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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Maren and Jeff Jackson, Owners of Seva

When: February 15, 2024

Maren and Jeff Jackson, February 2024In this episode, AADL Talks To Maren and Jeff Jackson, the owners of Seva. In 2023, the vegetarian restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was first opened in 1973 at 314 East Liberty Street by Steve Bellock, and purchased by Maren and Jeff Jackson in 1997. Maren and Jeff talk about Seva’s early history, from its beginning as a vegetarian restaurant amidst other countercultural businesses and organizations, through its menu changes and other transitions over the years. 

 

Transcript

  • [00:00:10] AMY CANTU: Hi, this is Amy.
  • [00:00:11] ELIZABETH SMITH: This is Elizabeth. In 2023, Seva celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was first opened in 1973 on East Liberty Street by Steve Bellock and purchased by Maren and Jeff Jackson in 1997. Maren and Jeff talk about Seva's early history, from its beginnings as a vegetarian restaurant amidst other counter-cultural businesses and organizations, through its menu changes and other transitions over the years.
  • [00:00:35] ELIZABETH SMITH: Thanks for joining us today, Maren and Jeff. I just want to start by asking, where did each of you grow up and what brought you to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:46] MAREN JACKSON: This is Maren. I grew up in the Chicago area mostly. I went to school at the University of Illinois, and after I was done, I lived in Champaign Urbana for an additional year wanted to do something different, and I had heard Ann Arbor was a cool town. I up and moved to Ann Arbor with no plan just to go live someplace that had cool-looking outdoors and a kind of Bohemian atmosphere. This was 1979, and that's how I ended up in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:01:20] JEFF JACKSON: Hi. I grew up in Yankton, South Dakota, which is not very big. We moved to Michigan in 1976. I went to MSU, sorry, [LAUGHTER] and moved into Ann Arbor about 1986, following a job. Ended up meeting her through the restaurant.
  • [00:01:45] ELIZABETH SMITH: When did each of you begin working at Seva?
  • [00:01:48] MAREN JACKSON: I started working at Seva about a month after I moved to Ann Arbor. I moved into a rental house on Liberty that was right next door, and I had never heard of the restaurant. I had worked in a couple of restaurants through high school and college, and I was newly a vegetarian, and I thought, well, this is just perfect synchronicity. I had never been a cook, but I had been a host and a cashier and a server. I applied to be a cook because they needed cooks and went from there.
  • [00:02:21] AMY CANTU: Did you have background experience in cooking vegetarian dishes or?
  • [00:02:25] MAREN JACKSON: Zero. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:02:26] AMY CANTU: Zero. How did you learn on the job?
  • [00:02:29] MAREN JACKSON: I absolutely learned on the job. I was a line cook. There was a head cook at the time, a woman named Fran Longnecker who had lived in Ann Arbor for many years. She was the main head cook at the time. I had come from a real science background. I had a biology degree and I had always done math and science courses. It was really different to have a creative background that I was in instead of a very scientific one. I was always asking Fran, how much and how long and, how do I know when it's done? She would just say, until it tastes right or until it's done. I learned this is pre-Internet days. [LAUGHTER] Now you can learn anything. Look it up, but I learned in person, and I came to the library all the time and checked out cookbooks.
  • [00:03:23] AMY CANTU: Oh, wow. That's great.
  • [00:03:24] MAREN JACKSON: Yeah.
  • [00:03:25] ELIZABETH SMITH: What about you, Jeff? When did you start working there?
  • [00:03:27] JEFF JACKSON: Well, actually, I didn't start working for Seva until we bought it in 1997. I did work at the Comedy Showcase in the basement. I ran the bar there, and I used to take the payroll up to Maren's office for I don't know, three, four years. Never met her. I brought it up there and that's where I started working in that building. Then the original owner started a short-lived restaurant, two doors down that he brought me over to run the bar and brought Maren over to run well, everything, the general manager type thing. That's where we actually met. We never dated when we were working together. But when the restaurant closed, we started dating.
  • [00:04:19] AMY CANTU: Can you tell us a little bit about the history before you were at Seva? Just give us a little bit of background. I know it had a reputation as being a little adventurous.
