Owner of Ann Arbor’s Afternoon Delight reflects on 42 years of business as he retires

Tom Hackett says business will be turned over to co-owner Joanne Williams

Tom Hackett inside the breakfast cafe he opened in 1978. (Afternoon Delight)

ANN ARBOR – Tom Hackett wasn’t planning on getting out of the business he opened in 1978 -- until COVID-19 arrived in Michigan.

The 75-year-old restaurateur is accustomed to working seven days a week and was often seen greeting people both in line and at tables at his popular breakfast and lunch spot Afternoon Delight on E. Liberty just blocks from University of Michigan’s central campus.

For decades, people have been lining up down the street to get a taste of the delicious brunch fare and experience the cozy, family style environment Hackett worked hard to establish.

“I’ve seen three generations of people be raised in my restaurant,” said Hackett. “My daughter was raised there and she worked as a waitress when she went to college. My grandkids were raised there. My customers are great friends of mine. They’ve been standing in that line for 30 years -- it’s crazy.”

Business was good at the start of the year, but Hackett said no one could have prepared for when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“When the virus hit us, it was just like everybody," he said. “It took all the restaurants off guard. We were actually having a busy year even though it was getting harder and harder in Ann Arbor because there’s so much competition.”

Hackett said that catering for various departments at the University of Michigan makes up for about 40% of business. But when cases of the virus arrived in Michigan, all catering orders were quickly canceled.

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“We were kind of dead in the water and so we tried to stay open for about a week with carry outs, but we’re a breakfast and lunch place," he said. “We close at 3 p.m. and it wasn’t going to work and we closed up for a while.”

As weeks turned into months, Hackett realized that it would take a very long time before operations would go back to business as usual.

“I told them: ‘I’m 75. It’s going to take a long time to get back to normal. I don’t think I can work in a mask and greet people. I don’t think I want to do it. It’s like starting over again.’”

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Flavors so strong, you can taste them from here.

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He decided to retire and hand the business over to his co-owner Joanne Williams, who owns half the restaurant after buying into the business 21 years ago. Her ex-husband Tim has been doing the bookkeeping for years.

“They’re a lot younger than I am and they wanted to try it and I said let’s work it out," said Hackett. “I step back from day to day operations, Joanne is going to run everything. (She’s) younger, doing social media, ordering online. I’m not so into that. I’ll stay on as an advisor and come in once a week."

Afternoon Delight reopened on Tuesday for carry out, curbside, catering and delivery and Hackett said the adapted business is already going really well.

Still, his departure is bittersweet.

“I actually thought I’d be there forever,” he said. “I hate to give it up. I worked seven days a week all my life, all the holidays. I opened up on my wedding anniversary in 1978 and I’m still married for 53 years.”

Afternoon Delight has seen its fair share of famous U-M coaches and athletes, as well Detroit media icons like Local 4′s former anchor and U-M alumna Carmen Harlan. But Hackett said he had a strict no-autograph policy for his staff. No matter their status, he wanted all of his customers to feel at home while dining.

“Michael Phelps used to have a table in there with his buddies," he said. “I’ve known every coach in Ann Arbor. Bo used to eat in there -- it’s crazy. I have great memories of great people I’ve gotten to know over the years. No regrets.”

To learn more about Afternoon Delight, visit www.afternoondelightcafe.com.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.