isn’t a place to build unless it’s made into a full social environment. TVs, fireplaces, lounge furniture and more provide the client with a different viewpoint. It is a training concept. Social spaces are considered banquet halls but what we do and how we offer the space is by far on a different level to our consuming public.

“Our drink partners both help us to be innovative. No more of the boring drinks. We bring a full brand to the table. It is healthy, tasty and fresh. Our drinks are handcrafted right here in Michigan and they are a super-small business. Lymonheadz started with five total drinks on their menu. In one year we assisted them in the development of 25 flavor combinations and they have even started distribution to stores and restaurants for 2022.

FOR OVER 20 YEARS, SHELTON HAS BEEN BLENDING BUSINESS AND BEYOND, which she credits as the recipe for creating social spaces.

Like rocket fuel for dreams realized, Shelton’s passion and vision continue to provide others a guide to reach, and navigate their stars. The D Loft’s mission is to ensure each professional that walks in their doors is successful on three levels.

• START: Beginning stages of building the business and brand foundation.

• MOVE: Movement is the element where the business is growing and gaining momentum with a brand presence.

• TRIUMPH: The final stone to the foundation of building a business. When the company is established and working, growing and making money. It is the crossover point of knowing you are in the winners circle.

NO MATTER YOUR PROGRESS ON YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY, the D Loft’s mission should excite and quite possibly intrigue you. Their studio space focuses on being a part of the arts, building with educational programs, independent artists, and other small businesses. They host a variety of different business and art-based forums, all by special invitation only.

There’s even a bed-and-breakfast. “Another hole in my belt of trying something new. We took a home and converted it into a boutique style, mini-hotel concept, with art and more. We removed the basic kitchen appliances and replaced them with what a general hotel would have, and created a breakfast menu for up to eight to partake in every morning of your stay. What can go wrong with shrimp and grits, French toast or pancakes, fruit platters, fresh juice, alkaline water and desserts?”

Investing time, energy, and love into the realization of others dreams, helps illustrate the reality that a dream shared, is less likely to be a dream deferred.

“There are several success stories. From food to food trucks. The mission is sustainability. From Confections Factory to Flavor for the Soul, Jerri’s Cheesecakes, Rosey Cheeks Treats, Sweet Babe Treats (our sweet lineup), Blu VI Catering, Chef Taz Bistro (our co-Executive Chefs), Chrissy Cuisine, Culinarian’s Corner (our Executive Chef and Food Director) to Fantastic Fruit (fresh fruit and veggies) and more. On the food truck side, we built a relationship with Touch of Honey and DC Novelty Eats and they both are gaining momentum.

“Touch of Honey is focused on the building phase of life. Her final goal is full domination in the communities where she becomes a household name. She brings back that mama approach, providing you a meal that reminds you of Sunday dinner on a Tuesday. All of them hold something special to me and the foundation of what the cafe stands for. Collectively, there are 20 members that build up.”

Visit the D Loft’s three locations – Hamtramck, Ferndale and Oak Park – to experience its wondrous offerings for yourself.

13710 W Nine Mile Rd, Oak Park
138 Stratford, Ferndale
313.879.0750 | thedloftcafe@gmail.com

By Mary Meldrum

FORGOTTEN HARVEST IS CELEBRATING THEIR NEW HEADQUARTERS AT 15000 8 MILE ROAD (at Hubble, a quarter-mile east of Greenfield). The new campus is a 78,000-square-foot purpose-specific building large enough to bring all their employees under the one roof. The warehouse will have ample space to house, sort and refrigerate more fresh nutritious food for Metro Detroiters. Chris Ivey has been with Forgotten Harvest since 2018, helping to make sure no one in Metro Detroit needlessly goes hungry. Chris’ daily responsibilities include marketing and communications both internally and externally for Forgotten Harvest. He also recruits volunteers and works with the Development Department as they do fundraising for the organization.

“This new warehouse will have volunteer opportunities for approximately 60-70 people a day. We have two ways Forgotten Harvest accepts food.” One method is receiving large bulk loads from distributors and manufacturers. They also have their grocery trucks, the smaller box trucks that travel to Kroger, Trader Joes, Meijer’s and Costco where they rescue nutritious food from those organizations. This includes the “seconds” or the ugly or bruised fruits, which are all still edible, just not the prettiest.

Chris goes on to explain the new warehouse: “Right now, the grocery rescue is picked up in morning and delivered in the afternoon. With the new model, all the food will be brought into the new warehouse, sorted by food type and mixed more equitably at every distribution site with the larger bulk loads, so they can be delivered daily in a more equitable mix of food types to every location. This will result in a more balanced plate for everyone receiving our services,” explains Chris.

