The lingering scent of refried beans and hot salsa will soon clear the air of East Huron Street when Tios Mexican Café moves out of the building it has occupied for over 20 years.
In July of last year the City of Ann Arbor purchased the building next to city hall, where Tios Mexican Café has been located since 1985. The restaurant will have to vacate the building by June 30, when its current lease is up.
After the city bought the building, Tios launched a campaign to raise the $50,000 it needs to finance its move. So far, it has about $20,000, according to owner Tim Seaver. As a part of the campaign, customers can make donations ranging from $50 to $5,000, each paired with benefits including monthly discounts to getting one’s name engraved on a stool in the restaurant.
Seaver said Tios’ owners were surprised by the purchase since they were not aware that their building was up for sale. The business learned that the building had been purchased and that they would have to move from customers and from the Ann Arbor News, longtime employee Pauline Slate said.
Dean Zahn Properties LLC, the restaurant’s landlord, was unavailable for comment.
The restaurant is hoping to move to the space formerly occupied by Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina on East Liberty, or the former location of The Metro Café in Kerrytown.
Seaver said he’s confident that his business will raise enough money for the move.
“It’s going to be touch-and-go but I think we’re going to make it,” he said. “We’re optimistic.”
Seaver said his major complaint with the situation is that the city is not helping the restaurant with the move. He said that he would not mind moving if it wasn’t such an uphill struggle financially.
“I’m sorry, I think it’s just fair and ethical and intelligent to help us find another spot,” he said. “As far as (the city is) concerned, if you can’t open somewhere else: tough.”
Ann Arbor City Councilmember Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1), said that there was no discussion among council members about helping Tios financially. She said the property was offered to the city, which purchased it for $605,000. The city plans to use the property for parking.
To improve business once the move is made, Seaver said he has plans to apply for a liquor license. Seaver said the landlord of the property on East Liberty would be willing to help obtain a license.
In light of the economy, Tios’ day business has fallen to a fraction of what it once was and having a bar would hopefully improve profits, Seaver said. Compounding the problem are recent layoffs at Guy C. Larcom City Hall and The Ann Arbor News building — both of which are located in close proximity to the restaurant. These changes have taken massive bites out of Tios’ revenue, he said.
Slate, a Tios employee for seven and a half years, said that the city will be losing a source of revenue if Tios can’t relocate. She said that people come from areas surrounding Ann Arbor to eat at Tios and they spend money in the city while they are here.
“It’s unbelievable at a time like this when so many people are becoming unemployed and your spending dollar is shrinking that the city would take away a source of revenue,” she said. “It makes no sense to me at all.”