|© J. Adrian Wylie|
by Sally Mitani
"I wanted it to be cheerful, warm, and inviting. I wanted you to walk in and not know you're in a strip mall," Susan Todoroff says of her Juicy Kitchen Cafe. Her father cut down some pine trees near his hunting cabin up north and had them milled. Her husband, George, used them as horizontal paneling halfway up the walls of the former Maple Gardens Chinese restaurant. Susan painted them with a turquoise translucent wash.
"It took me three tries to get the right color. George also framed the slate blackboards, made the tables. He just knows how to do things."
"It's not rocket science," says George modestly. A quiet and soft-spoken contrast to Susan's sunny vivacity, he is on site a lot. He owns several businesses that supply cable TV and computer technology for horse racing tracks, but they can be run from afar and require only a light touch.
Juicy Kitchen, Susan says, offers "everyday healthy gourmet food." That means, she says, that there's "not a lot of salt, not a lot of fat, not a lot of sugar in our baked goods. People have always appreciated that in my home-delivery business, but I didn't know how that approach would carry over into a restaurant."
Todoroff found her way into the restaurant business via catering. She's heavily involved in the sustainable local food movement, which is how she snagged Dan Vernia as her chef.
Vernia, former chef de cuisine at the Ravens Club, met Todoroff at the Selma Cafe, the weekly benefit breakfast for local food growers, where they both volunteer. (See Inside Ann Arbor, p. 11.) Vernia was looking for an easier job, "so I'd have more time for my pro-bono activities" (his name turns up in almost anything involving local sustainable agriculture). At the cafe, he says, "I'm down to about forty hours a week. That's kind of like half time for me." He's still on good terms with Ravens, where he hosts a monthly networking
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