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Alpine Chocolat Haus sets up shop in downtown Plymouth

For years customers, whether northern Michigan residents or travelers, have been sweet on Alpine Chocolat Haus, making it an institution. After nearly 20 years in business, the chocolate-maker is opening a store downstate in downtown Plymouth.

The candy and ice cream store owned and founded by "der Chocolatmeister" Bruce Brown is known for handmade truffles, chocolate potato chips, caramel corn and apples and more. Brown's fourth store, and first in metro Detroit, opened last month at 322 S. Main Street on the city square, across from Kellogg Park.

Alpine Chocolat Hauses are also located in Gaylord, where the first store opened in 1985, and in Boyne City and Sault Ste. Marie.

The Plymouth store is designed and furnished to encourage customers to linger there and to be a part of the city planners' intention to stroll and stay downtown by giving them shops, a park, and events such as the Plymouth Ice Festival.

Source: Michael Fernandez, managing member, Alpine Chocolat Haus, and Plymouth Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers opens in Farmington Hills

Flint-based Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers has plans to take a bite out of the metro Detroit burger business with a new location in Farmington Hills.

It's the second location for the company, Spartan Pastabilities LLC, which opened the first Freakin' Unbelievable in May 2012. It quickly made plans to expand and franchise its "burger customization" concept in upscale casual settings.

The Farmington Hills outlet of Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers opened last week at 29206 Orchard Lake Road. The second location cost about $1 million to renovate and will create 10 full-time and 20 part-time jobs.

The new store is designed with digital menu boards so that the always-changing specialty burgers -- Upper Crust Burger, Down Under Burger, Ancho BBQ Burger and many others -- can easily be updated. Burgers also come with gluten-free buns or in vegetarian versions, and regional craft beers will be on tap and sold by the bottle. Create your own burger contests for a placement in the line-up is part of the restaurant's concept as well.

The interior is meant to be more inspiring than a typical burger chain. A monochromatic color scheme is mixed with corrugated metal, intricate tile work, pendant lighting and a  four-foot chandelier.

Company owner Brett Skaggs is optimistic his burger can compete with national biggies, which are located nearby.

"We believe our burger is better," he says, "and we believe that locals want to support a company that's based right here in Michigan."

Source: Megan Spencer and Brent Skaggs, Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers
Writer: Kim North Shine

Which Wich sandwich stores coming to Grosse Pointe, Southfield

A pair of longtime Grosse Pointe friends are channeling love of the city - and their desire to be business owners - into a new sandwich store in Grosse Pointe's Village business district.

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, a franchise started in Dallas by a Michigan native, is moving into a 1,650-square-foot space at 17045 Kercheval  Avenue. Sweet Little Sheila's bakery and creperie previously occupied the spot. It relocated into a smaller store down the street.
Grosse Pointe Park natives Michael Berschback and Nabil Shurafa plan to open two Which Wiches, one in Grosse Pointe and the other in Southfield. They have been friends since first grade and love the place where they grew up. The Village was their stomping grounds, their destination when they wanted to add to their baseball card collections.  So it was especially exciting when an executive from Which Wich visited the Village and "fell in love with the territory," Berschback says.

Renovations on the Grosse Pointe store are starting this week and opening day is expected in mid- to late March, Berschback says. There will be space for 43 seats. Which Wich in Southfield will open by summer possibly as part of the second phase of City Center, which is under construction.

Berschback and Shurafa decided to become business partners when Shurafa was talking over the holidays about leaving his job with a hedge fund and moving back to metro Detroit from Princeton, New Jersey.

"He was thinking about Dunkin' Donuts," says Berschback. "About a week after he and I talked I went to a Which Wich in Petoskey and was blown away. The ordering was so unique, the quality of the food so good. I called him right then, from the parking lot and said, 'This is what we need to do.' "

In Grosse Pointe, where the Village is chock full of coffee shops and bagel stores and a busy Panera bakery, Berschback sees a ready market for a new and different kind of sandwich shop with its fun vibe, promotion of the color yellow and great food.

