Monica Nacianceno never had a Twinkie in her school lunch for dessert – or a Ding Dong, or a Ho-Ho.
She never had a Whoopie Pie or a Keebler cookie.
But every one of her classmates would have traded Monica their lunches for the treats she did have, and some of them begged to do so.
“There were nine of us,” says Monica, “and I’d awaken every morning to the smells of my mother’s baking. She was ahead of her time and made everything from scratch. She wouldn’t buy prepackaged foods because of all the additives.”
“Once,” Monica says, “my mother made the Twinkies I’d begged her for. They were the best ever!”
More than the other children, Monica loved to be in the kitchen. She made her first cake when she was ten.
“And I still haven’t stopped,” she beams.
Now owner of the Fox and Hounds Pastry Den in Troy’s Emerald Lakes Plaza on John R. at Square Lake Road, Monica was already making cakes for friends’ and family events by fifth and sixth grade.
“When I was seventeen,” she laughs, “I took four sheet cakes I’d made to our family reunion. What teenager does that?”
Monica grew up with relatives who were in the restaurant business.
“I would spend summers with them,” she says, “just to be able to work at the restaurant!”
“My very first real job was at Wendy’s. At age fifteen, they made me a shift leader and gave me a key.”
Later, Monica was also a manager at I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham.
After graduation, Monica would practice her driving skills on Woodward Avenue.
“I was not an eager driver,” she says. “I’d head north on Woodward to Long Lake and would turn around by the fascinating, castle-like building on the corner: the Fox and Hounds restaurant. I’ve always loved historical buildings.”
Years later, Monica – looking for a part-time job – began working there.
“As a guest for the restaurant’s very last dinner before they closed permanently,” Monica recalls, “I had an idea: the restaurant can be gone, and the building can be gone, but their desserts can still be here.”
And when she saw a “For Lease” sign in Troy’s Emerald Lakes Plaza – where she’d been coming for 30 years – she says, “a lightbulb just went on, and I knew ‘it’s time, now!’”
Monica, who’d been busy with her own dessert delivery business, was able to acquire the Fox and Hounds Pastry Den name, as well as the recipes for their beloved vanilla, chocolate and marble Celebration Cakes; their tortes and miniature pastries; and their signature buttercream.
And she has created — with a black-and-gold tin ceiling; the original “Fox and Hounds Pastry Den” wooden sign and their original, now-antique brass cash register; a meticulously painted, over-the-fireplace mural of a fox hunt; and a few sturdy, wooden tables and chairs – a true, comfy lair (with Wi-Fi) where customers can sit and enjoy coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and slices of buttercream cake or freshly baked scones, cookies, muffins, gluten-free Chocolate Decadent Brownies, croissants and quiches.
“We have the best buttercream ever! It’s not overly sweet. With a million buttercreams out there, not one is like ours,” Monica says. “It has a lot of butter, whipped a long time, and a high cream content.”
Monica’s daughter (also named Monica) works with her mom and recalls that, when they first opened, they would give samples of the buttercream to customers who were eager to compare it to the original Fox and Hounds’.
“They’d get on their phones,” says ‘Lil’Monica,’ and call their friends to say, ’Yes! It tastes the same: delicious!’”
She adds, “It’s all about tradition and carrying on the type of quality that many young people have never experienced. One of our customers brought in a photo of his Fox and Hounds wedding cake from 25 years ago. We were able to re-create it as a surprise for his wife’s 50th birthday.”
Owner Monica Nacianceno and her daughter, Lil’ Monica
“And now,” Monica says, “their younger generation orders special cakes from us for their own families.”
“Our clientele is so great,” Lil’ Monica says. “They come from all over to get their favorite dessert, and they appreciate our personal service.”
“We want to brighten peoples’ days,” says Monica, “and make them at home while we carry on some local history, right here in Troy — in our own, cozy, little castle.”
Troy resident Kathryn Murphy chuckled as she recalled the frustration of trying to talk on – and arrange repair for – an iPhone that had been grabbed and thrown by her 2-year-old.
“ ‘Please, Katie,’ ” my dad would say during our calls that were full of static and awful sound quality. ‘Please take your phone somewhere and get it fixed, so we can have an actual conversation!’ ”
“I’m a working mom with two toddlers,” Murphy explained. “I’d already been to my service provider for a repair that didn’t succeed too well. So, I was trying to get by, and I didn’t want to be without my phone again.”
But when Murphy noticed the gleaming, new uBreakiFix electronic device service location in her neighborhood, on Crooks Road near Big Beaver in Troy, Mich., she decided to stop in and attempt another repair.
