Inspired by small health food cafes in California and New York, local resident Fred Lelcaj is bringing a new healthy flavor to South University Avenue with a new restaurant, Fred’s, which officially opened its doors Thursday.
The menu includes smoothies, acai bowls and juices, bagels, avocado toast and sandwiches.
In an interview Lelcaj said he has been in the restaurant business his whole life and has gained valuable experience in the operations side of the industry through working with his sister, Sava Lelcaj, at her restaurant Sava’s on State Street. He said his passion for organic and wholesome food, paired with the necessity of a cafe catering to the market of college students in Ann Arbor, motivated him to found Fred’s.
“The lack of a concept like this has really encouraged me to want to open here,” he said. “I saw a demographic imperative for something like this, especially in this neighborhood. We get a lot of people from California or New Jersey or New York in these bigger cities that are geared up for places like this.”
Lelcaj said Fred’s strives to give their customers a completely satisfying experience every time they enter their store: from the food, to the interactions with the employees, to the aesthetics of the building.
“I want everything to make you feel good,” Lelcaj said. “I want everything to bring you this calming sense, and the feeling that you have made the right choice and come to the right place.”
All of the food’s ingredients are carefully sourced and organic, Lelcaj said, adding his belief in sustainability is a big driver behind the restaurant. They are very meticulous about all of their ingredients to ensure they are bringing their customers the best product, he said.
The open layout of the store is also formatted to reflect the wholesome ingredients, and increase transparency to the customers, he added with the ingredients in plain view to the customers on the counter where the food is made.
“Transparency is very important to me,” Lelcaj said. “All of our packages are in plain view — you can see what we’re using. You can see every increment of every single ingredient as we are adding it to your food.”
Business sophomore Sarah Wood, a student representative for the business, said she is a huge fan of the new cafe because of its transparency and nutrition. She said she believes the new cafe will have an impact on the food culture of South University Avenue allowing a new kind of option.
“My personal opinion of the food and their unique offering is that it’s going to fragment the South U food offering,” she said. “I think it’s going to incite change because they are so dedicated to healthy options, so dedicated to whole-foods-like quality. It has the main street high class feel but they are bringing it to South U.”
Engineering senior Jake Fratkin, president of the Food Industry Student Association, said he thought this style of food will fit well into the culture of Ann Arbor.
“It definitely is going along with the health food craze that is going on,” he said. “It is on the further end of that spectrum of being all-in with sourcing and applying sustainable and nutritious food that also tastes good.”
Lelcaj said along with food he also wants to emphasize positive interactions between his team of employees and the customers.
“I’m not hiring workers,” Lelcaj said. “I’m building a team. I’m building a team of individuals who are really passionate and excited about this. It’s really important to me that people are familiar with everything we are working with and actually taking interest. A lot of things that are not everyday household items — the staff putting it into real terms is really important.”
Wood noted that the environment of the store is something she appreciates.
“From the moment you walk in where it is so light, airy, white and peaceful, to interacting with Fred and (other cafe staff), you feel good about every interaction. That is something that is so amazing about the experience of Fred’s,” she said.