  • [00:04:31] MAREN JACKSON: The very original Seva restaurant opened in Columbus, Ohio in 1973, '71. I think it was 1971, when the previous owner Steve Bellock was going to college in Ohio. When he graduated, he and a friend of his chose to open a business together rather than go on to graduate school or whatnot. His friend's name was Barney Greenbaum. They opened. They called it Seva Longevity Cookery, and it was a little vegetarian place in Columbus, Ohio in the Short North area, similar to Ann Arbor, little hippie village there. A couple of years later, Steve moved to Ann Arbor to follow his girlfriend that he later married who had moved here to go to graduate school. He took over the Soybean Cellars restaurant that was in the VFW building right across the parking lot here. Soybean Cellars kept the market going. They had a market in one half and a restaurant in one half. He took over the restaurant half and made it into Seva Longevity Cookery, Ann Arbor. His partner stayed back in Columbus and kept that one going. That was in 1973 that he opened the Ann Arbor branch, although they were separate, I think for the whole time. During that time, I heard stories, about the people maybe wearing just an apron in the kitchen, chanting over the bread to rise [LAUGHTER]. I didn't witness any of that particularly in person. And about the time that I joined Seva in 1979, there was a second head cook that had been hired by Steve, who had just graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, the one in upstate, New York. This was a turning point for Steve. He wanted to become less of a rice and beans, hippie place, and do vegetarian food that was a little more creative and a little less steam table, casserole, Moosewood style of things. That cook was George Simon. We've been in contact while we were writing the cookbook. He's living on the East Coast now, and still cooking and still being a vegetarian. He's a great guy. George ushered Seva into a little more branching out creative. He and Fran were the two head cooks during my early years there. When George left, I had the opportunity to decide, do I want to try to do his job? I was in engineering school at U of M at the time going through some life upheavals here and there, and I thought, oh heck, I'm just going to quit engineering school and go be a cook, so that's what I did.
  • [00:07:21] ELIZABETH SMITH: I was curious about you mentioned that the comedy club was downstairs, and there was also another store there, Earth Wisdom, I think it was? What was that like? What was Liberty Street at the time?
  • [00:07:32] MAREN JACKSON: There was a real corridor of local businesses. There was Sun Bakery that was across the street now replaced by a high rise building there, relatively high rise. It was really a nexus of a lot of vegetarian and alternative lifestyle sort of. There was Earth Wisdom Music. They had a little shop in that front foyer, Footprints Shoe Store was there briefly as well. They were in the facing store across the way before they moved down town to Main Street later. Across the street, there was a Collected Works clothing store. They later moved over near Kerrytown and I know now they've retired and closed up shop. But there were a real row of alternative stores along there. If you went further down Liberty onto Maynard, there was Eden Foods Restaurant down on State Street. They were closing Turtle Island restaurant, they were closing right about the time that I moved to Ann Arbor. I knew of them, but I don't think I ever ate there. I think we inherited some of their staff.
  • [00:08:39] AMY CANTU: Ann Arbor was different then.
  • [00:08:42] MAREN JACKSON: It was.
  • [00:08:43] AMY CANTU: It was a little more liberal or at least seemingly so. The restaurant survived all of that and obviously changed enough to accommodate a changing city. Can you talk a little bit about how they managed it?
  • [00:08:59] MAREN JACKSON: Well, I remember some of the changes that Steve did in the '80s, he got a liquor license, which we had not had. The '80s were a transition time from the hippie groovy, Moosewood era into the preppy era. There was a real change in the people that we saw coming in to eat that were students that you didn't have the India print skirts and Birkenstock as much as you had the polo shirt, preppy collar things. [LAUGHTER] Technology really became more prevalent. Back in the early days everything was handwritten checks, and later, the technology of the point of sale systems for restaurants became more prevalent and more accessible and cheaper. Just computers in general really allowed us to be able to keep track of things to create recipes that we could be consistent with that we could have a record of so that different people could use the same information and not have to start from scratch every time, not reinvent the wheel, every time you made something. But I remember early computer and online modems and things and all the humming and buzzing and changing discs to change programs.
  • [00:10:27] JEFF JACKSON: Actual floppy discs. She's being very modest. Maren took over the menu in 1984.
  • [00:10:33] JEFF JACKSON: When that happened, sales doubled because she completely changed the menu. She's being extremely modest. She took classes at Sandy Cooper's. He worked with Jacques Pépin there. She's being modest. I just thought I'd put that in there.
