Mission-driven cafe, Cuban cuisine, 1920s-themed restaurant among new Ypsilanti businesses

From Cuban cuisine to a coffee shop with a mission to a restaurant that's bringing back the 1920s, new food and drink businesses are springing up in the Ypsilanti area. We recently caught up with three of them.
From Cuban cuisine to a coffee shop with a mission to a restaurant that's bringing back the 1920s, new food and drink businesses are springing up in the Ypsilanti area. We recently caught up with three of the newest to open.

"For every border, there's a bridge."

Maria Pomo Castillo and Sierra Lambert, co-owners of Bridge Community Cafe at 217 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti, have been travel partners and radical organizers for more than 15 years. They see their new business, officially opened on Dec. 8, as an extension of that past. It's also how the business got its name.

"There are so many borders that divide people, but for every border, there's a bridge," Lambert says. That quote, translated into Spanish, is painted on the cafe's wall.

Pomo Castillo says she and Lambert have "so many friends doing amazing things," from starting new businesses to brainstorming new organizing ideas. 

"We wanted to be the home base where people can bring their ideas and help make them happen," Pomo Castillo says. More than a year ago, the two co-founders began hosting Zoom meetings, asking friends what a supportive space could look like.

"We wanted a place where people could gather that's sustainable and intentional about where we source from," Lambert says. "We want it to be a space for everyone — a meeting place to be sober, a place to work or get vegan food."
Maria Pomo Castillo, Gabrielle Watts, and Sierra Lambert with mocktails at Brdige Community Cafe.
As part of its social mission, the cafe hosts a pay-what-you-can soup day each week and hosts visits from pop-up shop Queer Comics Peddler. Bridge also holds monthly "dry bars."

"It's basically a bar, but with mocktails," says Gabrielle Watts, special events coordinator for Bridge. "We're trying to make it an inclusive space, not just for people in the recovery community, but for anybody who wants to come and socialize without it being at a bar that serves alcohol."

The most recent dry bar featured an opportunity for participants to create vision boards, Watts says. Patrons could sip a Bridge Margarita, made with muddled jalapeno and house-made hibiscus syrup, and sample vegan food while creating their vision boards with craft supplies courtesy of Bridge. 

Watts says she'd love to have different themes for upcoming dry bars, as well as events like a comedy show or an opening for local artists.

More information is available on the business' website or Facebook page.

Authentic Cuban cuisine

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed owner Jorge Ortega's plans to offer Cuban cuisine in the Ypsilanti area. However, his restaurant, Latin American Cuban Cuisine at 2269 Ellsworth Rd. in Ypsi Township, is now open and doing well largely through word of mouth.

Ortega says he'd been to Washtenaw County several times to visit family members and "fell in love with the area and the people." He noticed there weren't any restaurants offering authentic Cuban food, though, and thought that sort of cuisine might be of interest to area residents.

"It's authentic, and it's something new coming to the neighborhood," he says. "I'm just offering regular Cuban plates. I came from Miami and those [dishes] are all over the place in Miami."

Entrees include meat or fish with rice, beans, and plantains, and the restaurant also offers a variety of wraps and sandwiches. Sides include yuca, fried plantains, or tostones, which are crushed and fried savory plantains.
Some favorite dishes at Latin American Cuban Cuisine.
Ortega has done a little advertising, but a lot of his business is via word of mouth.

"There's a significant Cuban-American population here," Ortega says. "Once I opened, I started noticing more Cubans coming in, more than what I thought."

Ortega says that January has been a little slow but that's typical in the restaurant business. 

"It's going good, especially for a new business. Things are picking up," he says.

A full menu and more information is available here.

A new restaurant in a historic building

Richard Muszynski grew up in Michigan and learned about rehabilitating buildings from his parents. He has now applied that skill to 101 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti, a historic building dating back to 1837, which he is turning into a restaurant called C. King & Co. Cafe.

"It was wrapped in scaffolding, and all the original windows were taken out and rehabbed," Muszynski says. "It's essentially a new building inside a 200-year-old building."

Muszynski notes that the location housed a machine shop in the 1920s and a mercantile before that. The second and third floors have been vacant since before World War II, he notes.

Muszynski has a background in both food and real estate, and wanted to apply both areas of expertise to his new venture.

"I wanted to hold onto the characteristics of the building and try to replicate something that looks like it had been there for 100 years. I think the space I have created really does that," he says. "It holds a lot of character, like an old speakeasy or an old bistro."
Richard Muszynski at C. King & Co. Cafe.
Muszynski plans for staff uniforms and food and drink choices to reflect the 1920s as well. There will be an open-concept kitchen, patrons will be able to watch their pizzas being made in a brick oven, and legs of ham will dangle from the ceiling like in an old-timey deli, he says. The cocktail menu will feature drinks that could be found in a 1920s speakeasy, like Old Fashioneds or bathtub gin served in coffee cups.

"The theme will carry through the menu, and bartenders will have time-period-correct leather aprons and newsboy hats," Muszynski says. 

Before deciding on a menu, Muszynski says he asked area residents what wasn't well represented in downtown Ypsilanti. People said there were chain pizza places but not a nice sit-down restaurant featuring pizza.

"I lived in Brooklyn for a number of years and was only blocks away from Grimaldi's, a famous Sicilian-style pizza place. I think that's the kind of thing Ypsilanti is lacking," Muszynski says.

Muszynski is waiting on his liquor license and hopes to be open sometime this spring. More information about the restaurant and historic photos of the building are available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.