ANN ARBOR - West Liberty Street is about to get a fresh, new eatery.
Chow Asian Street Food is a new concept by the co-owners of Logan Restaurant on Washington Street, brothers Ryan and Thad Gillies.
Around two years ago, the two began discussing a fast food, chef-driven restaurant with a lower price point than their fine dining fare served at Logan.
The brothers say they work well as a team because of their well-defined roles. Thad Gillies is the chef, and Ryan Gillies is the front of the house and manages the business.
Thad Gillies has long been passionate about Asian food, and through extensive research, he developed a flavor-packed menu.
"I've always been just addicted to Chinese food -- mystified by it -- always loved it," said Thad Gillies. "I found these sandwiches I just got addicted to. Because -- being a former chef at Zingerman’s (those were my formative years) -- I just love sandwiches, always have. I’m a Midwestern guy, self-taught cook and I saw these things called Roujiamo, they’re basically a Chinese slider. We make the bread here fresh every day, and we’ll grill it right in front of you."
As for the price, sandwiches will start at $6 and bowls will be $12 (with a lighter option for $8). Other items include kids' meals and desserts.
They call it "anytime food" and will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Thad Gillies says the food is not strictly Chinese; he also draws influence from Malaysian, Indonesian and Russian dishes, and the customer controls the flavors.
"Everything here is component-driven," Thad Gillies said. "I’m letting you be the chef. Here’s all the things that I think are cool, they all kind of go together depending on what you like, and you let me know what you want, depending on the confines of the menu."
We sampled chef's homemade chili oil, kimchi and sambal -- an Indonesian chili paste he makes with lemongrass and garlic. All were delicious and had a healthy kick of spice but weren't overpowering. Add protein, rice or noodles, and we can only imagine the possibilities.
The perfect space
Just days after they got the idea, the perfect location became available around the corner from Downtown Home and Garden.
"It fell on our lap, actually," said Ryan Gillies. "The owner, Mark Hodesh, decided to close Mark’s Carts at the end of the previous summer. He was looking for a tenant, and as soon as we saw the kitchen, (we knew). We had only loosely talked about our plans for another restaurant.
"And we were like, 'Well, this is it.' It’s close, we can manage it. We really had to just hit the ground running. We signed the lease and found the financing and started working with PLY Architecture."
The kitchen is the same one Mark's Carts used. The rest of the building was office space. The brothers combined the two and transformed it into a bright, light-filled, open-concept dining room.
"We let the space talk to us, really," said Ryan Gillies. "We looked at its bones, and we saw the windows and being in Logan for 15 years, it’s a north-facing one-window building. It’s been kind of a dark cave to work out of because you don’t get any sunlight. So, we really saw the potential to just open this up. We knew we wanted communal seating for this style of restaurant, essentially just open café (concept) and take advantage of the light."
Ryan Gillies spent the better part of his summer handcrafting the restaurant's tables and countertops from a friend's standing dead ash tree.
"This giant behemoth tree was on my friend’s property, just standing there, calling for somebody to make something of it," he said. "He had borrowed his dad’s sawmill for making some things and said, 'If you want to make some countertops, I’ve got an awesome tree.'"
The space features two impressive walls of windows and splashes of red, light blue and teal. As for the color palette, Thad Gillies says it was inspired by drawings of Chinese palaces he came across in his research.
Managing a new venture
The Gillieses have already taken steps to prepare for the opening of Chow.
"Through this process, we’ve hired more kitchen staff over at Logan," said Ryan Gillies. "Sous chef is now running the line. Whereas chef (Thad) has been running the line, which is not that common in a restaurant. So it’s giving him a chance to get off the line. We’ve slowly been taking the training wheels off."
Ryan Gillies will still be present at both restaurants, but Thad Gillies will be spending most of his time at Chow once it opens.
"You’re going to see me a lot here in the first year," said Thad Gillies. "I’m going to be working on the line. I’ll be really teaching our staff what we’re selling, how to sell it and the elements of service."
When asked what their experience has been being brothers and business partners for so many years, their response was mutual.
"Going into Chow, it’s just work as usual, quite frankly," said Ryan Gillies. "Our roles are so defined from our 15 years at Logan. I’m obviously aware that he’s my brother, but we don’t think about it. I think that I have a great business partner who will manage his side of it, and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way."
"We totally trust each other, and we’re friends on top of it," said Thad Gillies. "We know it’s unusual. A lot of siblings don’t get along. We do, and it just works out."
Chow is set to open March 18.
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