  • [00:10:51] ELIZABETH SMITH: Are you still in charge of the menu now?
  • [00:10:53] MAREN JACKSON: Basically, yes. I get to have the final say. It's a blend of, I want things to remain fresh and creative, but I don't want to quash anybody's individual creativity as well. We have a system of, if somebody has an idea, they can propose it. They can fly it by us. They can have us give a taste and we'll develop and standardize things so that we can have everybody enjoy that as well. But I'm always looking at what's new and what's out there. I'm not a huge fan of all the fake meat things that are going on. We have some of those on the menu because there's a certain amount of demand for it, and people are comfortable with it. If somebody who's not vegan or vegetarian will come in, they can feel pretty safe having, the fake burger or the fake brat or whatever it is. They're okay, but my personal, I don't know what you call it.
  • [00:11:58] JEFF JACKSON: Ethos?
  • [00:12:01] MAREN JACKSON: Really I try to eat low on the food pyramid and I try to eat more unprocessed foods and whole foods, whole grains, less refined foods and those fake meats are about as refined as you can get.
  • [00:12:17] JEFF JACKSON: There's a lot of stuff in them. You look at what's in there. But there's been a big vegan push probably starting in the late 2000s, and it's a lot of new people coming vegan, but they still want their burger. I think this is what pushed that. I don't know where that's going to go from here because we're seeing some pushback about that stuff.
  • [00:12:45] MAREN JACKSON: Why don't you have a real veggie burger, a house made veggie burger versus fake meat product? My sister who is still a vegetarian, she doesn't eat any of those meat products because she says, I don't like meat. I'm not an angry vegan. I just don't want to eat it.
  • [00:13:02] AMY CANTU: That's really interesting. I'm sure all restaurants have their issues and their foods that they take, they put on the menu or they take off the menu, and then people complain. Is it different for a vegetarian restaurant or something is specialized in Ann Arbor? Do you have people that complain if you take something off the menu?
  • [00:13:19] MAREN JACKSON: Yeah.
  • [00:13:19] AMY CANTU: I bet.
  • [00:13:20] JEFF JACKSON: All the time.
  • [00:13:22] AMY CANTU: What do they want and what did you take off and have to bring back?
  • [00:13:26] MAREN JACKSON: Well, the classic, of course, is the enchilada calabasa.
  • [00:13:29] MAREN JACKSON: So that recipe I found in a giveaway magazine at Arbor Farms Store. It was in the front pages of it and I thought, well, that's weird and unusual. It's got squash, and it's got chili powder and cinnamon in it. I can see that because Mexican chocolate has cinnamon flavors and things. We messed around with it. We started having it on the menu, and we had it on the menu for 20 years, 30. A long time.
  • [00:14:05] JEFF JACKSON: Top seller, too.
  • [00:14:06] MAREN JACKSON: But then there was the faction of people saying, you never change. It's so boring. Can't you do something different? We let it go for a while, and there were some people who were just devastated and some people who didn't notice. But we did have continual requests through the years, and finally, we thought let's bring it back. I love it. It's a good favorite so it's back. It's on our Ann Arbor menu now. It's not on our Detroit menu. It doesn't have the same following in Detroit. I think it's got a lot of history in Ann Arbor. The two menu at the places are different.
  • [00:14:43] AMY CANTU: It's fascinating that there'd be an Ann Arbor food that has stood the test of time.
  • [00:14:49] JEFF JACKSON: That one has.
  • [00:14:51] ELIZABETH SMITH: I'm curious about the perception of the restaurant as being radical and the shift in attitude about vegetarian food and how that's played out.
  • [00:15:01] MAREN JACKSON: Yes. In the 70s, Seva was radical in a few ways. There was no smoking in the restaurant, and we didn't use styrofoam containers for leftovers.
  • [00:15:12] JEFF JACKSON: Still don't.
  • [00:15:12] AMY CANTU: Great.
  • [00:15:13] MAREN JACKSON: But at the time, it was just shocking radical. We had to get people to put cigarettes out in the dining room pretty frequently and they were just shocked. As those things came to be more publicly pervasive that's disappeared. I have to not lecture new staff to say, you have no idea how good. We were in the 70s with these things, and now everybody thinks that's just no big deal, because now I'm in my 60s, and I'm just being that person so I don't.
