Small Biz Saturday: Juicy Kitchen grateful for community partners, gets ready to reopen

Juicy Kitchen offers seasonal items on its rotating menu. (Peter Cho)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When Kelby Behan and Aaron Ziola bought Juicy Kitchen last year, it’s unlikely that they predicted having to navigate the catering business and cafe through a pandemic.

A year and two months after buying the cafe on North Maple Road, the couple found themselves having to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rely on community members and local partners to keep the business afloat.

But the closure didn’t stop Behan and Ziola from using Juicy Kitchen to make wholesale meals for community partners, paying their staff and making meals for frontline workers.

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Started in 2011, Juicy Kitchen originated as a healthy meal delivery business by Susan and George Todoroff. Soon it grew and acquired its own cafe space where Behan worked as a manager for a few years. Behan said that she and Ziola were very interested in the food scene of Ann Arborso they took over Juicy Kitchen in January 2019 when the Todoroff’s retired.

Kelby Behan and Aaron Ziola took over ownership of Juicy Kitchen in January 2019. (Peter Cho)

When Juicy Kitchen temporarily closed in March, Behan and Ziola said they focused the business on its wholesale and catering offerings. Juicy Kitchen would drop off premade food at community partners, White Lotus Farms and Argus Farm Stop, who would then sell the food to hungry customers.

Ziola credited the two markets as being a reason why Juicy Kitchen survived while closed to the public.

“Them adapting as quickly as they did is a huge reason that has enabled us to stay afloat as a business,” Ziola said, stating that the two Ann Arbor businesses are partially why Juicy Kitchen is able to reopen.

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“We feel super lucky to have those relationships because they definitely helped us get through [the pandemic], for sure, “ Behan said.

The business closed temporarily in March but still continued offering food to community partners. (Peter Cho)

Juicy Kitchen tries to use local, seasonal and organic ingredients for items on its rotating menu, but that became difficult during the pandemic as distributors made fewer trips to local eateries.

The business also saw a drop of 75% in its sales in March when it tried offering take out meals. Behan and Ziola had to place almost all of their employees on temporary leave and were forced to do most of the ordering, cooking and delivering themselves.

But the pandemic wasn’t all bad. Ziola said that generous community members and friends donated money for catering healthy meals for frontline workers. Between April and the last week of May, Juicy Kitchen supplied 800 meals to workers at Michigan Medicine, the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. Behan said that many of their donors wanted to make sure that nurses and other frontline workers at local hospitals received healthy meals that could power them through long shifts.

Behan and Ziola were also able to pay their employees while the cafe was closed, thanks to donations made to the Juicy Kitchen GoFundMe account. The cafe raised over $12,000 which went straight to employees.

‘We were able to, in two weeks, actually write a check to them [the employees] for more than what their payroll check would have been, so it was huge,” Ziola said.

We want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to helping our small business survive COVID-19 💕 Thanks to...

Posted by Juicy Kitchen on Saturday, June 6, 2020

Despite not knowing what the future will look like, Behan and Ziola are excited to reopen Juicy Kitchen. They will be able to bring back almost all of their twelve staff members and plan on offering more take out and catering options.

Behan and Ziola anticipate offering outside seating and plan to take a look at how the market has changed since March.

“We hope to keep doing take out for as long as we can,” Behan said, “but I also foresee lots of catering and people getting together outside more for food this summer, which may look like us doing prepared picnic meals to go. Or maybe catering to birthday events.”

Juicy Kitchen is hosting a benefit pop-up bake sale and take out menu from June 12 to June 14 at its cafe location.

Juicy Kitchen is at 1506 N Maple Rd.

Juicy Kitchen is at 1506 N Maple Rd. (Peter Cho)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.