“Right now their distribution network looks very balanced, but if you look down the line, not every distribution place gets the same type of food. Forgotten Harvest is a large organization and reconfiguring the distribution process is a big job. The goal is to make sure each delivery site gets a balanced nutritional plate. We don’t order our food. We get what we get. Right now, we will have a lot of potatoes, onions and things like that. With the new model we will have a better variety and deliver the right food at the right pace at the right time.

“WE SHOULD HAVE THE WHOLE STAFF UNDER ONE ROOF by next Summer. The pandemic proved that the access and distribution network is very fragile because it’s led by volunteers. The access points to the services we provide are the biggest challenge. To have a distribution point in every neighborhood is the need and our goal.”

As Chris explains, “We can’t make it sustainable, and then all of a sudden we’re not there. We have to set it up to keep it up, once a community starts to count on us.”

The other challenge is volunteers. Fortunately, last year Forgotten Harvest had over 13,000 volunteers who gave 55,000 volunteer hours. They always need more and look to corporate, church groups, youth groups, etc. to help out.

When asked about his vision for Forgotten Harvest, Chris shared that “A peek into the future of the organization has me super excited. Our strategic plan will be Board-certified soon. Next June we will be into the new building. It’s a sense of excitement for where we are going.”

Chris is a long-time Metro Detroit resident and the father of two daughters, one in college in Michigan and one a junior in high school. Chris takes advantage of as much of Michigan’s offerings as he can.

Forgotten Harvest
21800 Greenfield Road, Oak Park, MI 48237
Phone: (248) 967-1500 | Fax: (248) 967-1510

 

By Lisa Howard

ANYONE WHO’S EVER WATCHED MAD MEN WOULD PROBABLY SAY that the advertising field isn’t exactly a breeze. But what takes even more dedication is leaving advertising to open a boutique corner market/wine shop/gift store.

“I’ve never worked so hard before in my life,” says Donna Dirkse, owner of The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “And I’ve never been so humbled by the kindness and support that the people in this town have given me. That’s what gets me up in the morning.” She purchased what used to be Tweeny’s in the summer of 2015 with a vision of what her new store would be like and zero experience in owning a business. She points out that there was some beauty to not knowing exactly what she was getting into — as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

The next three years “schooled her,” as she puts it, with Murphy’s Law kicking into action. Fortunately, the daughter of the previous owner stayed on to ease the transition, and a helpful next-door neighbor happened to know the owner of a successful wine business in Detroit who connected Donna with trusted distributors. Those distributors sat down with Donna and explained the ins-and-outs of stocking intriguing, hand-picked wines.

With the help of her husband Troy — who’s a master electrician and all-around handyman — Donna was able to quickly get renovations underway, painting the interior and exterior, pulling up the floor and putting in new tile, and building new fixtures, including new shelving that Troy custom-built using wine boxes and donated French doors. Throughout all of the renovations, Donna kept the doors open so that the community could see and experience the transition. “It’s so much fun to think back on that creation period,” she reminisces. “We wanted customers to feel comfortable when they walk into the store and feel like it isn’t an average party store.”

Those initial three years taught Donna the tricks of the trade, from what kinds of items customers wanted her to stock to how to find the latest interesting products. But then 2020 rolled around…and everything changed. Demand for frozen foods shot up, people were clamoring for fresh produce and, for several months, 90 percent of her business was curbside. Once people re-acclimated themselves to shopping in big-box stores again, though, sales of the new “staples” plummeted and items started to pile up. Deliveries became uncertain at best ordering 28 cases of Gatorade once resulted in getting four cases of Pepsi – and it was difficult to keep popular items like chicken and Popsicles on the shelves. Then, as restaurants reopened, deliveries and products shifted yet again.

BUT, DESPITE THE MYRIAD CHALLENGES, Donna loves running The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “I love my customers,” she says. “I love trying to figure out how we can grow the shop and make it better. I love being part of this community.” She’s constantly amazed by how friendly her regular shoppers are.

Two even stopped by her store on their way home from the hospital to introduce her to their brand-new baby, something she still can’t believe. “How did that even cross their minds?” she says. “When people move out of town, they come in to tell me goodbye. Who does that? Berkley is a ‘big small town’ where neighbors look out for each other. I could not run this store in any other community.”

Donna is always on the lookout for fun new items to bring in, whether that’s dog-chew toys shaped like wine bottles or craft beers. She also sells spice blends and rubs from the Recipe Kit warehouse and offers pizza and sandwiches freshly made in the store. During the holiday season, she’ll be creating gift baskets and passing out hot chocolate at the holiday parade. All of that ties into her core mission: To have fun. “I want customers to find surprises when they come in and to have fun shopping!”