  • [00:15:48] JEFF JACKSON: It's nice not to be on the pokey end of the stick in the restaurant thing now because more I wouldn't say we're mainstream, but we're closer to mainstream than we've been. That's nice.
  • [00:16:04] ELIZABETH SMITH: I think another thing you were early with was the recycling. What was that like?
  • [00:16:08] MAREN JACKSON: Early recycling in Ann Arbor, there was no community public recycling, but there were some spots you could go drop recycling off. We were breaking down boxes and tying them into bundles and flattening cans and hauling them out to wherever the drop off spot was. When public recycling came along, that was a welcome break actually from loading all those things up and hauling them around.
  • [00:16:33] JEFF JACKSON: I was working at a restaurant. Robby's at the Icehouse. I would collect all the wine bottles and stuff and take them out once a week and go over to Seva and get their stuff. Then Main Street Association started talking to us about, would you be interested in that? We were like, yes.
  • [00:16:56] MAREN JACKSON: Composting for a bit too.
  • [00:16:58] JEFF JACKSON: Did composting for a bit too. That didn't quite work. They found out with composting that there had to be a very large amount of compost to make it worth their while and we were about the only restaurant in the city that produced that amount because we chopped up, we do everything by hand and all the veggies and everything.
  • [00:17:18] MAREN JACKSON: It wasn't mixed with any animal waste.
  • [00:17:20] JEFF JACKSON: No animal waste and stuff like that. That didn't work, but the recycling.
  • [00:17:24] MAREN JACKSON: But the staff really, was right there involved in that, which was great, because it really felt it was a small community thing that we could do that was good for the Earth, and that if everybody was doing it, then everybody would have a bigger effect.
  • [00:17:40] AMY CANTU: I'm curious if you ever had any pushback to include meat. Did you ever think about it?
  • [00:17:46] MAREN JACKSON: Briefly we considered having fish on the menu. It came from customers who had said, we're trying to eat healthy and we understand all the reasons to eat vegetarian from food production point of view. But fish are very sustainable and very healthy and what would you think about it? We took a brief poll. That almost started a riot, but a public survey as people left here, fill out this card. What would you think? Suddenly that turn and this is before social media. Thank goodness because that would have been I think the end of everything.
  • [00:18:31] MAREN JACKSON: There was the perception of, like, oh, they added fish. Oh no.
  • [00:18:35] JEFF JACKSON: They are not vegetarian anymore. I said, no, we just did a survey.
  • [00:18:39] MAREN JACKSON: We were asking, what do you think? The answer was pretty clear, that would not be a welcome change for many of the people. Was it the right decision? Well, for then, sure. For now, I don't know what the future will hold. I doubt we're going to make any of those changes, but in the future succession of Seva, whatever that might end up being, if someone were to take it over and add that, that would be something that they could make that decision.
  • [00:19:08] ELIZABETH SMITH: In 1997 is when you purchased from the previous owner. Can you talk about that transition and maybe talk about what Steve was like a little bit?
  • [00:19:16] MAREN JACKSON: Steve was the original owner from the early '70s through the '90s. When he was working at Seva, he also had a lot of like, side business things going on. He was a real estate investor developer. He had a real business background and he was really good at all those things. I don't think he had a lot of food background. He owned a restaurant and he employed people that cooked and served and everything. Overall, he was a good boss. I wanted to be a better boss. I wanted to do some things differently. That was when he decided to retire, he put the restaurant up for sale. He had a couple of, like, out of town investors come and look at it. I don't think anything really got very serious about it. Steve was working with Jim Ciccone to broker the restaurant and Jim Ciccone approached us after no interest had really come up for a few months and said, why don't you two buy it? You could do it. Jeff has front of the house experience, you have back of the house experience. Steve was willing to do an owner finance sale, which is the only way that this would have happened. We didn't have any financing or if we went to a bank, there was nothing that would attract them to.
  • [00:20:45] JEFF JACKSON: Give us a big loan?
  • [00:20:46] MAREN JACKSON: Yeah. Hand over a bunch of money.
  • [00:20:50] JEFF JACKSON: We did eventually get one. We did a five year balloon with Steve and then did get a actual business loan.
  • [00:20:59] MAREN JACKSON: But I wanted to have a more responsive and inclusive relationship with staff and that was something that was really important to me. I wanted to be the boss that I wanted to work for. I think we did a pretty good job at that.
