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Cigar smokers find space at Socialight in W. Bloomfield



In this era of smoking bans cigar lovers are seeing their options for a place to enjoy a stogie be slowly snuffed out.

Socialight, a cigar lounge and restaurant in West Bloomfield, is their respite, a place where others who appreciate cigars can go for a smoke, a drink, a meal and a membership that comes with a humidity-controlled humidor, cigar and wine storage, a monthly gift and access to a VIP room. There's a selection of 240 cigars for personal use or gifts.

However, says Justin Near, a spokesman for Socialight Cigar Lounge & Bistro, is "not your typical cigar bar. First, and foremost, the majority of the space is non-smoking by design as they wish to be a serious local bistro that can be enjoyed by all. The cigar area is a separate room and cigar smoke cannot invade the bar and main dining room - a state-of-the-art filtration system has been installed."

Socialight opened Feb. 7 and is located at Maple and Haggerty roads.

Jeffrey Yatooma, Dani Sitto and Steve Romaya are partners in the business, with Romaya being the managing partner.

They and general manager Tom Meyer want Socialight to be the source for fine cigars and knowledge, great food, gifts and knowledge as well as a comfortable hangout whether for a game on TV or a business meeting or party.

The restaurant was a designed by local artist, John Janvirya, who has designed, amongst many other things, the former Chen Chow in Birmingham. By spring a patio will be completed and connected to the restaurant by a rolling garage door.

The menu is not a typical cigar bar menu, says Near, "although the daily specials are."
"It is a light, locally-sourced menu that is reasonably priced and the brainchild of Ryan Porter. Ryan, an up and coming chef and his assistant chef Carole Wendling. Ryan was learned from Chef Benjamin Myer from the Motor City Casino, and Wendling, was mentored by restaurateur Matt Prentice.

Source: Tom Meyer, general manager, Socialight Cigar Louge and Bistro
Writer: Kim North Shine

Mixed-use project to add to Auburn Hills downtown development plan

Auburn Hills' emerging downtown area will add a $10 million residential and commercial development to just over one acre at the southwest corner of Auburn and Squirrel roads.

Construction on Rivers Edge of Auburn Hills, a planned unit development, is to begin this summer and be completed by the summer of 2015.

Developer Burton-Katzman LLC won approval for  the project from the city council in early February, adding to a list of developments mostly related to the growing population of college students that has changed Auburn Hills in the last year. The developments include DEN, Downtown Education Nook; the University Center; the Auburn Square apartments and its retailers; and a 233-space parking structure.

Rivers Edge is expected to be a four-story building with 9,300 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 31 one- and two-bedroom apartments and lofts on the top three floors. About 50 parking spaces will be for residents, and another 11 will serve the commercial tenants and other downtown Auburn Hills visitors.

"We are pleased that Burton-Katzman is bringing this type of popular mixed-use, urban loft project to downtown Auburn Hills,” says Steve Cohen, director of community development for Auburn Hills. “Continued investment in the city is sparking strong interest from developers, prospective tenants and retailers."

Source: Barbara Fornasiero, EA Focus, Inc.
Writer: Kim North Shine

As campus life builds, new $11.6M dorm goes up at LTU

Construction on a third dorm at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield begins this spring, making room for the growing number of students coming for the education and the campus life.

The 47,545-square-foot, two-story building will house 160 students and face Lawrence Tech's largest parking lot. The building will also house university mechanical systems and storage in a 4,000-square-foot basement .

The $11.6-million project is an investment in students and in a changing university that is less of a commuter school as more fraternity life, varsity sports, student activities and other aspects of campus life are making on-campus living more attractive.

The new residence hall will be ready for move-in for the fall 2015 semester, and it will be arranged in five pods of 16 double-occupancy units. Each pod will have its own lounge, fireplace and kitchenette. There will be  dorm cafe and retail spaces as well as game rooms and meeting rooms and laundry facilities.