And they most certainly do.

2833 Twelve Mile Rd., Berkley MI 48072 | 248.546.8960
www.neighborsshoppe.com
thedirksefiles@gmail.com

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos © 2021 Bill Gemmell

THERE ARE MORE THAN 78,000 PIZZA RESTAURANTS IN THE U.S., and in 2019 Michigan had the eighth most in the country with 2,718 pizzerias. With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that on any night of the week an average of one-in-eight Americans is eating pizza.*

Roy Sera, and his wife Christine, wanted to help feed that pizza craving in the Berkley community, so they opened their Jet’s franchise location in 1994 at 2823 Coolidge Hwy. The Jet’s Pizza brand alone has over 400 locations throughout the U.S., but Sera likes to think his employees, their dedication, and the residents of Berkley they serve make his restaurant stand out from the rest.

“I chose the location in Berkley because my brother-in-law had a location in Madison Heights and Berkley happened to be just outside of his territory,” Sera said. “I am so glad I went west of his store and settled in Berkley. It has been a wonderful experience because of the people, the residents.”

It probably comes as no surprise that the most popular item on the menu is the classic large, square, cheese-and-pepperoni. But even as a franchise, Sera says there are menu items that are lesser known.

“We have two kinds of pepperoni: the normal pepperoni and an old-fashioned pepperoni that cups up,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know we have them, but once they do they normally order them again.”

Sera credits much of the past 27 years of successful business to his employees. Two of his delivery drivers, Kyle Kleckner and Lester Jones, have been working at his Jet’s basically since the beginning, employees for over 25 years.

“They both are staples of our fast delivery service,” he said. “My general manager, Matt MacDonald, has been with me for over 19 years and has been incredible, especially during the pandemic. All of his brothers and his sister have each worked here at one time or another, too.”

SERA’S OWN FAMILY HAVE ALSO BEEN AN ASSET TO THE BERKLEY JET’S SUCCESS; having helped keep the store staffed when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height.

“On many occasions, I had Christine, my son Ryan and my daughter Alexandria all working on the same shifts to get through the dinner rushes,” he said. “Having my family all working together during the pandemic was a great feeling.”

Despite the positive family-bonding opportunities, much like other businesses, the past two years haven’t always been easy for Sera and Jet’s Pizza.

“The pandemic has really been hard on our work staff. Working with masks and gloves next to a 500-degree oven was challenging,” Sera said. “We have been fortunate with sales but have struggled to have a workforce to support the sales.”

Sera also owns the Southfield Jet’s location at 30120 Southfield Rd., just north of 12 Mile Rd. For anyone who loves pizza and wants to work in a supportive, family-oriented environment, Sera encourages them to join his team.

“We are hiring! Full time, part-time, inside or delivery,” he said. “Apply within!”

Roy Sera; roysera@gmail.com
2823 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley, MI 48072
jetspizza.com
(248) 547-9880
*Pizza statistics from AltoHartley.com & Statista.com

By Lisa Howard

MAYBE YOU’VE BEEN MEANING TO JOIN A FARM SHARE OR CSA to get your hands on the freshest foods possible. Or maybe it’s lunchtime and you just wish you could find a grab-and-go healthy lunch somewhere.

You can do both at Fresh Collective Kitchen & Market! The cozy space offers wraps, salads and omnivore and vegan entrées right alongside fresh produce, farm eggs and locally made healthy snacks. Co-owners Erin Brick and Alison Purdy and CEO Amy Kaltz like to say that Fresh Collective “is a fancy 7-Eleven/mini-Westborn.” (They also serve lattes and espressos made with locally-roasted beans.)

Behind the counter, Fresh Collective also serves as a commissary kitchen. Several of the chefs who rent the kitchen use it to make dishes for their personal catering clients, while others need the space to prep for their food trucks. Some make the array of grab-and-go items the Collective has available every day, like quiches, wraps, green salads, pasta salads, soups, and croissant sandwiches. In response to customer requests, there are plenty of dairy-free and gluten-free options as well.

The story behind the collaborative nature of Fresh Collective began when Erin started a co-op over five years ago. Back then, she was bouncing from one place to another in a quest to stock her home kitchen with the healthiest ingredients possible. “I was tired of going to several different places to feed my family the way I wanted to feed them,” she says. “That’s how the co-op was born.” She partnered with MSU’s Tollgate Farms, and it didn’t take long before she needed someone to help sort orders and serve as a secondary pick-up point. That’s when Alison joined forces with Erin.