“The store was welcoming and spotless,” Murphy said. “I was helped by a very friendly and sympathetic tech guy, who said they’d have my phone ready, hopefully, by the end of the day. Two hours later, my phone was fixed!” Kathryn added:“I’d been ready to just buy a new phone, so they saved me hundreds of dollars!”
The uBreakiFix business in Troy is one of five company locations to open in Metro Detroit during the past 15 months. And owners Drew Lessaris and Matthew, Ron and Joyce Harb have plans to expand into Macomb and Wayne counties, Brighton, Ann Arbor and Flint over the next two years.
Drew Lessaris (l) and Ron Harb (r) of uBreakiFix in Troy, Michigan
“I’d been looking for a business venture for this Detroit area,” said Ron Harb. “I’m from here and, though I moved to Little Rock (Arkansas) when I married years ago, I’ve remained a Detroiter in heart and spirit.”
“I did research and discovered uBreakiFix,” Harb said. “I met with the founders and couldn’t have been more impressed with their passion and work ethic.”
“And,” added Harb, “when I was looking for an operating business partner, I was blessed to find Drew.”
Moving here from Indianapolis, Drew Lessaris had also been moved by the passion and commitment of uBreakiFix’s founders.
“I could see that they were building for the long term, and that they based the business on robust technology, extraordinary customer service, the highest-quality parts, support for the growth of each team member and, especially, an ethical and transparent business model,” Lessaris said. “UBreakiFix, from the start, distinguished itself from all other device repair businesses,” Lessaris said. “We diagnose for no charge. We have a set price for each type of repair, a 90-day nationwide warranty, and we will match any (regular) repair price. If we cannot fix a device, there is no charge. Most importantly, we hire staff who care about people. We don’t see ourselves as a repair company, but as a customer service company.”
And their service has changed dread and disappointment into joy for many customers.
“We were able, after a whole day of trying, to restore hundreds of photos of a couple’s newborn when their phone got wet. That was a rewarding day,” Lessaris said.
“Yes,” agreed Harb. “So many people don’t know that turning on a phone with water damage is the worst thing you can do. The number one rule is to power off the phone so the current doesn’t destroy the mother board.”
“Just tell everyone to bring their water-damaged phones to us,” Lessaris said. “Water treatment for an iPhone 6 series is only $50!”
One of the people Lessaris hired, Ben Willoughby, started as a uBreakiFix tech in Indiana and moved to Detroit to join Lessaris’s team here asregional manager. At the Royal Oak location on Woodward Avenue, Willoughby enjoys guiding new staff members through the initial 30-day training period.
“The company provides such opportunities for its workers,” Willoughby said. “And the mindset is that the team is a family, not just a business. It’s a great place to be all the time, from Drew and Ron to the folks in corporate.”
“It is easier to teach people how to fix things than how to be nice, to be encouraging in a customer’s time of need,” said Justin Wetherill (Co-Founder/CEO), a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree who opened the first uBreakiFix in Orlando in 2009 with partners David Reiff and Eddie Trujillo.
Justin Wetherill opened the first uBreakiFix in Orlando, Florida
A former data-base analyst with a degree in accounting, Wetherill shared the story of the company’s humble beginnings. “In 2009, right after opening my new iPhone 3G, I dropped it, and it broke,” Wetherill said. Unwilling to leave his phone at any of the bleak and dingy repair businesses nearby, Wetherill — a tech lover and tinkerer — decided to fix it himself.
Wetherill and Reiff then realized the extensive need for quality device repair and began a living room-based, mail-in business. When customers were willing to drive two hours or more to wait for a repair instead of mailing their phones, the three founders saw that brick-and-mortar locations were their next step.
UBreakiFix now has 325 locations, with nearly 700 being developed – and the company has completed more than 2.5 million repairs. “We’re really excited about the success and impact we’ve had in the Detroit area and with how receptive Detroit has been,” said Wetherill. “Focusing on people and process, profit has been a by-product and a blessing. We plan to keep growing and sharing with customers and employees.”
With a sleek and efficient website, a gleaming service area stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and a computerized, eye-catching marquee flashing on Maple Road, Troy Auto Glass is an ultramodern and ever-evolving enterprise.
But what makes owner Gary Laviolette most proud is that Troy Auto Glass is so “old-fashioned.”
“It’s hard to find good, small businesses that work like they did 20 years ago,” Laviolette says. “Social behaviors change, but you can’t underestimate what customer service means.”
And each member of Laviolette’s staff provides customers needing auto and windshield glass replacement the kind of service that generates five-star online reviews and enthusiastic referrals from highly satisfied clients and local car dealerships.
When Troy resident, Laurie Albert, needed to replace the windshield of her Mazda, she called a business she had used in the past.