“The building is designed to encourage students to be out of their rooms with plenty of space for interaction and collaboration. One of the goals is to get new students involved in campus life by fostering collegiality on a regular basis,” LTU President Virinder Moudgil says.

Two residence halls, North, which opened in 1977, and South, which opened in 2002, have room for 600 students.

LTU was largely a commuter school until 1977, says spokesman Eric Pope, and it's slowly turned less so since. Students from 32 states and 46 countries attend LTU, and Michigan residents make up 66 percent of all students.

Source: Eric Pope, managing editor, University New Bureau, Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Buy Michigan Now readies for annual market in Northville

A festival that comes to Northville each August may look like any summertime fair, but behind the temporary town of tents, banners, bands and children's play areas is a successful effort to build up fledgling Michigan-made businesses.

For five years the Buy Michigan Now festival has shut down Main & Center streets and opened 2 1/2 blocks of downtown to small- and medium-sized Michigan businesses looking for exposure for their goods and services. Dozens and dozens of times over the years, says Buy Michigan Now founder Lisa Diggs, the vendor-customer connection made at the fair propels entrepreneurial ideas into commercial reality.

"We've had businesses that grew out of the event in a great way, where they've gone on to get on store shelves. Others have opened their own shops or offices. We're sort of a little breeding ground for that kind of success," says Diggs.

This year, as in past years, about 100 vendors will bring all sorts of products, such as foods, patio furniture, smartphone repair services, to the festival. Small businesses in downtown Northville are also part of the event, which draws large crowds with its carefully-screened vendors, a beer and wine garden where Michigan crafters sell their liquid handiwork, live entertainment and a kids' play area spread across the festival area.

The 2014 festival is Aug. 1, 2 and 3, and applications for vendors are now being taken online here.

"It's a campaign and a festival with a cause," says Diggs, an entrepreneur herself. Through Buy Michigan Now and her consulting work as owner of The Catalyst Co., she promotes businesses in a number of ways throughout the year, including providing publicity and media exposure that is normally too costly for a start-up.

The first year of the Buy Michigan Now campaign was in 2007 and came with heavy involvement from the state of Michigan and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It was a weeklong event with numerous celebrations and promotion. It formed at a time when Michigan's economy was tanking and when the mindset of buying local was taking shape.

"We're literally about getting more people to sit up and take notice of where their product or service comes from. The idea when we started was to have a day for people to think about how to buy only Michigan products, make a meal only from Michigan. Then we realized we needed much more than a day."

Source: Lisa Diggs, founder Buy Michigan Now
Writer: Kim North Shine

Love of Mediterranean eats stokes expansion of Park Grill

Adi Kokoshi and his family have cooked their way out of the original spot where they started the Park Grill Mediterranean in Grosse Pointe Park in 2009 and into a restaurant that's nearly twice the size, has an expanded menu and for the first time a liquor license and large outdoor seating area. It could all bring more success to the Albanian immigrants who have found so many takers of their favorite dishes.

Renovations started in July on an expansion into a neighboring storefront, taking it from 1,000 to 1,800 square feet with seating for 62 instead of 40. A 17-foot L-shaped bar will seat 17 and an outdoor seating area will have room for 20-25.

Opening day could come in late February or early March, says Park Grill general manager Brian Czerny. The Grill takes up a corner location in the buzzing business district called The Park. It's where 1920s- and 1930s-era facades house long-established businesses such as the Rustic Cabins bar, Antonio's Restaurant, a dry cleaner, a pet store, a hardware store, a party store and offices that are now part of a mini development boom that's added  The Red Crown restaurant, Atwater Brewery, which will open in April, the Cabbage Patch Cafe and a soon-to-be announced taco bar, to the mix of businesses.

The menu that locals love, one influenced by cooking from Albania, Greece and the Balkans, will remain but with additions, says Czerny. New entrees and steak and fish dishes will be served, and a "unique appetizer menu" will be available during meal service and also late into the night, he says.  There will be four draft beers on tap, 22 bottled beers and a specialty cocktail menu. In the spring, "an endless mimosa and bloody Mary bar" will go with brunch and lunch, Czerny says.