BUSINESS WAS PROCEEDING AT A MANAGEABLE PACE …and then the pandemic hit. “Our sales quadrupled because all of a sudden no one wanted to go to grocery stores,” Erin explains. “Although we had originally focused on cheese, meat and eggs, we thought, ‘Well, we need produce now.’ Then it was, ‘Well, we need pantry items now.’”

In short order, they also needed a bigger location. It was pure serendipity that when Erin was shopping at Vitrine, she started talking to Vitrine’s owner, Susan Rogal, about the co-op. The vacant adjoining space formerly housed a bakery, and when Rogal asked Erin if she’d like to trial-rent the space for her co-op, Erin jumped at the opportunity. It’s been onward and upward ever since.

“Because we have such a big following on Facebook from our co-op customers, they talk about us a lot,” Erin says. “Within two months of being open, we had over a thousand Likes – in the middle of a pandemic! Plus, we’re in such a cute section of Coolidge. There’s so much within this little walkable pocket. We love being here.” It’s also a convenient location for Co-op customers to come by and pick up their weekly items. The animal products are from pastured animals, and all produce and animal items are certified organic/produced in accordance with organic standards.

Erin and Alison have added permanent indoor and outdoor seating at Fresh Collective so that customers can grab something to eat and then stay to enjoy it. It’s all part of their goal to offer healthier, more delicious choices to everyone.

Fresh Collective Kitchen & Market
2752 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley MI
248-907-0767
Open Daily www.freshcollectivekitchen.com

By Lisa Howard

LONGTIME BERKLEY RESIDENTS FONDLY REMEMBER AMICI’S PIZZA & LIVING ROOM…and they might not even know that the restaurant ever closed. That’s because the restaurant only shut its doors for one day: January 1, 2020.

On January 2, 2020, they reopened under new ownership as Amici’s Kitchen & Living Room. Tim and Laura Kenrick had been regulars at Amici’s for years – their favorite was the artichoke pizza – and when Tim decided to rethink his career in corporate restaurants, serendipity and googling “restaurants for sale in Berkley” led to buying Amici’s. “It was pretty much a love connection right from the start,” Tim says. “After over 20 years of working in corporate restaurants in this market, I wanted to get back into authentic hospitality. Owning this business allows me to do what got me into this industry in the first place.”

Of course, opening a restaurant in January of 2020 turned out to be an even bigger challenge than the couple had ever anticipated, when they had to revert to curbside-only service after just ten weeks. Tim, Laura and their staff spent the first six months in a hold-steady mode or, what Tim refers to as “no hard-lefts and no hard-rights.”

Gradually, they started making changes here and there, like scrapping paper plates in favor of standard plates and silverware, and renovating the sound system, interior lighting and bar. They also added heaters to the patio before winter hit, which led to parkaclad guests enjoying their dinners amidst a snowy landscape.

IN 2021, MENU CHANGES ARRIVED in the form of appetizers, Michigan beers on draft and new “Tim’s favorites” pizzas. (Don’t worry – the classic pizzas are still on the menu, plus you can still build your own pie.) Laura now makes Amici’s sole dessert: double-chocolate chip cookies. Not surprisingly, they sell out nearly every night. Tim and Laura have added more cocktails to the roster, too, including seasonal drinks like the wintery Brown Sugar Cinn made with house-cinnamon infused reposado tequila, Grand Marnier and lemon juice. While diners will still find plenty of martinis on the menu, the martinis now share the spotlight with margaritas, especially in the summer months when everyone wants fruity and spicy flavors like mango-habanero and strawberry-mint.

One key to the continued success of Amici’s, Tim says, is the staff. Due to the ownership transfer only taking a single day, he and Laura didn’t have to lay anybody off. Also, having worked in the corporate restaurant industry for so long, Tim already had established relationships with hospitality professionals. “Our success is 100 percent due to the staff we’ve been able to keep and cultivate,” he says. “Not being short-staffed right now is an absolute anomaly.” That said, they’ll be closed on Sundays during the winter months to avoid putting too much pressure on their loyal staff. Martini Sundays will become $7 Martini Mondays, followed by $4 Michigan craft beers on Tuesdays, half-off bottles of wine and sangrias on Wednesdays and Thirsty Thursdays with specialty cocktails on offer.

THROUGHOUT THE RESTAURANT’S EVOLUTION, Tim says he’s loved finally owning his own restaurant. And for her part, Laura is just as much a part of the action – Tim calls her the “morale booster and restaurant mom,” roles that she fulfills along with baking the sought-after cookies and being in charge of dough production for both the sourdough-fermented dough and the gluten-free dough.

