Red Hot Lovers must vacate East University Avenue location

BY MATT AARONSON
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 11, 2009

Red Hot Lovers, the legendary campus hot dog eatery on East University Avenue, will not be reopening in its current location.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Red Hot Lovers at its former location on East University Avenue earlier this month.

“I feel like I was jerked around,” said Troy Slade, the owner of Red Hot, who claims he was all but guaranteed a lease renewal by the landlord and the former owner of the restaurant when he bought the business in the fall of 2007.

“I take it personally,” he said. “I bought the business under the impression that I was going to get this long-term lease. That was why I bought it.”

Slade said his landlord, Dick Johnston, told him in an e-mail yesterday afternoon that his lease will not be renewed.

Slade, who operates the business from New York, had given Johnston somewhat of an ultimatum last year. He told him that he would only stay if he was given a longer-term lease when his current one runs out in a few months. Johnston had offered a one-year extension, which Slade said wasn’t acceptable given the long-term planning and investment needs of this kind of business.

When reached at home last night, Johnston declined to comment on the e-mail.

Slade closed Red Hot Lovers during winter break, expecting to resolve the conflict with Johnston by the time students came back to campus. When break ended, the restaurant needed some renovations, so without a decision from Johnston, Slade decided to keep it closed rather than invest more money in a location he might have had to leave soon.

“In retrospect now, I made a savvy decision in a tough economy,” Slade said.

He added that the construction of the Zaragon Place apartment complex next door to Red Hot wasn’t good for business.

The site of Zaragon Place, where the Anberay apartments used to stand, was purchased by developers in January 2007 for an undisclosed amount. The asking price for the property was $5.45 million.

Slade said he would rather not speculate as to whether Johnston has similar ambitions.

As for the future of Red Hot Lovers, Slade said he would like to have a grand reopening somewhere else on campus next September. He said he has already been contacted by an interested State Street property owner.

Slade said that when the restaurant moves he doesn't want it to lose “that rustic, old school vibe.”

“I own everything in that shop,” he said. “I will go in there, and I will strip the walls of everything.”

A 2003 University graduate, Slade bought Red Hot Lovers because it was his favorite restaurant on campus when he was a student.

Slade said he has big plans for the business, including opening a second Ann Arbor location and then bringing it to other Big Ten campuses.

“My vision is expansion,” he said. “This is just one little bump in the road. We’ll figure it out.”