Which Wich's concept is based on the fun and the different. It uses an ordering system where customers are given a paper bag and red Sharpie to order a sandwich -- either a recommendation to build upon or a create-your-own. The sandwich is served in the same bag, which can be also be drawn on and displayed on the community wall, or used during special promotions for something like letters and pictures for the military.

Which Wich "also makes a fantastic milkshake," he says, a good offering for the locals who still lament the closing of a Burger & Shake restaurant in the same spot.

The two expect Southfield and metro Detroiters to welcome Which Wich as have other cities have. Which Wich's first store opened in Dallas in 2003. The chain has grown to 250 stores in 37 states. The Grosse Pointe store will be the first in metro Detroit and the second in Michigan. Southfield will make it three.

"He sees a lot of prospects in Michigan," Berschback says of his partner, Surafa. "He could start a business anywhere, but he wanted to bring it back to Michigan."

Source: Michael Berschback, co-owner, Grosse Pointe Which Wich
Writer: Kim North Shine

Longtime Grosse Pointe caterer opens Cabbage Patch Cafe

After plugging away for 14 years as a successful home-based caterer serving residential and corporate clients, Pam Dziedzic decided to go retail.

She bought a storefront space on Kercheval Avenue, an eclectic and re-emerging commercial stretch in Grosse Pointe Park, her hometown, and added cafe and bakery to the business plan.

She's calling it Cabbage Patch Cafe and after just six months in business - previously operating under the prior owner's name, Fou 'd Amour - she is expanding, doubling the space and channeling her endless energy and enthusiasm into a cafe that's more than a place to have a meal.

By spring the cafe, which now has four tables, a bakery display case and a refrigerator/freezer for the prepared take-out meals honed by the previous business and carried on by Dziedzic, will have 10-12 tables and space for 40-50 to eat.

"There's so much I want to do," says Dziedzic, a mother of twin high-school students whose passion for cooking and food is contagious. "I want to be be able to rent out the space for birthday parties and showers and do pop-up restaurants with a different theme each month. I want to be known for a place to pick up your prepared dinners, where you can find, heat, and serve healthier options for families, high protein meals for marathon runners and gluten-free meals."

She describes the cafe as "fresh, funky, friendly and fun."

What excites her almost as much as the food business is being a part of changes in Grosse Pointe Park - and the Pointes in general. Cabbage Patch Cafe - the name derived from a surrounding lower-rent neighborhood where Irish help brought their cultural affection for cabbage to their modest homes while working in more affluent residences in the Pointes  - is one of several businesses playing into a larger re-development plan of Kercheval Avenue. The commercial stretch known as The Park borders the city of Detroit, and is a stepchild to the more successful business districts on Kercheval: The Village in the city of Grosse Pointe and The Hill in Grosse Pointe Farms.

In The Park, there is Red Crown restaurant that opened in a renovated art deco gas station 10 months ago. Atwater Brewery is opening a brewpub and biergarten in a church a block away from Cabbage Patch, and other plans to bring new businesses and redesign the street to make it more walkable are unfolding.

"I feel like this might be perfect timing. This area truly feels more urban and I have something that is part of that urban feel," she says. "It's coming out of the comfort zone for Grosse Pointe, and it's needed here. I really want to try to do something that's different for Grosse Pointe."

In the meantime, she's focusing on the mainstay of her business, catering, as she takes on the new job duties that will make her business grow. She has hired a full-time chef, Brittany Swineford, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago and a chef at The Palm in the Windy City. She retained the baker, Brian Rentschler, from the previous business, which was also known for its scones. She and another full-time staffer run the business she's reinventing.

"This has really been a natural progression," she says. "It's a big transition, but it's exciting."

Source: Pam Dziedzic, caterer and owner, Cabbage Patch Cafe & Catering
Writer: Kim North Shine

Gluten-free pierogi biz thriving in St. Clair Shores

When Alicia Bemiss' son was diagnosed with diabetes nearly four years ago her focus went to his diet and how to keep him healthy.

