Friday, January 23, 2015

Buckle up for the Saturday Six Pack episode II

Gentle readers, are you excited for the Saturday Six Pack tomorrow? EJ and I listened last weekend and we definately agree with the critics who are calling the show "... equal parts, Craig Fahle Show, Wiretap, and Welcome to Night Vale." Maybe we'll even call in tomorrow. If you happened to miss the last episode, you can listen here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The DDA at a turning point?

There are a contingent of Ann Arborites (or at least commentors on MLive) who despise Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Authority and think it should be dissolved. A larger group of people think the DDA has grown too large and powerful and think it would benefit from more direct control either form the city council or through popular election of (some) board members. I don't have hard numbers on this, but my sense is that most Ann Arborites support the DDA, though they may not be particularly vocal about their support. This makes sense. Downtown Ann Arbor is nice and business seem to be thriving. The most visible DDA projects are parking, infrastructure and the go!pass.

If I were on the DDA, I would be very worried about the general discontent being expressed by folks about the proposed Downtown Ambassador Program. The fact that the most vocal opponents of the program are coming from people who have been supporters of the DDA would be very worrisome. Remember the Citizen's Filibusterer of April 15th 2013? That night, 45 people spoke at a public hearing about proposed revisions to the DDA Ordinance. The majority of people that night voiced support for the DDA.

If the proposed Downtown Ambassador Program comes to fruition, it will surpass parking, infrastructure and the go!pass as the most visible thing the DDA is doing. If this happens, I think the DDA will lose a lot of support from the people who make up its large, if somewhat apathetic, base. If the DDA decides to go forward with the Downtown Ambassador Program, I don't think it will be able to count on as many people coming to a city council meeting to voice their support for it.

So, given the staunch opposition to the Ambassador Program from folks who are traditional DDA supporters, why hasn't the DDA backed away from the proposal? A clue to that comes from a comment DDA board member and /aut/ bar owner, Keith Orr, left on MarkMaynard.Com's post about the Ambassador Program:

I am on the DDA and in your network… and a business owner… and I voted against it for a variety of reasons. The main two were (1) cost, and (2) the relationship to the mission was too tangential.

And seeing the mention of Al, I believe there were four of us who voted against…Al, Rishi, Sandi, and me. I believe a move to reconsider would be useless without heavy, broad-based lobbying. It would be most effective from stakeholders. Three of the four neighborhood associations all spoke strongly in favor. Get State Street (especially) to reconsider their endorsement and you might see a shift.

Where Keith says "neighborhood associations" I think he is referring to the Commercial Associations within the DDA boundary. These are the Kerrytown District Association, the Main Street Area Association, the State Street Association and the South University Area Association.

So the DDA is getting pressure for the Ambassador Program from three out of the four Commercial Associations within its boundary, especially the State Street Association. If you, gentle reader, are opposed to the proposed Ambassador Program then contact the DDA. Also, let your friends know that they should contact the DDA. If you own a business within the DDA boundary or any one of the Commercial Association boundaries (especially State Street) let these organizations know what you think.

Finally, if you support the Ambassador Program, I welcome your comments. I would really like to know how you think the Ambassador Program would help Ann Arbor's downtown.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some thoughts on the DDA Ambassador Program and Homelessness

Today the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's Operations Committee met to discuss a ~$900,000, 3 year contract with Kentucky based Block By Block to provide a Downtown Ambassador Program. According to folks who attended the DDA Operations Committee meeting today, the Ambassador Program would address issues like "panhandling, nuisances, cleanliness and wayfinding." The News' coverage of the Jan. 7, 2014 DDA meeting, Block by Block's proposal said they would "... charge $365,971 a year to provide 340 hours of weekly service, with ambassadors working in different shifts, sometimes walking, sometimes biking, sometimes riding a Segway." According to the proposal, Ambassadors would start at just $9.50 per hour and earn up to $10.50 per hour after the first year. A team leader would start at $12 per hour, and an operations manager would be salaried at $40,000 in the first year.

Doing a little math, we can see that $365,971 a year for 340 service hours per week comes down to a cost of $20.70 per hour of service from the Downtown Ambassador Program. This seems like a lot of money for mostly under paid employees. On top of that, the program seems to have no explicit goals other than improving "panhandling, nuisance issues, cleanliness and wayfinding." There has got to be a better way to deal with these issues than hiring an outside company, that doesn't pay its workers well to provide para-security services to Downtown Ann Arbor.