“She’s the brakes and I’m the gas,” is how Tim describes their relationship. “We’ve been married for 28 years she knows me better than I know myself. It’s a great partnership.” All of the pizza lovers in Berkley would raise a slice to that!

Amici’s Kitchen & Living Room
3249 Twelve Mile Rd, Berkley MI 48072
248.544.4100
www.amiciskitchenandlivingroom.com

By Lisa Howard

These Neighborhood Pizza Pies Are Definitely Amore.

AS THE POPULARITY OF THE TV SHOW CHEERS AMPLY illustrated, sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name. And sometimes you really want pizza.

Those two desires dovetail in the form of Crispelli’s, where Manager Eric Hitchcock says he’s never worked at a restaurant with so many regulars before. Coming from a guy who has spent literally half his life in the restaurant business, that’s saying something. “We have so many regulars that sometimes I feel like I spend my entire day sitting down and chatting with customers,” Eric says. “It feels like family coming in to visit. Some people have been here since Day One, some come in once or twice a week every week and some people make Fridays or Saturdays their regular pizza night. When they come in, you get excited to see them.”

That level of loyalty kept Crispelli’s humming even when they suddenly had to switch to curbside-only in the spring of 2020. While that service model presented a host of challenges, Eric jokes that he felt like he had created the first drive-thru pizza place because so many people rolled up to grab pizzas. “People were very understanding and receptive,” he says. “Even though the dining conditions and carryout conditions may not have been the best when the pandemic first hit, customers kept coming back because they’re fans of our food and fans of our hospitality.” He says the positive community in Berkley has made Crispelli’s his favorite place to work.

The restaurant continues to shift with the times. The bakery area was recently renovated, and the plan is to be open for breakfast service starting in 2022. Crispelli’s will also be celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2022, a milestone Hitchcock looks forward to. Some new items will be popping up on the bakery and breakfast menus (cherry croissants, anyone?) even as the restaurant continues its tradition of making its pizza dough from scratch every day and letting it ferment for several days to create a richer flavor.

“We don’t buy a lot of processed stuff,” he explains. “We get vegetables six days a week and we hand-slice and make everything here. It costs more in labor and hours, but being able to offer great gourmet food at an affordable price makes our efforts worth it.”

THAT DEDICATION TO PUTTING FOOD AND customers first probably explains why the Berkley Crispelli’s is the busiest of all of the locations. They also have restaurants in West Bloomfield, Clarkston, and Troy, plus there’s a Crispelli’s Bakery in Royal Oak. And then there’s the Crispelli’s food truck, which roams Metro Detroit and dishes up their signature pizzas at events like the Berkley Street Art Fest. All of that plus donating to local teams, organizations, and causes is part of Crispelli’s commitment to being a vibrant part of the community.

Along with updating the interior of the restaurant, Crispelli’s equipped its two patios with heaters last year, making it possible for diners to enjoy the great outdoors pretty much year-round. Carryouts are still in demand, too, and the Club Room continues to be a go-to venue for hosting private events like birthdays and rehearsal dinners. “It’s great being part of moments like that in people’s lives,” Eric says. “We know we wouldn’t be here without our customers, and we love to put our best face forward and take care of them.”

Crispelli’s Bakery & Pizzeria | 28939 Woodward Ave., Berkley MI 48072
248.591.3300
www.crispellis.com

By Lisa Howard

IF THE LAST TWO YEARS HAVE TAUGHT US ANYTHING, it’s that we need to find silver linings wherever we can, go with the flow and roll with the punches. Oh, and it helps if we’re eating good food while doing all of that!

Katie Kutscher, who co-owns Berkley Common with her sister Christine Gross, has become an expert in finding innovative, positive ways to run a restaurant through some pretty turbulent times.

“It’s been a roller-coaster of fun ideas and ups-and-downs,” Katie says. “We’ve really tried to capitalize on where people are in their lives and market to them in different ways, whether that’s offering take-out family dinners or getting an outdoor dining area up-and-running when people couldn’t eat inside restaurants. When the shutdown happened, we also partnered with a PR firm and raised $15,000 for restaurant workers in Berkley.”

Being nimble has meant that Berkley Common has been able to keep offering their perennially popular items – the Korean BBQ cauliflower wings with kimchee and sticky rice, the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, the BC burger – even while creating new dishes and dining experiences.

During the summer months, the restaurant hosts its outdoor Uncommon Beach Bar & Bungalow, featuring tiki drinks and summer fare like oysters and lobster rolls. When the weather turns chilly, the Uncommon Lodge & Igloo winter dining program kicks into gear, providing space for up to six diners in each igloo and a menu of hearty, warming dishes.