His dramatic weight loss and change in appearance, which was taking place at the time her parents had died just two weeks apart, was a cause for alarm and the start of a new way of living and eating for her, her husband and two sons and daughter.

When she learned that her son's diabetes might be connected to Celiac's Disease - an intolerance of wheat and other gluten-related grains - her way of cooking changed dramatically as she searched for recipes that would keep him happy and healthy at the same time.

Her discovery of a tasty gluten-free pierogi for her "pierogi-aholic son", now 16, eventually became the recipe for a business that is growing so fast she can hardly keep up.

Her Old World Gluten Free Pierogi is based in St. Clair Shores, and the five frozen varieties - and growing - of pierogi is soon to go into cases at Westborn Market, which gave Old World its Product Placement Award at a Michigan foods exhibition.  Currently the pierogi can be ordered online or by phone by individuals, restaurants or stores.

The business started in September and was flooded with orders over the holidays. Her commercial kitchen is located on Harper Avenue in St. Clair Shores, not far coincidentally from a booming gluten-free bakery, Ethel's Edibles.

"My parents were born in Poland. I grew up very Polish. We loved our pierogi. All my kids loved them," Bemiss says. "Once I started making them we could see how many other people wanted the same thing. It just took off."

"Nobody was making pierogi," except a small company called Conte's, she says.

"I didn't want to have the empty starches. I wanted it to be healthy."

For nine months she worked to come up with a recipe based in garbanzo beans, which are high in protein and a good source of iron.

She started selling favorites: potato cheddar cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom, sweet farmers cheese, salmon and cheese and savory sweet potato and making them preservative-free, with butter and cheese with cultured milk so they're virtually lactose free, she says.

Demand was so great she was consumed with cooking and is now focusing on the business end as she prepares for wider distribution: UPC codes, ingredient labels and more.

"Gluten-free is here to stay," she says. "It is not a fad or a trend. It is a health issue and there is a demand that will not be going away."

Source: Alicia Bemiss, owner, Old World Gluten Free Pierogi
Writer: Kim North Shine

Stay Pure Juicery imports Cali juicing savvy to Ferndale

After two months in business, Stay Pure Juicery in Ferndale is moving from a pick-up and delivery operation to a retail and juice bar.

Juicery founders Kimberly and Eric Bruneau learned about the benefits of juicing while living in California for 13 years, and after deciding to move back to Michigan to be near family they continued their juicing and acted on a thirst for knowledge about the health benefits, especially after Eric's father died of cancer.

The Bruneaus officially launched in October after months of juicing for friends and family. They outfitted a production facility at 22020 Woodward Avenue in Ferndale with two-ton and four-ton presses and other equipment "to make the most nutritious juice we possibly could," says Eric. The juice can be ordered for pick-up at the production facility or for delivery.

Sales have convinced the couple that the business is ripe for a retail storefront, and in March a juice bar and store will open on 9 Mile in downtown Ferndale. Cleanses are also big sellers, and the Bruneaus are preparing for a major upswing in orders in the new year.

Their Stay Pure Juicery is an entrepreneurial endeavor based in personal beliefs rooted in a family history of cancer, a hockey player son's need for sugarless replenishment, and in revelations about how suspected damage from processed foods and environmental chemicals might be undone by coconut and wheat grass and other drinkable fruits, veggies, plants and spices.

The Bruneaus say their juice is different and better because it's cold-pressed, saving nutrients. It's also not pasteurized, another nutrient-saver, and bottled based on sound research and personal experience. It has a shelf life of only three days, while mainstream juices are pasteurized and can last for many weeks.

They're spreading their message and their product through shows such as the Health & Fitness Expo at the Detroit Marathon, through partnerships with fitness and yoga studios and at lunch-and- learn educational sessions at local business.

"We're all about education and that's the key for people to understand," Eric Bruneau says. "We're not saying we're doctors. What we're saying is all the studies have shown there are the health benefits, that this is what we need to be putting into our bodies."