  • [00:21:15] JEFF JACKSON: Well, we've got a couple of people that have worked over 20 years for us, so which is extremely rare.
  • [00:21:21] MAREN JACKSON: True.
  • [00:21:21] JEFF JACKSON: In the restaurant biz people leave all the time. We're always like, oh, good luck out there, but we come from the restaurant background. We don't come from, here's a bunch of money and we bought a restaurant. Our staff appreciates it, I believe and because we have a lot of people stay with us long time.
  • [00:21:43] AMY CANTU: You probably have a lot of customers that have been coming back, maybe from the beginning, from the early '70s or can you talk about that a little?
  • [00:21:52] MAREN JACKSON: Yeah, when we had a cookbook launch party this last fall, we had some old time customers show up. We wanted to throw a little party to thank people for being loyal customers for months or years or decades. It was a really good chance to reconnect with a bunch of these folks. We see people come in to town who don't live in Ann Arbor anymore, but they come back to visit friends or they're through once a year on their way to somewhere and they'll stop by and say, hi. It's amazing. The connections are still there after however many years it's.
  • [00:22:37] JEFF JACKSON: I used to have advertising people come in trying to sell advertising. What's your target market. I said, well, we have the locals and we have events come, but we have lots of people come in once a year, once every five years, once every 20 years. How do you market to them? It's a unique place in that respect, just because we've been around for so long.
  • [00:23:07] MAREN JACKSON: People matter.
  • [00:23:08] JEFF JACKSON: They do.
  • [00:23:10] ELIZABETH SMITH: Another unique aspect of the restaurant, I think, anyways is the atmosphere, the stained glass that you have and that's been there since the beginning and then there was also some Greg Sobran paintings.
  • [00:23:21] MAREN JACKSON: Yes.
  • [00:23:22] ELIZABETH SMITH: Steve was an early patron. Can you talk about the interior design of the restaurant?
  • [00:23:28] MAREN JACKSON: When the restaurant was on Liberty Street, the stained glass was all hung in the windows on the alleyway so the light would come through and give that color glow.
  • [00:23:39] JEFF JACKSON: Only at like 7:00 in the morning.
  • [00:23:44] MAREN JACKSON: Those pieces came from Materials Unlimited. In Ypsilanti, that did architectural salvage before it was cool. Most of those pieces Steve had acquired along the way. I remember every now and then, there'd be a new piece show up that he was very excited about when we'd put in a little addition, he'd get something else so that we could highlight a piece there. When the restaurant moved from downtown on Liberty out to Westgate, we really thought it was important to bring all that and try to figure out how to make the new space similar to the old space have that focal point and the designer came up with that wall that is backlit. We don't have sunlight coming through it, but we have the light coming behind and showcasing those pieces. The Greg Sobran paintings.
  • [00:24:38] JEFF JACKSON: Are in our basement. I think it started before we moved from Liberty, just to bring something new we have. Karen Jackson was a manager and waitress for us and she's an artist and she started said, well, can I brings up my stuff in? We said, sure. Absolutely. She just started growing more and more of the space with her stuff and then we'd take Greg's out. Now recently, our art is--she's not doing that anymore. She took or sold all our stuff out of there and haven't replaced it. We are actually talking about bringing Greg's paintings back in because we have them and curating an art space. It's like that's almost a full time job. It's at least a half time job. We don't have time for that. They might come back.
  • [00:25:41] AMY CANTU: I'm curious about the relationship with Arbor Farms. Can you talk a little bit about that?
  • [00:25:46] MAREN JACKSON: Soybean Cellars was the original like natural foods market that was in half of the building and Soybean Cellars was owned by Hank Bednarz at the time, who later went on to own Midwest Natural Foods that got absorbed into one of the major, like, natural food distributors. Hank owned that half Steve owned the other half. At some point, Hank and his partner, Leo Fox. Maybe Leo came on, I'm not entirely clear on the details of that, but Leo came on as a partner and they changed the name to Arbor Farms Market. I think maybe at that point that Hank went off to do some other things and Leo kept most of the business of Arbor Farms Market going. Arbor Farms Market moved from the Liberty Street out into the original place they moved was on Stadium, not where they are now, but I think where the Deluxe Drapery store is before they took over the big grocery store space that they are at now. They were side by side co existing for most of the '80s, I got to say. They were symbiotic in a way. They had similar clientele that people would come in to eat a vegetarian meal and maybe they would go buy vitamins, on the way. Arbor farms had probably more like health and beauty products, vitamins. I think they had a certain amount of perishable food, but really not as much as, say, the People's Food Co-op, that thing. They were less food focused than really product focused. We were side by side partners, but not the same business at all. Then when the comedy club came into the basement the two little spots in the front that had rotating businesses coming through there. There was a lot of different energy going through that building.
