Iconic restaurant Pretzel Bell offers walk-through for alumni
A team of University of Michigan alumni and athletes are bringing back the iconic restaurant Pretzel Bell back to Ann Arbor.
Open from 1934 to 1984, the original Pretzel Bell served as a city hotspot for students, faculty and community members to celebrate birthdays, spend game days and enjoy time with friends, Greg Lobdell, owner of the new restaurant, said. It’s new location on Main Street will open on April 14.
“The spirit of this place was really celebrating everything that is good about Ann Arbor and everything that is great about the University of Michigan,” Lobdell said at a walk-through of the restaraunt on Monday, which is currently under construction. “We thought, ‘Let’s create a new place that has those traditions that will live on.’ ”
Jon Carlson and Lobdell, two of the restaurant's nine owners, joined a team of former University of Michigan athletes and University alumni, who they said had great memories at the Pretzel Bell and are invested in bringing it back to Ann Arbor, for a restaurant walk-through.
“Traditionally we have three or four partners at each restaurant,” Carlson said. “For this one we formed a team. We thought that was important. If we’re going to represent what the University meant to us, we can’t do it from two guys who were here from ‘89 to ‘93. So we have a team of 22 investors, some of them fairly prominent either athletes, or business people in the United States.”
Steve Seyferth, one of the restaurant’s investors, graduated from the University in 1977. He said because his brother played football for the University, he quickly discovered that Pretzel Bell was a popular place on campus.
“When I came out here from Connecticut to watch my brother play, the place to go was the Pretzel Bell,” he said. “We quickly learned that you can get a great environment, great ambiance, great tradition. It made you feel like you were part of the whole Michigan athletic scene as well as just the downtown flavor of Ann Arbor at the time.”
While Seyfreth said the spirit of the restaurant will stay the same, he added there will be changes in the food and traditions.
“You don’t want to get too much in the past,” Seyferth said. “There’s great tradition, but we want to bring that tradition forward and build new memories. The food is going to be different, the ambiance is going to be a bit different.”
Executive chef Neal Diebold said the focus of the food will be to bring a sense of home to the students. He noted that students come to campus from all around the country, and he wants the food to have a relaxed and homey feel.
“We are trying to create a sense of home,” Diebold said. “You are away from home, and you have studies, you have stress — then you come here and you are supposed to relax and have memories. This is like your second home and this is what I am trying to create menu-wise.”
One of the restaurant’s original traditions was to let students celebrating their 21st birthdays stand on a stool and a ring a bell after drinking 21 beers. Carlson said he and the other owners want to keep the birthday aspect of the tradition alive, but will not make drinking 21 beers necessary to ring the bell.
“So what we are going to do is take that tradition and have it for everyone’s birthday,” Carlson said. “When you come here you will get a special gift, which is a little brass bell. You will be able to go behind the bar upstairs or downstairs and ring the bell, and you also get a couple gifts.”
Past traditions and memories will also be maintained through black and white photos on the restaurant’s walls. The photos will be of the owners and University sports, arts and academics.
“We feel that this is important to show our partners and the history of Michigan,” Carlson said. “Not just sports … This has to be about the arts, this has to be about music, has to be about student life. We felt that was significant to get a feeling of why we all are here. It is the University of Michigan that brings us all together.”