"We believe any juicing is better than no juicing," he says. But their knowledge of how to make the juice -- cold, instead of typical blenders that can heat and remove nutrients, for one thing -- does make a more beneficial product.

Eric, who has worked for Sony Pictures and Dreamworks in visual effects and also headed studios in Michigan, is dedicating himself full-time to the business he says can make people feel better, have more energy, and perhaps prevent disease. Kimberly is working to perfect a cookie recipe that's protein-packed and tasty and can be sold at the new store.

The couple see this as a way to take care of themselves, people they love  and others and to make a living doing something meaningful.

"There are many facets to why we chose, many life-changing experiences that brought us here," he says. "We just want to do a small part to educate and help, if we can."

Source: Eric & Kimberly Bruneau, founders, Stay Pure Juicery
Writer: Kim North Shine

Plymouth's Mattress 4 U brings organic to the bedroom

In the 1980s, Mattress 4 U was into the waterbed craze and since then it's followed trends in sleeping, the latest being organic mattresses and a desire by consumers to know what's inside their mattress and what chemicals have been used to treat it.

The store started in Greenville in western Michigan and expanded to Plymouth in the summer of 2013, opening a store at 44717 5 Mile Road. It serves mostly Northville and Plymouth and calls itself Michigan's only certified organic mattress retailers.

Shoppers can find mattresses made from 100-percent organic cotton, natural rubber latex, renewable products, cruelty-free Eco Wool and with no chemicals.

It's a growing business, and unlike waterbeds of the 1980s, may be here to stay, says owner Billy Pennington.

Source: Billy Pennington, owner, Mattress 4U
Writer: Kim North Shine

Hear the sweet sound of success at Expressions Music Academy

The three-year-old Expressions Music Academy in Novi is taking its show to another road, this one a new studio and music lab in Troy.

The music school opened in 2010 and has built an enrollment of about 500 students in all sorts of music lessons, including show choir and and band. Growth happened so fast, with students from 6 to 66 coming for group and private lessons in voice and about a dozen instruments as well as other musical programs that owner Jessica Schatz expanded the Novi location into adjoining space after just two years. A year after that expansion there's such a demand from students across metro Detroit and Ann Arbor that she's adding the Troy location.

The new Expressions Music Academy will open in January at 4000 Livernois Road in Troy. The Novi academy is located at 43370 W. 10 Mile Road. The music lab is equipped with iPads and keyboards for music education programs.

"Our mission is to provide all students with the opportunity to enjoy a complete music education. While private lessons are the central focus of our educational approach, we also expose students to the big picture of music through additional programs such as Studio Class, early-childhood music classes, choral groups, an interactive music lab featuring iPads loaded with educational apps, access to our music library, a music appreciation program, and opportunities to participate in our mixed instrumental and vocal concerts and recitals," says Schatz, a pianist who once taught 30 students from a home school.

"Our students are inspired to master their own choice of instrument while we nurture in them a lifelong love for music in general. We truly believe in the power of a holistic approach to music education. We do not have a storefront or sell books or instruments. We are dedicated 100% to music education, and we are good at it."

Source: Jessica Schatz, founder and owner, Expressions Music Academy
Writer: Kim North Shine

Eco-minded cleaning co. in Plymouth expands

When Nicole Mezel-Bernath got into the organic cleaning business in 1996, organic was not nearly so mainstream.

As time went on and her customers wanted clean homes without the chemicals, her business, Nicole's TLC Cleaning, grew.

Nearly 20 years after expanding to five cities near her company's home base of Plymouth, she's now adding a South Lyon`office as her two-person cleaning teams take on more residential accounts. The office in downtown South Lyon opened in early November.

"There is a need out here," Mezel-Bernath says.

She says it's a desire to keep chemicals out of the home that's driving the business and creating jobs for her employees.

Instead of using toxic chemical products, Nicole's TLC Cleaning cleans with substances such as tea tree oil, citrus solvents and essential oils.

"We think simple choices in cleaning products can make a big difference in your family's health and our communities," she says.

