There’s a new restaurant in Ypsilanti located in a refurbished historic building in Depot Town on the site of the old Thompson Block building first built in 1869.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with the managing partner of the new restaurant called "Thompson and Co.," Disa Brown.
Lisa Barry: [00:00:01] You're listening to 89 One WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. I'm Lisa Barry. This week, Art and Soul is about the culinary arts, and there's a new restaurant in Ypsilanti that is part of a historic building in Depot Town on the site of the old Thompson Block Building, first built in 1869. The restaurant is called Thompson and Company. And joining us now to talk more about that is restaurant managing partner Disa Brown. Thanks for talking to us. The building plays a big role in Ypsilanti. History was a barracks for union soldiers in 1861, an early location for the Ypsilanti Fire Department in 1895, and is the first auto dealership in 1916. It's been rebuilt, pretty much some hiccups along the way, but now it's open. Thompson and Company. When did it open?
Disa Brown: [00:00:51] We opened on August 13th of 2021.
Lisa Barry: [00:00:55] Do you feel the history in the building when you're inside there? Was that part of the intent of what was created?
Disa Brown: [00:01:01] Yeah, definitely. The developers kept as much of the historical aspect as they could. There's still, you know, the original brick walls that they were able to preserve, and they kept kind of true to the original architecture as much as they could.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:14] What kind of food are you serving there?
Disa Brown: [00:01:16] We are serving in Southern fire comfort food.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:19] Ooh. What does that include?
Disa Brown: [00:01:22] It includes fried chicken, thick brisket. We've got collard greens and cheddar grits--that sort of stuff. We also have pizzas and sandwiches to kind of keep it a little more familiar. But Chef Keith, does a lot of his grandparents, who are from the South, recipes that he's instilled into the menu as well.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:40] Tell us more about Chef Keith.
Disa Brown: [00:01:43] Chef Keith. He's wonderful. He's from the Detroit area. He's been a chef for our company for about 17 years now. We're part of a management group. And he loves cooking. He loves quality. He loves just really making that good, delicious food that everyone likes. His background. His grandparents are from the South, so when we decided to do a Southern-inspired restaurant, it was just a natural choice to choose Chef Keith to come over with us.
Lisa Barry: [00:02:10] And the cocktail menu is also part of Thompson and Company? A big part?
Disa Brown: [00:02:14] Yeah, that's correct. Yeah. We we have our own cocktail menu, kind of inspired by the railroad line there in Depot Town. We also do something called Zero Proof Cocktails, which is kind of exciting. A lot of people these days, they want to go out. They want to have a good time, but they don't necessarily want to, you know, get drunk or have a drink. So, we make cocktails out of spirits that have been distilled with zero alcohol to them. So, it's kind of been picking up, and people are excited about that as well.
Lisa Barry: [00:02:41] And it's kind of a new thing, right? To have a nice tasting mocktail, really, right? Mocktail?
Disa Brown: [00:02:46] Exactly. Exactly. Yup.
Lisa Barry: [00:02:49] Can you tell us about some of those or some of the ones that do have alcohol?
Disa Brown: [00:02:52] Sure. Ours are a little bit unique. A lot of places that do mocktails, you know, you're using kind of juice and stuff, but we actually use...this is one of the names of the product that we use. It's an actual spirit that's distilled like alcohol. There's just no alcohol in it. You still get the flavor and the feel of drinking a cocktail, but without the alcohol content. So, that's kind of exciting. We have six different cocktail options there. And you can swap it out for vodka or gin or whatever, if you like, or you're just having a mellow night and want the flavor of a cocktail without the feeling, then we've got you covered.
Lisa Barry: [00:03:25] Speaking of spirits, do you feel any in this building that dates back to the late 1800’s?
Disa Brown: [00:03:32] You know, I try not to think about it, but, no, everything's brand new. So, we often think of spirit. Yeah.
Lisa Barry: [00:03:42] Well, you also mentioned something about a whiskey bar mash opening this fall. Tell us about that.
Disa Brown: [00:03:47] That's correct. Yeah. We have a mash location in Ann Arbor under the tractor, which we are bringing over to Depot Town. So it'll be connected to the restaurant, and it will be a weekend kind of different feel vibe lounge area. What do you like, music and deejay, that sort of thing. So it's more of a late night lounge atmosphere. It will feature a lot of really nice, high-end whiskeys and rare bourbons, that sort of thing.
