Our coverage of the recent sale of the Jefferson Market
continues here at G3 with a two-part interview with Jean Henry, former owner of the Market. Jean kindly and thoroughly answered some questions I sent her by e-mail, about what she’s been cooking at home, her future plans, advice for Mary Rasmussen (the new owner of the Market), as well as the climate in Ann Arbor for local businesses. I want to thank Jean for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully to our questions.
Part I is below, and Part II will be posted in a few days.
[In other Jefferson-Market-sale-news, an interview with Mary Rasmussen is available over at HD’s blog
G3: The story in the AA news quoted you as saying that you were “particular” about who you sold the business to. Why did you choose Mary Rasmussen?
Jean: I wanted to sell to someone who had the wherewithal financial and professional wherewithal to make a solid go of it and who also understood the intangible value of the market, it’s heart and character. I let some buyers go, perhaps foolishly, because I had the impression they were just buying a kitchen and didn’t understand what the market represented to people, wouldn’t be true to its spirit. Others just seemed unprepared to take it on. Others couldn’t secure financing or formed partnerships that fell apart. Mary showed up when I had other offers on the table, but she just seemed right. I feel like the neighborhood will respond to her style and product. She appreciates the character of the neighborhood and the market but has her own thing going. . . . It’s important for a small business person to have an independent identity and entrepreneurial spirit. She also makes great cake, no shortcuts or cheats, lovely to look at and to eat. I’m guessing her expanded offerings at the market will follow suit.
G3: Do you have any advice for the new owners based on your experience running the Jeff for 7 years?
Jean: To be receptive but not overwhelmed by the amount of input she’ll get from the community and customers! The engagement people feel with that place is a tremendous asset. It’s important to remember that, be responsive, but also hold your own. The truth is that it’s not workable to provide all the services and products we offered for a community this size in a space that size. Mary will no doubt have better parameters than I did; I hope the community will respect that and fully appreciate that she is there at all.
G3: In what way(s) will you be involved in the transition?
Jean: I am available to Mary for any questions and input, but I will not be in the store helping out. I’m far too busy right now to be there. But, foremost, the market is Mary’s now. My presence would hinder the business in forming its new identity . . . and a new identity is essential. I still live a few blocks away and will definitely be there regularly as a customer.
G3: What have you been up to since The Jeff closed? What are your plans for the future? What does you miss the most about the Jeff?
Jean: I am working with Paul Saginaw at Zingerman’s developing a social venture project in Ypsilanti. Everything is very much in the planning/visioning stages. If this thing flies, though, it has tremendous potential to be a positive community force, in economic, social and culinary terms. In many ways, the work at the market seems like a natural stepping stone to what I’m doing now. I’m somewhat stunned that it came my way so quickly. I loved the creative problem solving aspect of running a small business; this new job is all about that, so what I thought I’d miss has been somewhat resolved.
I’m not naturally comfortable being the public face of a business, so the restoration of some anonymity has been a great relief to me. That said, I do miss my staff and clientele . . . the everyday dialogue I had with so many compelling people. I formed very rewarding relationships in five minute snippets, daily. Standing in one place for seven years, you begin to see the shape and current of people’s lives, the ebbs and flows.
This sort of daily interchange is undervalued in our plugged-in, mobile world. One can feel socially isolated in its absence, despite close friends. All emphasis now is on a kind of instant (and disposable) intimacy between people with the same interests, social status, age, musical tastes and hairdo. People’s lives become less and less dynamic without real solid, on-the-ground, everyday community. The one thing the market revealed above all else was an intense craving for community. The goodwill created and tolerance expressed daily at the market was expansive. If nothing else, I’d like an opportunity to help re-create that phenomenon on a larger scale. There is tremendous potential in it.
G3: Are there any plans for a Jefferson Market cookbook?
Jean: I no longer own the rights to the name. I’m also not a chef. We never really re-invented the wheel at the market; all our recipes were traditional. I find it odd that people claim ownership to recipes at all. We just riffed off of an existing template. I’d be happy to share our recipes and methods with anyone that is interested. In the end, I have a firm belief that the secret to really great food is not in the recipe, but in the integrity of the ingredients and the hand of the chef. You can never learn to cook well if you follow recipes rigidly. Cooking well requires taste and touch, adapting to the changing conditions of your oven, your ingredients and your temperment.
G3: What have you been cooking at home these days? What are your favorite food spots in AA?
Jean: You’ve hit a rich vein with this question! I’ve been tinkering with my eating, cooking and shopping habits lately to better suit my principles, lifestyle and budget, so pardon the expansive answer you’re about to get.