Source: Nicole Mezel-Bernath, founder and president, Nicole's TLC Cleaning
Writer: Kim North Shine

Pierogi Gals' pierogi take off in Metro Detroit stores

Pierogi Gals, a fledgling business based in Grosse Pointe Woods, got its start like so many food businesses do: from a family recipe.

For many years the pierogi-making fell to the family matriarch. When she became terminally ill her daughters, Karen Andrews, Victoria Les and daughter-in-law Helen Les, realized they should learn from the master before she was gone.

Eventually they were giving away dozens and dozens of pierogis until they finally heeded repeated advice that they should sell their family's version of Polish dumplings.

"People would ask for them and we'd say sure. We'd give them as gifts. Our list kept getting a lot longer and longer. Since people kept saying,, 'These are so good you should sell these,' we thought what the heck. I was getting close to retirement, my sister was getting close to retirement.

"That was 2011…it took us a couple of years before that to figure out how to start a businesses, what licenses we needed, what did we have to do. We'd never done anything like this."

The trio -- two of them teachers, the other a computer tech -- initially sold pierogi online and by phone orders. It didn't take long before they were in the freezer case of the first store, Oxford Beverages in Grosse Pointe Woods. They got major help from Michigan State University's Product Center and also from MSU packaging students who helped them correct their original, less-than-ideal container.

Once the business was going and they were selling pierogi at farmers markets and such, more stores came calling: three Randazzo's markets in Macomb County and more recently Holiday Market in Canton.

Now suddenly, sort of, the commercial kitchen and mixer where they make several varieties -- their family's favorite farmer's cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom; potato cheddar; redskin truffle; spicy potato cheddar; and seasonal apple and blueberry -- are no longer large enough and they're looking for more space, more supplies and help.

"We're just amazed at how it's gone, and we don't know how far it will go," she says," but it's been a wonderful experience so far."

Source: Karen Andrews, co-founder, Pierogi Gals
Writer: Kim North Shine

"Spiritual revolution" stokes Boston Tea Room expansion

When the Navarre sisters and their mother decided to open a second spiritual services store in 2009 in downtown Ferndale, friends and acquaintances told them they were crazy, that there was nothing good in the cards for such a specialized business during such a stall in the economy.

They were wrong about the Boston Tea Room, which has a yoga studio in Wyandotte, a meditation practice in Ferndale and many other services, including  tarot card, tea leaf and other readings, and its future.

"Within two years our Ferndale store was matching the sales of our Wyandotte store without pulling any business from there," says Heathleigh Navarre, one sister in a sister-sister-mother team that runs Boston Tea Room. 

Just short of its five year anniversary in Ferndale, the Boston Tea Room in Ferndale  is proving the naysayers wrong by moving into a 3,000-square-foot space -- more than double its previous spot -- to keep up with demand.

"We're a destination spot," says Navarre. "People drive from Holly, Saginaw, Kalamazoo."

She is a certified meditation specialist, a tarot card and mediumship reader. Her sister, Vanessa Navarre, is a yoga instructor, and their mom, Carole Navarre, who took over the family business in Wyandotte about 18 years ago, is the one who makes sure the customers and staff are happy. Each shop has 8-10 readers on staff.

"We've grown organically by responding  to customer demands and feedback" says  Heatherleigh Navarre. "When we decided to add a second location I don't f anyone was thinking about the future. We were growing pretty quickly. This was not one of those entrepreneurial five-year plans. We were just naturally responding to the market."

And even with the economy in a downturn, she says, the number of people looking for spiritual healing, self-discovery, and internal analysis kept increasing.

"It's part of a spiritual revolution," she says. "People still want products, but they want a product with meaning, something that goes beyond a gadget."

Source: Heatherleigh Navarre, co-owner, Boston Tea Room
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Royal Oak going to the gourmet dogs

The new year will welcome at least one new restaurant to downtown Royal Oak.

Detroit Dogs will serve gourmet hot dogs made with Dearborn franks and buns made in a Hamtramck bakery alongside other Detroit-bred products: Better Made chips and Faygo drinks among them.

