Old and New Faces of The Big Ten Market
Our conversation with Jean Henry got us interested in learning what other observations folks around town who work with food and wine might have to say about the local food scene, about the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, and, of course about what they’re cooking for dinner. Matt Morgan, of Morgan and York was kind enough to spend some time talking with us about good food, good business and good consumer practices:
Could you talk a little bit about your philosophy in developing Morgan and York and how you see your niche in the Ann Arbor food scene?
What Tommy York and I set out to create was a small shop that did both food and wine retailing well. By that, we were looking to have a discriminating selection of products– not the biggest selection, but products chosen for their special characteristics. Then we needed to properly take care of those products, and deliver them to people with great service. When we started out, we saw Zingerman’s
doing a terrific job with the food, and that VC
had knowledgeable wine staff, but no one was doing both. When you consider that food and wine are inexorably connected in European food traditions, it makes sense to offer both.We also wanted to represent small producers. The Costcos of the world don’t care about small family wineries or cheese-makers — they can’t make enough pallets of XYZ product to feed the monster. On the other hand, we (small retailers) are not important to companies like Coke, Kraft, or Kendall-Jackson. There’s a natural balance in small, quality-oriented retailers representing small, quality-oriented producers.We see our niche as picking great products and bringing them together in a way that makes sense aesthetically, and providing service based on sharing our enthusiasm for food and wine.
I’m particularly interested in how you balance your obvious commitment to local products and purveyors and to making available quality products from around the world. Could you talk about this a bit?
That’s a great question. The answer stems from the philosophy that I outlined above.We are primarily in the business of selling imported food and wine. Many of these products come from well-established producers and regions where their products, or products like theirs, have been made for centuries. There’s an enormous amount of cultural wealth and history reflected in that, and in many ways our local food industry is still maturing. There are unique and interesting foods and drinks coming from our part of the country, and the best offer a sense of place — something special not easily replicated in an industrial food factory elsewhere.Our job is to pick local products of very high quality, put them out for sale next to the best wines, cheeses, etc of Europe, and get people to take them seriously. Whose eggs we sell, or what wine from Michigan we offer is critically evaluated by our customers — people who have traveled and had the chance to try some of the best food and wine in the world. By putting our (Michigan’s) best foot forward, by showing that these local small-producer products compare favorably to their old world counterparts, we can help build the strength and reputation of our small producers.
How’s business? Can you comment in general about how you see the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, particularly food and wine businesses?
You really want the answer to this? It’s a long one, and it includes my thoughts about some bad trends in business, retail, and our culture in general that are finally being bucked by the consumer.
Business is good. You can always hope for more business, especially because it translates in to selling more of those small producers’ products, and more opportunities for your people, but we can’t complain. Our customers are taking good care of us in a tough time. I think the food and wine business in Ann Arbor is well-served. Some people have opined that it is over-served, but I’m not sure. I do think there’s a lot of pressure on people who don’t provide anything special for the customer, and we will see some of those places go away.Times like this can be good for the long-term health of businesses that provide high quality and good service. I see people getting away from amassing things, and focusing on enjoying life with their friends and family. In addition, much of America is having health problems related to over-consuming industrial foods, including factory farmed, hormone-filled meat that didn’t exist when our grandparents grew up, and garbage filled with high-fructose corn syrup. People are craving real food, high quality stuff, and they’re tired of being treated like cattle by demoralized staff in the big-box stores. As a society, we are realizing that the financial bottom line is not the whole picture, and that just because we can pay less for more junk, maybe that’s exactly what we don’t need — low quality food, outsourced jobs, and low-paid, indifferent service. It’s all related, and people are beginning to understand that when you pay less, you always get less, even when it looks like you’re getting more.An example of what I’m talking about is this Aussie shiraz wine my wife and I used to buy ten or eleven years ago for $8 a bottle. Pretty OK stuff from a biggish producer. Well, the US dollar is now worth half what it was worth then, but lo and behold, open the paper on Sunday and you can find someone selling that ‘same’ wine now for $8 a bottle. What in your life is the same price that it was ten years ago? People should be asking why these things are so cheap, and the answer is that they are being cheapened to meet a price.Businesses that follow the model of cheapening products, lowering the quality of their staff by paying less, dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator — those are the businesses that are going to suffer, because people will only put up with that trend of something being lower quality, with lower service for so long.I encourage the people of Ann Arbor to patronize businesses that treat them well and sell good stuff. That way those shops will be there to enjoy in the future. Vote with your dollars, and spread the word.
What sort of things are you cooking and eating at home?
We’re really excited for the new growing season to begin in Michigan. We belong to a CSA (Needle Lane Farms
) and get fresh organic produce from them every week. A box of Beverly’s produce and our copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables
makes life more interesting. One of my favorite recipes is Alice Waters’ recipe for braised chard. It’s so easy and simple and the results are heavenly.Cookbook wise, I’m really excited about an older one– Richard Olney’s Simple French Food
. If you haven’t checked it out, you should — he was brilliant and opinionated, and almost always right, which makes his writing interesting. Many of the criticisms he had about food in America are still valid today, 30 years later.Beyond that, I’ve been telling everyone about this great new (to me) way to roast meat– the Jamison lamb we sell, for example. Alton Brown (yeah, the guy from TV) suggests cooking roasts at 200 until they hit an internal temp of 118, then you take the meat out, turn the oven up to 550, and when the internal temp on the meat stops rising, put it back in long enough to brown (~10 minutes.) We usually season the meat first– garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, but that’s about it. Fantastic, comes out fully rested, and always perfectly cooked.As far as wine, we’re really enjoying the Beaujolais crus — the wines from the really good parcels in that area. Most people think of Dubeouf’s Nouveau, which is really inexcusably bad — the worst face of industrial winemaking. The crus, on the other hand, especially from the small producers, are really satisfying wines that are great with food. When the weather breaks we’ll be grilling more and popping open some dry rose and muscadet, for sure.
What are some of your favorite Ann Arbor food spots?
My family all like Le Dog
for soup and sausages in the summertime, especially. Logan
does a great job of ‘haute cuisine,’ with friendly service. Eve’s
small plates are good, and we always have good food and service at Pacific Rim
. Sorry if I left anyone out– I have to confess we don’t eat out too often– we love to cook, and we have a small child, so that keeps us home more than some. Does Ypsi count? Taqueria la Fiesta is a favorite.
Are there any new developments in the works for Morgan and York that you’d like to share with us? Ever think about doing a Morgan and York cookbook?
We did just launch a ‘shoppable’ web store– we’re showcasing a limited range of items, but you can place online orders, which is new for us.We’d love to open another store. My wife is from Sydney, Australia, and we keep joking about a branch location there. We’re looking at doing some remodeling on the current location, but at this point it’s still under discussion.A cookbook is an interesting idea. I should discuss that with Tommy.
You can find Morgan and York at 1928 Packard in Ann Arbor. Right by the big Cheese, cheese, cheese sign. Phone is 734.663.0798. Stop in. Good advice and good samples as well as a great selection — and maybe a recommendation about what to eat with roasted lamb and braised swiss chard tonight.