THE SPACIOUS OUTDOOR AREA IS WHY THE RESTAURANT saw so many diners come from an hour or more away last winter. Berkley Common was one of the few restaurants with outdoor dining capacity. “Regardless of the pandemic, people want more outdoor spaces,” Katie says.

“Whether Covid pushed us along or not – and I believe it did – it’s just good business to have more visual aspects in a city, and that includes outdoor dining spaces. It makes for a more vibrant city.”

She points out that Berkley’s master plan has always included a vision of robust outdoor public spaces. The idea has recently gained momentum, with the City, Schools and Downtown Development Authority teaming up to put in a plaza near the corner of Coolidge and Catalpa. Now Katie is working with the City to create a pocket park on Twelve Mile to allow people to visit restaurants and retail establishments and then enjoy their purchases in an outdoor park setting.

Along with continuing to emphasize their outdoor seating, Katie and Chris have plans to open a high-end weekend cocktail bar upstairs in what’s currently the private event space.

A BIG SILVER LINING FOR BERKLEY COMMON HAS BEEN THAT THE RESTAURANT was able to attract top talent after so many other establishments had to completely close for a good chunk of 2020. The bartenders who came to work at Berkley Common have an impressive knowledge of craft cocktails, Katie says, and she wanted to find a way to showcase those skills.

She’s been able to reopen the event space, too, albeit with much smaller groups than before. And, even though she has fewer seats in the main dining area, the restaurant’s total seating capacity has actually increased thanks to their outdoor tables.

“We’ve had to be pretty creative throughout the pandemic and look at the opportunities,” Katie says. “What’s different? How has the landscape changed, and how can we change and grow with it? We want to capitalize on the momentum of the positive things that have happened.”

As many satisfied BC diners would tell you, the restaurant has done just that.

Berkley Common | 3087 Twelve Mile, Berkley MI 48072
248.677.0795 | http://berkleycommon.com
info@berkleycommon.com

By Sara E. Teller

Businessman, Family Man & Visionary

JACK ARONSON, FOUNDER OF GARDEN FRESH IN FERNDALE AND A MAN WHO GAVE FIERCELY TO THE COMMUNITY HE LOVED, died peacefully in his sleep at age 68 after a battle with cancer. His heart of gold and love for his family will long outlive him.

Aronson was first and foremost a go-getter. He poured passion into everything he did. Son Daniel Aronson, the youngest of five now-grown children, said “I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and father. He was determined and hard-working, and yet he always made time to be with his kids.”

Daniel said of his father’s business mindset that he was always innovative and on the cutting edge. “He was the heart and soul of Garden Fresh,” he said. “He created the recipes. My mom helped make it come together while my dad would go out and sell it. He partnered with business-minded people. When he discovered that some of the products, like onions, were exploding, he researched high-pressure pasteurization vessels; water pressure which kills pathogens extending the shelf life and keeping everything fresh. It was a game-changer.”

Brett Tillander, CEO of Metro Detroit Youth Club, echoed these sentiments, saying of Aronson, “He saw the things that go unseen and heard the things that go unheard.” For the Youth Club, “He was a coach for people who needed it.”

ARONSON DID MUCH FOR THE KIDS INVOLVED WITH THE CLUB. Tillander remembers Aronson set one of the members up to throw a first pitch at a Comerica Park game. Aronson was inspired by her tenacity, Tillander said, and mentored her until, as an adult, she began to work with autistic youth herself. He recalled, “Jack had the ability to seed and inspire others to take action.”

He also added that Jack and wife Annette made a great team, saying, “Throughout their time at Garden Fresh, they both did so much. I remember Annette wouldn’t let the sale of Pepsi go through so that employees wouldn’t lose their jobs.” He chucked and recalled, “One day, Annette came in and some of the employees were anxious about it, wondering why she was there. Turns out, she just came in to wash the windows.”

Daniel and Tillander both agreed some of their favorite memories with Aronson involved food. Daniel called his dad a “foodie” and said he was a “phenomenal cook” who would feed a crowd by coming up with “seven different things that would somehow all come together in the end.” He added, “My favorite memories were driving around finding new places to eat.”

TILLANDER SHARED A STORY OF ARONSON RANDOMLY DRIVING HIM out to Red Hots Coney Island in Highland Park (now closed), putting four coney dogs in front of him and leaving him with a to-go bag of twenty. He didn’t have the heart to tell his friend he had just switched to being a vegetarian. He knew Aronson had a love for food, and Tillander ended up just eating them all. He said, “Whenever Jack was driving, it was an adventure. You had no idea where you were going and yet it was all okay.”

