Brad Hedeman, director of marketing and product selection for Zingerman’s Mail Order, arrived in Ann Arbor as a U-M freshman in 1994; and though he began his career that year with a job at Zingerman’s Deli, he also, a few years later, waited tables at West End Grill.
“At the time, there just weren’t a lot of restaurant options downtown,” says Hedeman. “If you couldn’t get in at West End, you probably went to the Chop House.”
There were other choices, of course: Real Seafood Company had been a Main St. mainstay since 1975; and Gratzi, Palio, and the Prickly Pear had all opened their doors by the early ’90s. But these eateries were once part of a relatively small grouping that has, in the last decade or so, exploded into a full-blown restaurant buffet in Ann Arbor, thus making the town a go-to destination for serious foodies.
There are many possible reasons for this evolution: the ethnic and cultural diversity of a college town; Ann Arbor’s “hippie” sensibilities, which translated – in gastronomic terms – into a relatively early embrace of vegetarian/vegan and farm-to-table cuisine; a longstanding, community-wide preference for local businesses and food suppliers; a population that regularly gets a sizable injection of new, creative young people every year; and a growing frenzy around the creation and consumption of food that’s swept not just Treetown, but the entire country – a la The Food Network and other media.
“Eating is no longer just about sustaining ourselves,” says Laura Berarducci, a self-described foodie (“Food rules my life,” she jokes) who’s also the marketing director for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s become an experience, and Ann Arbor has a long history of having a very rich food culture. … Washtenaw County provides this great balance between rural and urban, which really helps when the farm-to-table craze suddenly becomes a big deal. … Ann Arbor is kind of unique, in that it didn’t have to change who it was to meet the demands of the foodie traveler.” READ THE REST HERE