With a toddler and a strictly vegetarian 9 year old in tow, I have been busy figuring out how to eat well at home with the least expense of energy and time possible. I tried having a set meal plan for the week, but was too variable in my tastes to stick with it. That in mind, I have adapted the kind of cooking preparation a restaurant does to my home, assembling meals from a standing larder of sorts. I cook in bits late at night and for longer stretches on Sundays, preparing food for use throughout the week . . . mostly soups and stews and what I call fixins’, pestos, mire poix and sofrito, flavored mayonnaises, roasted veggies and vinaigrettes. That way a satisfying meal is almost always easily at hand and adaptable to varied tastes. I’m a little obsessed these days with arugula pesto, marinated leeks and parsely . . . just plain Italian flat leaf parsley used fresh and abundantly on sandwiches, stews and in salads. I’m trying to get away from lettuce in those awful, ubiquitous plastic containers. Cucumbers, mint & sprouts also make nice crunchy lettuce substitutes.
I’m also trying to limit my big grocery store spending, using box stores strictly as back-up rather than primary providers of my household needs. I find that I eat better and waste less as a result. It makes me crazy to hear people bemoan the lack of grocery downtown and not utilize the resources they already have. I shop regularly at:
: Bob Sparrow
sourced locally for his butcher shop before anyone else could figure it out. The produce market, under his ownership, is now well-priced and stocked. I especially like his eggs, pork, sausage, wild mushrooms, shallots and potatoes. Monahan’s
is a no-brainer fish-wise, simply the best.
Morgan & York:
Same Small World Roasters coffee as the market, perfect wine selection with an informed, down-to-earth staff, cheese, serrano ham (pay 3x cost of regular ham and use a 1/4 the amount) salami and Avalon bread.
The People’s Food Co-op
: longest season and best variety of local vegetables and fruit, plus Seven stars yogurt, tofu and staples.
: I recently discovered the bread at Cafe Japon on Liberty and between 4th Ave and Main St . . . the baguettes have great flavor, a traditional size and chewy texture, not the super-sized, over-plump American version everywhere else. I’ve only had opportunity to try a few things on their menu, but everything has been delicious, carefully executed with balanced flavors.
produce . . . all kinds and great old school packaged cookies!
By the Pound:
dried fruit that will change your thinking about raisins and prunes, nuts, beans, fresh well-priced spices, baking supplies and now milk. Their saffron is an especially good deal.
That said, I buy an herb-crusted Busch’
s rotisserie chicken once every few weeks for 6 bucks for use in sandwiches, mole, spring rolls and stock— I’m not sure I’ll ever roast a chicken again. For the most part, I avoid any processed and preserved food and a lot of meat which creates room in the budget for some more expensive choices, good coffee and cheese, local eggs, Calder
As for restaurants, you’ll find that many of the places I eat also provide me with daily staples for at-home-meals . . . one way to incorporate levels of efficiency and convenience into shopping local. I’m a single mom now. The high-end places just do not fit the budget or the available timeframe, and so are not well-represented in my list. I hear good things about Everyday Cook, but am still waiting to eat there. I eat somewhat regularly at:
Morgan and York:
great soup and grilled sandwiches, plus the best cappuccino in town for real.
: I also buy the chili sauce there for use at home. Don’s mom prepares it with chilis she grows . . . the other Korean spots buy bottled sauce.
Totoro: Ada’s favorite for simple sushi rolls but also agadashi tofu, tempura, sansai udon and great gyoza; the owner was a pastry chef and shows a careful hand with breading, wraps, and batters.
The People’s Food Co-op
: when I need a bite, some groceries, and a little social whirl, . . . more former Jefferson Market customers and employees there at lunch than can be believed.
: Good people, healthy eats and the kid’s love it; their grape leaves are exceptional. Baba ganoush is a larder staple at my house.
Blimpy Burger: A true classic, very old school. Fresh meat not frozen, ground daily. My dad just about cried when he ate there . . . flooded him with memories of hamburger joints circa 1940’s. Did you know they got a full page write up in Saveur and never displayed it? I guess it might ruin their street food cred.
: Best lunch in town without a doubt. Fish & chips to warm the edges off a frozen winter day.
Rosa’s Tamales at the farmer’s market. There should be lots more food at the market with this integrity (and music, too!!!).
: what a great addition to the local food scene. The farther afield you go with the pizza the better. I just get whatever’s fresh out of the oven, but arugula pizza and mushroom with truffle oil are favorites.
Zingerman’s Roadshow and Roadhouse
: I hate to pimp the boss, but the drive-through Roadshow has a $5.95 pulled pork sandwich on onion roll that’s the best deal in town, and you never get out of the car. I take it home and add Lizano tamarind-based salsa from Costa Rica for more punch. I also eat occasionally from the bottom of the barrel at the Roadhouse— apps and burgers. They don’t usually know who I am and no one’s making big bucks off of me. Still, I consistently get very balanced service, gracious, composed and generous, but not over-solicitous. This kind of across-the-board, everyone-gets-it, good service is not at all common in the upper echelons of the food business.
My life improves exponentially the more time and money I spend in local businesses. I just don’t get the convenience or thrift of a long drive, a giant parking lot, and acres of mediocrity and marketing to wade through. I’d much rather take a few quick, efficient friendly trips downtown and so would my kids. Ok, I’ll admit to riding the high horse on this–I just honestly don’t get the reasoning I hear for primarily shopping box stores. It all seems penny-wise, pound-foolish.