Daniel found his dad’s willingness to go above and beyond and get involved in as many charitable organizations as possible incredibly inspiring. He recalled, “He was involved in lots of charities, not only the Youth Club, he did a lot with the Salvation Army and the Beyond Basics Reading Program.” He added, “Above all, my dad was passionate, compassionate and strong.”

Tillander hopes that “when the silence comes, when the flowers stop, when the cards stop, others remember to connect with Annette and the family. They’ve done so much for the community.”

Jack is survived by his loving wife and devoted partner,  Annette (known as Vitamin A), his children Trevor (Angela), Melissa (Davey), Melanie (Dave), Jack (Bridget) and Daniel (Shantel) as well as 16 beautiful grandchildren, Tyler A, Tyler, Marlie, Janet, Katie, Jayson, Landon, Ryan, Lily, Katie, Emily, Mya, Lea, Hannah, Olivia and Drea, and siblings Kenneth (Joan), Virginia (Gordon), Diana (Roger), David (Lynn). Predeceased by his parents and his brother, Sonny.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Metro Detroit Youth Clubs (www.miclubs.org), Say Detroit (saydetroit.org), Salvation Army of South-Eastern Michigan (centralusa.salvationarmy.org/emi) or Beyond Basics (www.beyondbasics.org).


JACK WAS A PROUD GRADUATE OF FERNDALE HIGH SCHOOL, a restauranteur, and founder of Garden Fresh Gourmet. But, more than that, Jack and his beloved wife Annette, were committed to helping our community and our children achieve a better future. As a part of that commitment, the Aronsons made an incredible investment in Ferndale Public Schools to help improve literacy.

Jack knew that success for any student is built on a strong foundation of literacy. Due to the incredible generosity of the Aronsons, Ferndale Schools was able to hire a full-time reading specialist and purchase flexible learning furniture, computers, and licenses for READ 180 curriculum. READ 180 is a researched-based reading tool that blends reading comprehension, academic vocabulary and writing skills for students. Thanks to the Aronsons, Ferndale High School has been able to provide vital reading intervention and tutoring for hundreds of students.

Jack’s commitment was much more than just financial. In addition to being involved in the reading program at FHS, he and Annette regularly took the students on culturally diverse field trips and brought them lunch so that they could talk and get to know each other. Jack was committed to establishing personal relationships with our students and school community.

Jack’s engagement traveled far beyond the boundaries of Ferndale. He served on the board of Beyond Basics (an organization promoting youth literacy), as well as the national board of the Salvation Army. Through their foundation, Jack and Annette were also significant contributors to Boys and Girls Clubs of South Oakland County, as well as other charitable causes focusing on bettering the lives of children and young adults.

WHILE MANY WILL REMEMBER JACK for his incredible success in the business world. We in Ferndale have been blessed to know Jack personally and to witness the truly life changing impact of his generosity. The greatest legacy any of us can hope to leave behind is one where through our actions in life others benefit when we are gone. Jack has truly left a legacy that will positively impact our community for generations to come.

On behalf of the entire Ferndale Schools family, I want to send my deepest condolences to Annette and the entire Aronson family.

Thank you Jack.

Dania H. Bazzi, PhD
Superintendent, Ferndale Schools

 


THERE ARE MANY FOND MEMORIES OF THE TIMES I SPENT WITH JACK. I know I don’t stick out as anyone special in any particular way but that’s completely appropriate. Jack was a larger-than-life person to probably everyone he knew.

We met when I was running AJ’S Cafe in downtown Ferndale. AJ’s was a beloved “living room” of Ferndale that achieved a lot of local, even national and global attention for the many grassroots activities that happened there. Jack once told me that when he traveled around, people knew two things about Ferndale, him and AJ’s Cafe! That was pretty cool.

When the time came to leave AJ’s Cafe, I was kind of like a fish out of water. I had no idea that the social capital we had achieved at AJ’s could be translated into working capital somehow. I put my chips down on a coffee company and we called it Detroit Bold, because the city of Detroit and all of its people, despite all we had endured throughout the ages, was bold. It was the best word to describe us.

THERE WAS NO ONE I COULD HAVE IMAGINED ASKING FOR ADVICE OTHER THAN JACK. He basically took me under his wing and took me in. I’ll never forget that first meeting on 9 Mile at his headquarters in Ferndale. He sat me down at this super-long executive meeting table with he, Dave Zilko, and Mike Griffin, his trusted cohorts. They began to lay out a plan for me to follow and gave me the necessary roadmap towards success. Detroit Bold is sold in hundreds of stores today and it would never have happened were it not for Jack.

