ANN ARBOR, MI — Wilma’s restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor is officially closing in response to the novel coronavirus.
The space at 403 E. Washington St. started in 2011 as Babo: A Market by Sava, transitioned to Fred’s and later, Wilma’s. The owner has decided it’s time close, though, due to challenges in reopening after the ban on dine-in service, aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, is over, according to a Facebook announcement.
“There’s some major factors we’re taking into consideration and one of them is the length of our lease,” said Sava Farah, owner of SavCo Hospitality, the umbrella group for Sava’s, Aventura and Wilma’s. “It’ll take a couple months to open our doors … then eight to nine months to rebuild our losses. The bills stack up.”
Farah cited issues with her landlord, who was “not willing to work with” her in renegotiating the lease terms, which led the landlord to file a lawsuit against her for leaving the lease early.
“This is a time to step up for your tenants. We are struggling and these loans and grants have a lot of red tape. They’re not as available as you would think,” she said. “We haven’t even experienced the real hurt yet.”
Farah’s husband and company lawyer William Farah said the landlord sent a letter demanding them to pay their full rent after asking for a rate reduction.
“I’m shocked that within three days, they sent us a demand and I think it goes to show how they want to conduct business. A lot of the local landlords get it. We’ve seen that (reduction) with one of our other landlords,” William Farah said. “There obviously was a lease. We asked for a reduction in the rate, which some of our landlords have done.”
But John Strockis of SmartStop Asset Management, the group that owns the property, said they “did everything possible to try to keep them as tenants,” including the nearby Subway.
“After Governor Whitmer issued the stay at home executive order, we immediately offered lease reductions to both restaurants. We wanted to do everything we could to help both businesses continue their operations,” Strockis said in a statement. “Subway accepted the rent reduction offer and will be reopening their business as soon as stay at home orders are lifted. The only response we received from Wilma’s was a notification that they were vacating the space and subsequently removing all of their furniture, fixtures and equipment.”
Inside an empty Wilma’s restaurant at 403 E Washington St. in Ann Arbor. The restaurant is permanently closing in response to the novel coronavirus.
Sava Farah applied for small business loans but they came with stipulations, such as rehiring 75-90% of the staff and only seating 50% of the dining room, on top of growing debt the restaurant is facing.
“I’ve got three closed restaurants,” she said. “Looking out at the landscape, we have to be very choosy in how we manage our businesses.
“I met so many amazing people there who I’m going to miss serving in that building. We’re all still part of this greater collective and we’re going to be focused on what we’re doing. We’re going to be looking for opportunities to find new and innovative ways to serve that demographic. This is a part of business. It’s letting go.
Farah still plans to open Dixboro House, an under-construction modern American-fare restaurant in an old farmhouse at 5400 Plymouth Road, but construction was halted on the seven-acre site due to the “stay home” order, she said.
The restaurant will have lounging spaces by a fireplace, communal seating and formal dining, outdoor benches and seating along the creek for a casual experience, a kids play area, and a grand dining room in a “futuristic barn” being built next to the current more than 100-year-old structure.
Sava’s owner renovating old Dixboro farmhouse for new restaurant
She anticipated opening it in June but the timing is uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic and whether guests and employees will feel comfortable.
“It’s going to be delayed because it’s not being built at the moment,” Farah said. “As soon as the restrictions are lifted, we’re going to complete the building of Dixboro House.
“I don’t want to open a world-class restaurant with face masks. My business is hospitality and If I can’t smile at my guests or pick up their body language, it’s going to cause a different relationship between the guest and the employee.”
Dixboro House is expected to accommodate carryout orders in a separate room, which may open ahead of the full restaurant grand opening, she said.
“My gratitude (is) for our guests and the support we received from our community at the business. I met so many amazing people there who I’m going to miss serving in that building. We’re all still part of this greater collective and we’re going to be focused on what we’re doing. We’re going to be looking for opportunities to find new and innovative ways to serve that demographic. This is a part of business. It’s letting go.”
Ann Arbor initiative looks to support restaurants, feed health care workers
How Ann Arbor’s Duo Security went from a two-man operation to a $2.35 billion company
New pharmacy opens in Dexter for curbside pickup, delivery
Source: Thanks https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/04/downtown-ann-arbor-wilmas-restaurant-closing-permanently.html?outputType=amp