"We hope to create a warm, relaxed, neighborhood-type atmosphere that works for just about everybody, whether it be lunch during the week, dinner with the family, date night with a spouse, or just hanging out with friends," Czerny says.

Source: Brian Czerny, general manager, Park Grill LLC
Writer: Kim North Shine

$250,000 prize lets Robot Garage expand its kid engineer biz

The Robot Garage in Birmingham is the winner of a $250,000 prize that will give the company owners the financial boost needed to expand staff and programming and put finishing touches on a renovated classroom space as they try to reach more kids -- and adults -- looking to use their brains, hands and free time building Legos, robots and engineering minds.

The prize comes from Chase Bank's Mission Main Streets Grants program. The Robot Garage, which opened in 2012 in Birmingham's burgeoning Rail District, was one of two metro Detroit businesses in the group of 12 winners from across the country.

The other metro Detroit winning company was Edibles Rex, which provides healthy, fresh foods to schools, day care businesses, and other places that feed children.

It's an amount of money that can transform a small business forever. It's the intent of the contest to provide small businesses with cash infusions to help them do things that might not be affordable for years to come, if ever.

"This will do so much to turn still-unrealized dreams into a reality," says Robot Garage co-founder and co-owner Sarah Jacobs.

Source: Chase Mission Main Streets and Robot Garage
Writer: Kim North Shine

Marcia's Munchies brings home Good Food show award



Marcia Nodel took her Birmingham-based Marcia's Munchies pickles to the Good Food show in San Francisco two weeks ago and came back with an award that  is already putting her  "sweet & sassy" creation in more metro Detroit markets.

She was one of five Michigan craft food makers to win the award that recognizes products that have a good taste and potential to do social good.

Nodel has been in business only about a year, but has jarred pickles and jams and made her special caramel crunch popcorn for about 30 years.

Nodel's popcorn is already a staple at markets such as Hiller's, Papa Joe's, Market Square and several others, but the process to certify the pickles took much longer.

With certification and the award, she expects to hire help to keep up with demand.

"I know that doors open faster when you go in and say I just won this award," she says. She gets help in promotion and sales and business planning from  "business-minded, energetic" daughter-in-law Michal Nodel, who moved from New York with Marcia's son about a year ago.

Besides seeing an increase in sales Nodel hopes to watch metro Detroiters come to care more about eating "clean food" and to think about how food production affects the environment and quality of life.

"After going out to San Francisco you see how whole cities are adopting this theory. I don't think one business at the show gave out a plastic bag. It's all about how to eat food, package food, make food that is good for people and good for the community," she says.

"The Good Food people vet you extensively on how you make your product, what's used in your product, where you buy the ingredients. My food has always been preservative free. I don't like anything artificial."

Source: Marcia Nodel, founder, Marcia's Munchies
Writer: Kim North Shine

Metro Work Space adds co-working office in downtown Farmington

In a sign that co-working is  more than a passing trend, Metro Work Space is opening a second location in downtown Farmington next week.

The furniture and supplies are being moved into the 100-year-old, historic building with wood floors, high tin ceilings and "overall charm" this week, says Todd Luhtanen, who owns and operates Metro Work Space with wife Bev Luhtanan.

The 2,500-square-foot office at 33316 Grand River is in the heart of downtown Farmington and offers a different feel and will serve a different clientele than the original Metro Work Space at 8 Mile and Merriman in Livonia, he says.

"We see the demand, but we also different markets. The Livonia office is ideal for people who are meeting across metro Detroit. It's close to highways, central," he says. "Downtown Farmington is completely different. It's a downtown community with all the things happening, people working, restaurants, stores.

"In Farmington we're really targeting people who are already in Farmington and want an office," he says. "There really isn't anything affordable."

Both offices provide a workspace, wi-fi, equipment, supplies and services for the cost of a membership that also brings with it access to networking and business management that will schedule conference rooms and meet other needs, even coffee.

