For Concentrate: How Ann Arbor Developed its Food Crush

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Zingerman’s Mail Order director Brad Hedeman has had a front row seat for Ann Arbor’s evolving food culture since 1994. (Photo by Doug Coombe)

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

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