Hiring and renovations on the space at 200 W. Fifth Avenue are underway and expected to be completed in early January.

The owners bring with them extensive restaurant experience in Monroe County and were asked by local investors to roll out the gourmet dog concept in metro Detroit.

Source: City of Royal Oak
Writer: Kim North Shine

Abundant Living art gallery adds to downtown Wyandotte's biz line-up

Wyandotte, with its annual art fair that draws thousands, is becoming an art-lovers destination all year long with yet another downtown gallery opening.

Abundant Living Gallery opened last month at 113 Elm Street. It's a place for collectors, gift-givers and home decorators. Owner Pam Riley sells paintings and sculpture in wood, metal and concrete from a West Michigan artists along with photos, jewerly and other creations by local artists and artists in other parts of the world.  All are handmade and have a story to tell, says Riley. One of the best parts of being a gallery owner, besides meeting customers, she says, is getting to know the artists.

"Every chance I get, I go to where they create their work, their studio or their home," she says. I'm don't want to make a pest of myself, but I want to pass on their stories to the people who come to the gallery. I think the story behind the art is what makes it meaningful."

Riley sees downtown Wyandotte, known for its annual art fair that attracts thousands of metro Detroiters, as an ideal place to show and sell works of art.

"I think Wyandotte's is the second largest art fair in the state," she says. "There's a lot of interest here in art and a lot of word of mouth going out."

Hers is at least the fourth gallery in downtown Wyandotte, something she sees as a good for business and the city. Before her came River's Edge, Glowfish Studios and Firehouse.

"The nice thing is there's room for all of us. I don't feel like we compete. I think we complement each other," Riley says. There are so many niches in art, and I'm careful not to sell the same things as they sell. What it does, having all of us here, is make Wyandotte more of a destination."

Source: Pam Riley, owner, Abundant Living Gallery
Writer: Kim North Shine

Blumz growing Ferndale-based flower biz with new Ann Arbor store

Blumz by JRDesigns is expanding its floral and event planning services to Ann Arbor.

The owners, Jerome Raska and Robbin Yelverton, have established the business by becoming known for a knack for locating exotic blooms and for a fun attitude. After cementing sales and a following in downtown Detroit and Ferndale they felt the obvious move was to extend its reach to Ann Arbor.

The new store is located at 540 Avis Drive, and if like the other stores, it will connect it to major university and community events as well as become a go-to for weddings, funerals and special occasions. Blumz is a staple on the charity party scene and is connected to major events in Detroit and Ferndale.

Its Ferndale space is rentable and the floral design studio in Ann Arbor will also be a place for students to learn from the owners who are certified floral educators.

Source: Jerome Raska, co-owner, Blumz by JRDesigns
Writer: Kim North Shine

Skyetique Boutique & Beauty Bar to open in Grosse Pointe Park

Skye Salon & Spa in downtown Grosse Pointe is branching into a blow-dry bar and express service concept with its soon to open Skyetique.

Skyetique Boutique & Beauty Bar is scheduled to open later this month, and a grand opening party is planned for Nov. 29.

Like Skye Salon, a Grosse Pointe staple that's operated from an upstairs space overlooking the Village business district, Skyetique will be located on Kercheval Avenue, but will be about a mile down the road in Grosse Pointe Park in an an old, but re-emerging business district known as The Park.

Besides the blow dry bar, Skyetique will have a tanning area, make-up area, and offer pedicure and manicures and other services that can be ordered via iPads, which will also let customers browse the online store for merchandise they might want to take home.

The new salon is opening in the same neighborhood as Atwater Brewery, which is turning a church into a biergarten and pub and where the Red Crown restaurant opened over a year ago. Several other businesses have opened or are expected to open as the city makes plans to close and redesign the roadway into a pedestrian-centered boulevard. It's all in large part driven by the civic-minded and philanthropic Cotton family of the Grosse Pointes.

Source: Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Kim North Shine
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