"Some people are seeing it as a cheap alternative when they first sign up," he says, "but once they see it and work here they realize there's additional value."

Metro Work Space is one of about 10 co-working spaces in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Their clients are the growing number of mobile and at-home workers, whether employed by a company or self-employed.
According to DeskMag, co-working has increased 117 percent globally in the last year, and Luhtnanen cites Michigan's strong entrepreneurial culture as a reason for co-working to grow. Nearly 20 percent of graduates from Wayne State and Michigan State universities and the University of Michigan have started their own businesses.

"We're really excited about our own growth, plus the overall growth in co-working," he says. Co-working is still in its infancy in the Midwest, while out west or on the East Coast it's a given way to work.

"People here are [finally] seeing the value of a co-working space. We're here in michigan as opposed to silicon valley or somewhere out west where people really get the co-working.

"People are seeing they can get the feeling of a coffee shop, the getting out into the community, the being around human beings, but without all the negatives of a coffee shop."

Source: Todd Luhtanen, founder and owner, Metro Work Space
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oxford Twp to add to walking paths this year

Oxford Township is adding 5,400 feet to its safety paths at a cost of $435,000, which officials see as an investment in quality of life for residents.

The paths will be added to this year and paid for by a combination of local, federal and private dollars.

"It’s all about quality of life," says Jack Curtis, chairman of the township’s Economic Development Subcommittee. "We don’t want to be one of those communities where the only way to get from Point A to Point B is behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. That’s old-school thinking. We’re all about encouraging people to slow down and appreciate more of life as a pedestrian."
 
Todd Bell, a member of the same committee, says the township is focused on giving residents transportation alternatives and ways to spend free time.
 
"More and more people want to be able to walk, run or ride their bikes to places within their own community," Bell says. "Some people do it because they want to lead healthier lifestyles. Some do it because they want to reduce pollution by driving their vehicles less. And some do it just because its a fun way to relax and spend time with their family."
 
Another $50,000 will be spent to design and acquire land to eventually build a 6,600-foot path that leads to the 125-acre Seymour Lake Township Park and athletic fields.

Oxford already connects to nearby communities, Addison and Orion townships, through the 14.2-mile Polly Ann Trail.

Source: Jack Curtis, chairman, Oxford Township Economic Development Subcommittee
Writer: Kim North Shine

How downtown Birmingham boosts business

An updated website, a reworked downtown visitors' guide and the continuance of programs such as discounts for local employees are all part of an Birmingham's revamped approach to market the city to customers and businesses.

The improved EnjoyBirmingham website will contain more content, easier navigation and search tools and formatting for all kinds of devices, and it will roll out any day, says John Heiney, president of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.

A new and tighter visitors' guide meant to be easier to read and more useful will be released any day and made available at 40 "ambassador" Birmingham businesses, he says.

Signs on the the doors of those businesses will let visitors know the guides are inside.

The promotion is also picking up on an employee discount program that gives Birmingham workers a break on purchases at numerous Birmingham businesses. When the program started eight years ago, there were less than 10 businesses participating. Now there are more than 40, and 1,000 new discount cards with QR codes have been printed and are part of the city's pitch to potential business owners, says Heiney.

"Every time a new business comes into town we offer that as one of our features. There's a lot of interest…It's really seen as a perk," he says.

He also says 2014 will see several new national and local businesses moving to downtown.

"There's going to be a lot for people who visit Birmingham and work here," he says. "We want to make it as good of an experience as we possibly can."

Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District
Writer: Kim North Shine

GearBox Rx opens in Rochester to serve Crossfit athletes

GearBox RX, a soon-to-open store in downtown Rochester, wants to make it easier to buy Crossfit gear -- shoes, clothing, food, supplements, etc. -- by stocking only products that are tested and trusted and used by the owners themselves.

The owners, three casual CrossFit enthusiasts, know the frustration of ordering CrossFit supplies online and winding up with things that don't work or are no good. Figuring there are other CrossFitters in the same situation, they decided to open GearBox RX at 416 S. Main Street. Opening day is Jan. 24.