Lisa Barry: [00:04:14] For some who may not know, what is a mash? What do you mean?
Disa Brown: [00:04:18] The mash is actually the ingredients of a whiskey, the actual grains and whatnot. The mascot kind of a whiskey is, you know, rye and bourbon. The blends are basically of the grains used.
Lisa Barry: [00:04:31] What's it been like opening a restaurant in a pandemic?
Disa Brown: [00:04:35] Just a little bit stressful. Just a little. We were lucky enough for the timing to work that, you know, the vaccine was already out, mandates were lifted, and all that sort of thing. So, we're still obviously very conscious of it. We're very aware with our sanitation practices and whatnot. But we're starting to see things kind of come back to normal and just kind of go with the flow and doing whatever the health department tells us to do to keep everybody safe and healthy, and it's a little bit more challenging than regular times, but we're navigating through it just fine.
Lisa Barry: [00:05:08] How has staffing been? Because it seems like a lot of restaurants are impacted by not having enough employees.
Disa Brown: [00:05:14] Yeah. Staffing is a big challenge in the restaurant industry right now. We were lucky enough to get some really good people in. A lot of the people that we found were actually from the neighborhood. So, it's nice for them to have some place that they can walk downtown or walk down to work, too. And, you know, they're already part of the community. So, that's been good. We're still looking for more, obviously, to get mash up and running and, you know, open expand our hours a little bit more. But, yeah, we've been we've been looking to hire some really good people so far.
Lisa Barry: [00:05:45] I've driven by a few times and noticed there's a front porch. Is there dining going on outside?
Disa Brown: [00:05:50] Absolutely. Yes. We have a large front porch area for dining. And then, when the whiskey bar opens, we'll have a kind of loungy fire pit area for the mash bar as well.
Lisa Barry: [00:06:00] Describe the inside, the ambiance, the vibe. What can we experience at Thompson and Company in Depot Town in Ypsilanti?
Disa Brown: [00:06:08] You know, it's very kind of industrial chic, I guess. It's got the brick-exposed walls, big wide open ceilings. It's kind of a large open space, but it also feels comfortable, you know, so it's kind of a place that you can go for a beer after work a couple of times a week. You know, it's not necessarily an expensive night out. You can make it that if you like, or it's just kind of a place to chill. Large bar right in the center that's kind of welcoming and uncomfortable.
Lisa Barry: [00:06:36] What's been your most popular thing people have been ordering so far?
Disa Brown: [00:06:41] The fried chicken is amazing. Definitely fried chicken and shrimp and grits are our top sellers at the moment. And then our beers as well with all the Jolly Pumpkin brand and North Peak brand on tap, which people really like the sour beer. Come for that.
Lisa Barry: [00:06:58] Is it going the way you thought it would go? I mean, here you are. The pandemic is still happening, even though we thought we were on the way out. And it doesn't necessarily look that way now. It's tough to find employees, and people might be hesitant to be eating inside a restaurant. You're facing all those things, and I'm probably more than I'm not even mentioning, but it seems like things are going OK. Are they, or is it, you know, fighting an uphill battle?
Disa Brown: [00:07:24] Relatively. I mean, they're going as good as we can expect. You know, we've been welcomed by the community quite well. We've been busy since day one. You know, we were kind of hoping to be able to expand table capacities quicker than we were able to. But we're working on it, and we'll get there. You know, slow and steady wins the race, right? So, we're happy with the way things are going so far.
Lisa Barry: [00:07:49] Anything else you want us to know?
Disa Brown: [00:07:51] Just, you know, come check us out. We're happy to be a part of town. We're glad to be open. It's been a long time coming. We are slated for May of 2020. And, of course, that didn't work out. So, we're just glad to be up and running and look forward to working at full capacity here pretty soon.
Lisa Barry: [00:08:08] Disa Brown of the new Thompson and Company restaurant in Ypsilanti's Depot Town area. Thanks for talking to us here on Art and Soul on WEMU.
Disa Brown: [00:08:17] Okay. Thanks, Lisa.
**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**
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