The issue of homelessness in Ann Arbor and specifically homeless camps came up at last nights's Ann Arbor city council meeting. While I know Ann Arbor and Salt Lake City are not perfectly analogous, I think it is worth noting that Salt Lake City adopted a program to provide some of its chronically homeless citizens with housing at a cost of approximately $11,000 per person per year. The city calculated that the Housing First program saved money through reduced costs on shelter, ER, ambulance and police services used by some chronically homeless. I know the causes of and solutions to homelessness are complicated. That said, it's worth noting that for the proposed amount Block by Block will charge per year to the DDA for its para-security force, approximately 30 homeless Ann Arborites could be housed.

I don't think the Ambassador Program is a good idea. If there is a great need to address issues like "panhandling, nuisances, cleanliness and wayfinding" in the downtown core, then we should come up with plans to address those issues and hopefully not contract that out to some outside company. Gentle readers, I'd be interested in knowing what your thoughts on the proposed Ambassador Program. I would especially welcome comments from folks who think the program is a good idea, or those who think there is a great need to address panhandling, nuisances, cleanliness and wayfinding in downtown. You can also share your thoughts on the program with the A2DDA here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Alison Bechdel at Penny Stamps this Thursday

Alison Bechdel, author, cartoonist, and genius, will be giving the Penny Stamps lecture this Thursday. It should be pretty awesome. The free event is at the Michigan Theater from 5:10 until 6:00.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Radio Free Ypsilanti

Move over Garrison Keillor, there's a hot new radio show competing for listeners Saturday Nights at 6:00 PM. Local sculptor and internet personality, MarkMaynard.Com is launching a call-in show called the Saturday Six Pack on AM 1700. You can listen on an old fashioned radio, or stream live on AM1700radio.com. Is anybody planning on hosting a listening party?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Michiganders love Middle Eastern Food

Yelp and HuffPo. have assembled a map that shows the most popular types of restaurants in each state. Here in Michigan, we have 184% more Middle Eastern restaurants compared to the national average. The top 5 most distinctive cuisine types in Michigan restaurants in Michigan are as follows:

Middle Eastern -- 184 percent higher than national average.
Diners -- 47 percent higher than national average.
Hot dogs -- 43 percent higher than national average.
Pizza -- 43 percent higher than national average.
Soup -- 40 percent higher than national average.
I feel like our love for Middle Eastern food makes us look pretty respectful, especially compared to those buffet-loving Minnesotans and Iowans. When you dig deeper into our top 5 though, you can definitely see our love for coney dogs in the data.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Crowdfunding campaign for the Ypsilanti Freighthouse

Support the Ypsilanti Freighthouse from Visual Compass Web Design on Vimeo.

Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, a local non-profit, has launched a crowd funding campaign to fund improvements for Ypsilanti's historic Freighthouse. If the campaign reaches its goal of $50,000 by March 1st, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will kick in a matching $50,000. Seems like a pretty good cause.

Via: u/jshwalker on r/ypsi

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ypsi History on MarkMaynard.com

Yesterday MarkMaynard.Com published a great interview with local historian, Matt Siegfried. In the article, Mark and Matt discuss what is known about the activities of abolitionists and slave catchers in Washtenaw County and Southeast Michigan. It's a pretty great read.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Introducing CivCity from the makers of A2 Chronicle

Gentle reader, have you been wondering what Mary Morgan and Homeless Dave have been up to since the shuttering of the A2 Chronicle, look no further than CivCity. The new non-profit seeks to inform, engage and educate folks in local government affairs and civic life. I'm pretty excited.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A2GastroBoy | Le Dog

From 2010-2013 A2GastroBoy polluted the interwebs with a series of drivel about dining in Ann Arbor, and beyond. On a rare occasion these creative dillusions were interesting, thoughtful, and dare I say, entertaining. For the most part however, they were shit and a greater social consciousness, along with a restraining order from Arkma Aynardma, compelled it to stop. In a rare hiatus from retirement A2GastroBoy returns to the writers desk for a meditation on one of Ann Arbor’s crowned jewels. Gentle Readers, I give you SOUP.



When I was a kid soup got a bum rap.  It meant Mom was taking a night off (open a can). It meant I was broke (open a can). Or it meant Dad was trying to lose weight (remember the gassy cabbage soup diet craze?).

As I came of age in the restaurant trade soup became a nuisance. A good soup requires time.  Keeping it warm requires equipment and consumes precious space. Delivering soup to the table is a nightmare. And frankly, making soup profitable is a rare novelty.

Luckily, I have since befriended culinary mentors who hold a different perspective. They enjoy soup. They cook soup.  They served soup at parties and they order soup at restaurants (what?).  Warm soups and cold soups; Delicate, hearty and complex soups. I’ve been shown the errors of my way.  I now dig soup.

Lunch Break

Practical disclosure…My office is in Northeast Ann Arbor, a congested, suburban swatch of earth littered with underwhelming and time-consuming lunch options. I’ve grown to hate the lunch hour.  Like a Pavlovian wrecking ball my stomach starts growling by 11:45. Unlike my biorhythms though, I cannot predict my workday.  Rarely do I have the luxury of excessive time to spend in pursuit of gastronomic nirvana. “Work Lunch” is about caloric utility.