The owners are not "professional athletes or boutique wannabes," they say on their website "About Us" page.

"GearBox Rx mission is to be a community house for all things CrossFit and functional fitness. We are a retail store that sells shoes, clothing, accessories and nutrition to functional fitness athletes," according to the website. "We are also a place where that community can gather and talk shop, watch competitions or just share and learn about stuff that's important to us."

They chose Rochester because of its midway location for much of metro Detroit, its proximity to more than 40 CrossFit boxes, and hundreds of miles of running and biking trails and parks.

The store has a mini box where gear can be tried before you buy, and a market where natual and paleo products are sold.

Source: Rochester Downtown Development Authority and GearBox RX
Writer: Kim North Shine

Bluemercury brings beauty biz to downtown Birmingham

Birmingham is now home to the first metro Detroit Bluemercury, making downtown the company's latest spot for its "sanctuary for the beauty obsessed."

The Birmingham Bluemercury opened Jan. 18 at 172 W. Maple Road and introduced customers to a collection of 90 high-end cosmetic brands and an array of beauty services and expertise.

The Birmingham location will include a full-service spa with three treatment rooms and makeup stations throughout the store.

CEO and co-founder Marla Malcolm Beck says Birmingham was an obvious and charming fit for metro Detroit's first Bluemercury location.

"Birmingham's vibrant downtown reminds us of where we live, just outside of Washington, DC. My husband and co-founder, Barry, and I love the local juice and coffee shops, workout studios and clothing boutiques that offer such a quaint, community feel on West Maple Street," she says. "We're excited to be a part of that in Birmingham's Principal Shopping District."

The Principal Shopping District is a collaboration between the city and business owners to promote Birmingham's downtown.

Michigan's first Bluemercury opened in Ann Arbor in October. Response showed the company that there was a market for the beauty business.

"When we opened our Ann Arbor location…we were blown away by the overwhelming response from Michigan residents. We’re so excited to be joining the Birmingham community!” says Malcolm Beck. “Birmingham is seeing a resurgence in luxury retail, and with the welcoming, neighborhood feel of our shops, we know we've made the best choice.”

The Birmingham store is Bluemercury's 48th location nationwide.

Like other locations, Birmingham will offer oxygen facials, glycolic peels, waxing and microdermabrasion. The store will also carry Bluemercury’s exclusive skincare line, M-61, a line that the Bluemercury founder describes as the world's first highly-technical, natural cosmeceutical brand.

“For our team, it’s about utilizing the latest technological achievements and combining this knowledge with a level of customer service that is rarely seen in this day and age,” says Beck. “We’re bringing back the old apothecary approach, where we know your name and give the advice, the time and the attentiveness that you’ve missed—and that you deserve.”

Source: Marla Malcolm Beck, CEO and co-founder, Bluemercury; and Brooke Henderson, PR manager, BrandLinkDC
Writer: Kim North Shine

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


Momentum builds for $50M multi-use development in downtown Royal Oak

A project dubbed Gateway for its location at the most prominent entry into Royal Oak is gathering steam since a group of real estate developers, architects and consultants presented a proposal for a residential-retail-medical-office development on Main Street near I-696.

The proposal, which still requires approvals of the Downtown Development Authority and other city commissions, calls for a massive project that would transform a section of Main Street at I-696 into a multistory building that will house nearly 10,000 square feet each of retail space, medical space, office space with a parking deck and a 160 apartments as the centerpiece.

The Gateway project would take up a city block and be bordered by I-696, Main Street and Woodward Avenue and also fill a void in apartment living options in the area, the developers say in their proposal.

The project could come in with a price tag of $50 million, according to the Royal Oak DDA. Assuming approvals are given to the project without extensive delays, ground could be broken in summer 2014. The same developers are proposing an eight-story, 114-room hotel project that will be part of a complex of apartment, retail and offices at the former Fresard car dealership at 400 N.Main Street.

Source: City of Royal Oak
Writer: Kim North Shine
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