  • [00:28:06] ELIZABETH SMITH: What was it like when you moved to the Westgate shopping center? Did you have any patrons that were upset? Were people excited about it?
  • [00:28:12] MAREN JACKSON: I think that there were a lot of people who were convinced that we had closed in the months before that because the previous summer we had announced that we were going to be moving and that fall and winter were just incredibly slow. It was like, devastatingly, slow. The actual move itself was just exhausting because I was determined to do it in as short a time as possible and we moved everything ourselves.
  • [00:28:43] JEFF JACKSON: Well, we had our staff. I mean, we're going to close for a week to move. We used the staff to help us move and paid them instead of paying movers or whatever.
  • [00:28:54] MAREN JACKSON: Pack everything, carry everything, put it where it goes. We did that transition 6.5 days and that included getting the health department to sign off on everything.
  • [00:29:07] JEFF JACKSON: They were still in there when we opened the doors.
  • [00:29:12] MAREN JACKSON: But we got it done.
  • [00:29:13] AMY CANTU: You were up and running with the restaurant within a week? Wow.
  • [00:29:18] JEFF JACKSON: But any advice I can give to anyone out there moving a business, don't announce it until you're leaving.
  • [00:29:28] AMY CANTU: You're saying that the business was down because people thought you were closed?
  • [00:29:33] JEFF JACKSON: Yes.
  • [00:29:33] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:29:34] JEFF JACKSON: They just--or they were waiting to see the new spot. I don't know. But, it was a big risk but I thought it should work because our clientele is getting older. Free parking. Handicapped access much better than we had down there. I thought all those things, we should be fine. We actually within a year of moving there, we were busier than we were downtown.
  • [00:30:07] MAREN JACKSON: It was a good move.
  • [00:30:08] JEFF JACKSON: It was a good move.
  • [00:30:09] ELIZABETH SMITH: By 2019, that was your best year, I read in an article, and then COVID hit. What was that experience like, and how did you get through it?
  • [00:30:19] JEFF JACKSON: I don't know how we got through it. I don't know if we're still through it yet. It was difficult. It was mind numbing when it happened because everything's closed and know what?
  • [00:30:36] MAREN JACKSON: I couldn't believe when the pandemic was first starting and I was hearing about San Francisco is shutting down businesses, and I thought they can't do that. What? I hadn't ever considered that happening. That was just--it was mind blowing. From the public safety perspective, I completely understood it, and all we could do was follow the procedures that were being put out. We kept some staff on. We did carry out only for those first ten weeks that everything was shut down and we just one foot in front of the other every day. We shortened our hours a little bit. I stress baked a lot. I would go into the restaurant and make giant batches of vegan chocolate chip cookies, and we'd give them out with carry out orders because I just wanted to be doing something.
  • [00:31:42] JEFF JACKSON: Yeah, it was very tough, but also our Detroit location, we actually closed for three months. But the landlord down there name is George N'Namdi. He has the largest collection of African American art in the world. He and his daughter Izegbe get grants all the time and so we went and talked to them and they helped us get a bunch of grants for both places and that helped. A lot of grants is like you have to get a grant and you can use it for a specific thing, like, improving the space. It isn't just here's some money to pay your bills. We actually both places got a whole bunch of remodeling done during COVID, which wouldn't have been possible if we were still open as regular business. Maren was very good at getting all those done and getting all the government had money out there. We got everything we could, and we survived still.
  • [00:32:53] AMY CANTU: Well, it's interesting because we've talked with a couple of other restaurant owners who how they handled COVID. Was there a sense in this community, did you feel completely on your own, or did you get together with other business owners and talk about how you might approach dealing with the situation? It was unprecedented.