It was not all work, though. I played in his charity softball games because he asked me to be one of the celebrities. I could not imagine myself as a celebrity but hey – if he wanted me to play I was glad to, no questions asked. I knew the cause was good. We had a lot of lunches together, mostly at Red Hot’s Coney in Highland Park. We both were originally from around there and loved to go back. Our roasting operation is there, too. Jack made sure to stop in and see the facilities and lend his name to ours.

In 2016, we lost our mom. Throughout the year, Jack always made sure that I went back home with hummus, chips and salsa. Our mother was bedridden and had a hard time eating, but she sure loved that hummus. I Face-Timed Jack for my mom so she could say hello and, of course, Jack was gracious enough to chat with her.

Jack and Annette (that was our mom’s name too!) attended the funeral and took me off to the side of the room where they gifted our family a check to help with the funeral costs. I was so flabbergasted, it was completely unexpected and quite helpful. Jack and Annette knew that my coffee business was still a fledgling business.

JACK NEVER SOUGHT ATTENTION FOR THAT KIND OF STUFF. I think Jack knew that happiness did not come from the attainment of things. It came for Jack by giving, and quietly so. I think that of all the gifts he has given to me, that is the one that I cherish the most.

If you knew Jack, you know what I mean. If you didn’t know him, rest assured you

would have liked him. He gave his time and talents to me as he would to anyone who crossed his path.

Rest, dear friend. We will carry on and your memory will live on for generations to come.

AJ O’Neil
Detroit Bold Coffee & AJ’s Cafe

 


I KNEW JACK ARONSON SINCE THE ’70S, THROUGH A MUTUAL FRIEND. But I really got to know him and his wife Annette in the early ’90s, working for him at Clubhouse BBQ. Then, in August of 1998, I started working for them making salsa in the back of the restaurant. That’s when the real story began.

As the salsa business grew over the years, so did their love for helping others. Through their humble struggle building a business, so did their humanitarianism grow. They became involved with the Bed & Breakfast Club, Salvation Army, The Boys & Girls Club and many other great giving foundations. They started their own Artichoke Garlic Foundation. They help fund Beyond Basics and many more. They have been there for countless organizations and thousands of individuals over the years.

I love these people who also helped me in my time of need. I can’t express my deep sadness for the loss of my friend. Jack who lost a three-year struggle with cancer. Through his struggle, he learned so much about this horrific disease, traveling to Switzerland, Austria and lastly Hungary in June/July of this year searching for alternative cures. Through his travels, much was learned for future cancer victims.

His memory will live on throughout the world forever. R.I.P. my dear friend and boss in Heaven with all of the other Earth’s Angels.

Sincerely, your Cherbot 2000!
Cher Mitchell


I’D HEARD HIS NAME IN MY HOUSE EVERY DAY FOR YEARS. My mom was always going to work at his house, or she would hang with his wife, Annette (one of her best friends). Jack was my first boss at Clubhouse BBQ in Ferndale. Now I know the whole family, and am sorry for their loss of such a creative and generous man! He loved helping his community.

I was already working at the restaurant when he created Garden Fresh Salsa. I worked at a few different positions for that company too. On one trip in Chicago, Jack told a waiter it was my birthday. It was not, but they didn’t know that, and the staff came with a cake and song. It’s funny to look back on now! He made a pig for my luau graduation party and an employee put the pig’s head on my living room table! (I had just become a vegetarian.)

Jack sent me food often through my mom. He knew I love salmon. He loved me, and called me Amy Lou. (“Jack, like you know that is not my middle name right?”) I used that name on a voice text telling him that I loved him about eight hours before he died. I am very grateful that I knew to tell him that then.

He made his dreams come true and did what he was sent here to do, which is to help people! I could never forget him even if I wanted to. He has been such a big part of my life.

Amy Mitchell


ONE THING ABOUT JACK ARONSON (there are too many to list) is that each relationship he had was unique to that individual. He always made you feel important, no matter if you were a student trying to build your own brand or the CEO of a major company. I never saw any ego in any of my time with him over the years.

When I was in treatment for cancer, he made sure I had food prepared each week, and when it was over he and Annette offered me a job with the Ferndale Literacy Project. He saved my life in ways he and Annette never knew. Heartbroken that I will never hear that booming voice again or have to struggle to keep up with his speed-talking. Love you,  Jack.

Carol Jackson
Ferndale Literacy Project
SouthEast Oakland Coalition

IF THERE’S TIME TO INCLUDE IT, A MENTION OF GREG MUDGE OF MUDGIE’S DELI would befit this issue. We’ll miss seeing him at Western Market. He was a Ferndalian who lived directly behind our store and frequently shopped here. He was a friend to Putnam (our wine buyer, whose previous job was wine buyer & signage for Mudgie’s), Steve, and Jarred.
– Alana Carlson Western Market