The Mani Osteria experience is about to get a little spicier, as owner Adam Baru prepares to open the doors to a new Mexican restaurant under the same roof on East Liberty Street.
Baru said the restaurant, to be named Isalita, will be a reflection of his own experience in Mexico and is slated to open in early January. He said he travels there frequently and was inspired by his personal experience dabbling in Mexican cuisine.
While the look and atmosphere of the two rooms will be different, Baru said customers will experience consistency between Mani and Isalita, noting he plans to keep his menu and business concepts fluid.
Baru said Isalita’s menu, which is a tribute to Mexican street food, has already been designed, and now he is just waiting on a finalized design and final inspections.
“Like Mani, many of the items will be small plates, meant to be shared as a group,” Baru said. “There are a number of different categories that people can choose from and get different types of flavors, tastes and textures.”
Baru opened Mani Osteria in 2011 and said the success the business achieved within its first year inspired him to open the second, interconnected restaurant.
“There are a lot of shared resources between the two, and it will allow for Chef Brendan, as well as myself, to manage both properties because we are so close to each other,” Baru said. “If we were any further away from one another, I don’t think we would have moved forward on building a bigger restaurant as quickly as we had.”
Isalita’s prices will be comparable to Mani’s, and though the spaces will be different, the business model will be similar.
Baru said when he first opened Mani, he hoped the restaurant would serve as a social hub for the community as well as the University, and be inclusive to all.
“With this as well, my hope is that it’s a place where students, as well as people from town, can intermingle and enjoy the space, and it’s not really meant for any one person,” Baru says. “I was hoping that my daughter can come and have her kiddie tacos, and students can come in and enjoy happy hour.”
While sticking to traditional is part of the plan, authentic menu items will be supplemented by innovative options, just like any restaurant will create their own twist, he said. He noted that the drink menu will be mostly tequila and mescal-focused.
LSA senior Mia Butera, who hails from Southern California, said one of the reasons she hasn’t consistently eaten at Mexican restaurants in Ann Arbor is because they lack the authenticity she is accustomed to.
“I think Ann Arbor needs a more authentic restaurant,” Butera said. “Isalita should be delicious because Mani is really good.”
Isalita’s opening will come on the heels of the recent opening of nearby Lena on Main Street, which started serving Latin-inspired food about four months ago.
Despite the possibility of competition from Isalita, Rackham student Nicholas Macdonald, a server at Lena, said he thinks there are plenty of clients to go around.
“There’s obviously going to be a different atmosphere at each restaurant,” Macdonald said. “Part of what people come out for is ambience, not necessarily the food itself. As long as there is not any sort of direct competition, I don’t think it’s really a concern.”
Baru said one aspect of Isalita that could set it apart its selection of small plates, which he said is unique from other restaurants in town.
“We are certainly excited about it,” he said. “Everyone has been asking, and everyone seems excited about it, which is such a nice compliment.”