A few years ago, I made a curious discovery. From my office, it’s dramatically faster to jump on M-14 and speed downtown as opposed to enduring the sequence of traffic on Plymouth-Broadway.  It blew my world open. Instead of dreading the thought of getting out for lunch, I was empowered. I started sneaking out, conducting a townie’s treasure hunt for downtown lunch spots. Bi Bim Bops at Eastern Accent (RIP).  Taco Tuesday at Sabor Latino. Marks Carts. MARKS CARTS! I found short-cuts. I invented parking tactics. It became a sport and I started timing myself to see how fast I could make the round trip to Le Dog (record time: 23 minutes; legal drivers may find this difficult to replicate).  Which brings us to the issue at hand.

Le Dog

Author’s Note: For the sake of this piece, let’s ignore hot dogs. Let’s riff on the basis that Le Dog is primarily a soup counter. Using my unscientific study of the customer line I am going to surmise that over 80% of Le Dogs revenue is derived from soup sales. This is soup joint that sells hot dogs. Not a hot dog stand that sells soup.

It’s a curious thing. Much has been written about the quirky red hut on Liberty, the charming proprietors and the epic-glory that is Lobster Bisque. Le Dog is cherished by Ann Arbor in the way people from Austin passionately cry “Keep Austin Weird.”  Still, as I started chatting up friends about Le Dog I found that few, even some hard-core townies had patronized the Main Street branch. That’s an alarming fact when considering that in May 2014 Chef Jules shuttered his iconic Liberty Street stand, consolidating operations on Main Street. Chop-Chop people. Get with the times. Le Dog, or La Soup as I’m wont to call it, is one of Ann Arbors premier culinary treasures…TOP THREE. OK, maybe top 5, still that’s no hyperbole. Treasures need to be protected. Treasures need to be supported.  What good is ending global warming (really people, it’s a thing) if the next generation can’t eat at Le Dog? Buy their SOUP!

Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you’re asking, "how good can it be?" To quote Seinfeld, “they're real and they're spectacular.” Think slow food served fast. Each recipe is made fresh, from scratch with responsibly sourced ingredients. The flavors are rich and textured. Ingredients are forward and deliberate, equally restrained and balanced.  Finishing ingredients are added to order, ensuring integrity of taste and texture. Each soup has the potential to become your favorite.


And the vast selection is a storied experience onto itself.  In May the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported Chef Jules to have [eight bazillion] unique recipes. Soup flavors rotate at his discretion and availability changes by the hour. It makes every visit an opportunity for discovery, save for Thursday and Friday, the high holy days, when Lobster Bisque anchors the menu. Note, these are not intended as an amuse bouche or single course. Each cup is a full meal replacement. As such they skew towards the hearty; think Marrakesh Stew, Stuffed Pepper Soup, Potato+Leek+Mushroom Bisque with Cream. If you’re in the mood to carb-load you can add a hunk of Zingerman’s Paesano or pretzel.

Sounds pretty amazing, right? The folks behind this must be annoyingly pretentious, right?  Au contraire mon frère. While the soups are of note, the humans behind the counters are downright stunning; warm, modest, hard-working and generous spirits with ZERO pretenses. The team embraces each customer as family. And the walls are covered with photos of their own family, making you feel as though you’re visiting a dear relative, not a business. I guarantee, even if you find the soup only modestly pleasing, you’ll become enchanted with desire to support Jules, Ika, Miki and Marolyn.

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to study this business. While standing on cue I fight the urge to check my phone and instead watch pageantry of Soup. I quietly laugh as veteran customers educate newbie companions, each with their own version of Le Dog history.  I marvel at the staff’s ability to engage regulars and welcome new comers, all while expertly expediting the rigors of service within a space equal to a broom closet. I’ve come to believe that if a high-priced culinary agency were tasked to create a successful, relevant soup counter the result would resemble Le Dog. OK, maybe the signs wouldn’t be hand-scrawled cardboard, still you get the point. This is the real McCoy. Genuine Article.

So there you have it. Yes, I could ramble on for another thousand words sharing charming antidotes about my Le Dog experiences. But why live vicariously though my words. Why not get off your well-groomed biscuit and see for yourself. Create your own memories while you support an Ann Arbor institution. Let’s see to it that Le Dog remains a vital part of our community for another thirty years. BUY THEIR SOUP.




FINAL PSA: Le Dog is a serious CASH ONLY hold-out. Even as Blimpy caves to the pressure of plastic commerce Chef Jules remains staunchly opposed to merchant fees. Respect it. Hit the ATM before you get in line.