  • [00:33:11] JEFF JACKSON: We didn't. We became busier personally with the businesses because running back and forth between the two. We used Detroit as a grocery store for Ann Arbor because we had a lot of the similar stuff in the freezer and stuff, so we go down there. But you just plug your way through. We didn't have time to go meet with people. We were running around and also there was stuff you couldn't get. There was the supply chain problems. I was driving like Kalamazoo to get something or wherever we could get it. That's what we did during COVID.
  • [00:33:55] MAREN JACKSON: That would have been a good thing to have those connections, and we didn't have them at that time. I really did feel out there on our own. I remember talking to the insurance company about, like, "Is this covered under our business interruption service?" They said, "Oh, no, this is specifically excluded." There was zero options as far as that goes. The business community, I guess how I felt is that we were all trying really hard to survive on our own. Not in competition with each other, but yeah, I didn't have time or energy to think about like, well, I wonder how so and so is handling this. We just just kept going.
  • [00:34:41] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:34:42] JEFF JACKSON: I have talked to some other restaurant owners, and most of them felt the same way. They were just there you go and hey.
  • [00:34:51] AMY CANTU: Good luck, right?
  • [00:34:53] JEFF JACKSON: Nothing to it. But to do it. Yeah.
  • [00:34:55] ELIZABETH SMITH: Fall 2023 was your 50th anniversary. You released a cookbook. What was that experience like?
  • [00:35:04] MAREN JACKSON: Well, it came about through mostly through the urging of our daughter. Emma had always said, we should really do this for the 50th. Finally, she said, we're doing it for the 50th. She just said, we're going to do it. Here's what we're going to do. Here's our timeline, and she had spreadsheets and charts, and incidentally, a mother in law who is a graphic designer who does books, she's in South Africa, but that didn't matter because computers. She really pushed that, got it going. She set up some email, like, what would you like to see in the cookbook? Suggestions, questions?
  • [00:35:52] JEFF JACKSON: But then taking a restaurant recipe that is for 100 people, let's say. You don't just cut that down, divide it by 100. That's one so Maren had to do every single recipe in a home kitchen to make sure and you found there were things you had to tweak. I didn't see my wife for about three months. I was in the same house. But I would just leave because my daughter and Maren were there, and I was taking pictures and all this stuff. My daughter's wife also didn't see her wife for about three months. We would commiserate, but it was it was herculean effort.
  • [00:36:42] MAREN JACKSON: Yeah, spices and seasonings are not linear. They're exponential. If you're going to quadruple something, you don't just quadruple the spices, and vice versa, if you're cutting it, by 12, you have to do a lot of tweaking for the flavors to make sure it's just not linear. We experimented and after we did the math, then we tweaked all, how do you explain things that you just know how to do? Emma had an example from a college class she'd had where they wrote directions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich, and then somebody would have to recreate making the peanut butter sandwich. Using exactly those directions. If you didn't say use a knife to spread the peanut butter, then they would do it with their fingers because you didn't say. We had to look at it with fresh eyes a little bit. You can't just say saute something. You have to say, what kind of pan? How big is the pan? What heat do you vary the heat, how much oil do you have in the pan?
  • [00:37:45] AMY CANTU: Well, it sounds like a lot of work.
  • [00:37:48] MAREN JACKSON: It was a bit. But we self published the book and sold 500 copies sold out in six weeks. We're looking at, can we find a publisher now? Should we self publish a second round? That's what Emma is looking at at this point.
  • [00:38:05] ELIZABETH SMITH: Did we leave anything out that you wanted to discuss?
  • [00:38:09] JEFF JACKSON: Pretty much have where we came in. We'll say that Steve owned the restaurant for 24 years. We've owned it for 27 now. We've been more involved in the day to day thing than Steve was. But he was a good boss. He's a good businessman and that was his forte. We're more hands on.
  • [00:38:32] ELIZABETH SMITH: What are you most proud of?
  • [00:38:34] MAREN JACKSON: I'm most proud of our staff that they are just a really great group of people. There are some that have, like Jeff mentioned, have been with us for a very long time, not as long, but they work so hard and they really care about what they do. I'm glad that we've been able to provide a livelihood for these great people for such a great long time.
  • [00:39:03] JEFF JACKSON: Yeah and without them, nothing would happen. But without them, we'd have to be there all the time and we don't have to be.
  • [00:39:16] ELIZABETH SMITH: AADL Talks To, is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.