“They were kind of nonchalant,” said Albert. “They didn’t ask me any details about my car, but said they could take care of the work and the insurance when I came in.”
“I then called the Mazda dealership for their advice, and they recommended Troy Auto Glass,” Albert added.
Albert’s concerns about the replacement process and questions about the windshield product were answered by Laviolette himself, who happened to take her call.
“Gary took time to explain what would happen, that he had the proper inventory, and that he’d easily be able to process the insurance claim. But the best part,” Albert said, “is that work was finished almost an hour ahead of the time they’d estimated!”
“Also,” she said, “the facility is clean, pleasant, and professional. It’s much more like a nice office building than an auto garage.”
The 55-year-old business was started by Gary’s dad, Ronald Laviolette, in Waterford, in 1962 and has been at its current location on Maple Road since 1978.
“As a 10-year-old kid,” Gary said, “I would drive in with Dad on Saturday mornings and do deposit slips, and take orders and phone calls. In high school, I did a co-op program here, attended staff meetings and learned even more. After high school, I was here fulltime.”
“And half of our employees have been here 20 years,” he added. “For some, it’s been 25 or 30.”
In those years, windshield technology has continued to change.
“Along with customer service, our concern is driver safety. We only use OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) products,” Laviolette said.
“Often, people looking to save money will have a service station replace their windshield. But that product may be from China and, in an accident, may not withstand a safe airbag release.”
He added, “And, with sensors, cameras and brackets, after-market and cheaper products cannot provide a safe fit.”
“Even the type of glue used contributes to safety,” Laviolette explains. “Ours is the highest quality, and we provide the proper drying time so that when a job is finished, the vehicle is completely safe. If a customer left here and was in an accident, the windshield would definitely remain intact.”
Laviolette and his staff are ready to meet the challenges of future auto innovations and heightened technology.
“Our technicians are highly skilled – and they care,” said Laviolette. “We are excited to keep up with the future, but we’ll always remain old-fashioned.”
As a 13-year-old growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Mike Chalhoub couldn’t wait until his school day was done.
Unlike most of his friends, he had more to look forward to than playing ball or riding a bike after classes.
He was going to his job as a busboy at The Summertimes restaurant, where he would soon be immersed in the aromas of cumin and coriander and freshly chopped cilantro, onions and garlic, while the chefs sliced, sautéed and shouted orders to each other for chicken shata or the lamb and chicken shawarmas, for which the restaurant was known.
“My boss saw my passion for food and hard work,” Chalhoub says, “and soon promoted me to cooking.”
By age 18, Chalhoub was running the snack bar, night club and main restaurant of a nearby hotel. At 23, he opened a restaurant on the Ivory Coast.
“Soldiers came and took it over,” Chalhoub said.
He moved to the United States and worked in several Mediterranean eateries until starting the Troy location of Grape
Leaves in 2004.
“It was challenging,” Chalhoub says. “I wanted everything to be perfect: fresh, delicious, healthy and, especially, consistent. And, you know what? Everything, thirteen years later, is still the same consistent quality.
And,” he says, “I guarantee that what you enjoy here today will taste the same when you order ten years from now!”
Each morning, Chalhoub and his brother and general manager, Brian, shop for fresh vegetables and meat and deliver them to the three Grape Leaves locations (Troy, Oak Park, Southfield). The chicken will be marinated; the lamb, roasted; the vegetables, washed and sliced: all readied for the stews, salads, sautees and specialty dishes that will be made-to-order for dine-in or carry-out lunches and dinners, as well as catered events.
“I wish I had photos of one wedding we catered,” Chalhoub says, “with a whole, baked lamb. It was fantastic. Everyone loved it!”
Diners eat there often and are treated like family. “Hello, Squash Guys!” Brian says, greeting longtime customers, Dodie and Warren, as they enter. They hug Brian warmly.
“We started coming here eight years ago,” Dodie says. “Currently, we’ve had to omit dairy, sugar and meat. Here, we can always have the most healthy and delicious meals.” Warren laughs.
“That’s why you get to know the boss! Look! They made me these fresh-cooked cottage fries to go with my cousa (stuffed squash),” Warren says.
“My crew is the best,” Chalhoub says. “Though some of the wait staff leave for other careers after college, 90 per cent of my cooks have been with me for many years.”
And, though Chalhoub now leaves most of the cooking to his staff, today he motions, “Come! I want you to see the creation of my favorite dish: chicken ghallaba!”
He washes his hands and dons gloves, apron, chef hat. With a 10-inch, razor-honed knife, he slices onions, peppers, carrot – even mushrooms – with lightning quickness and tosses them into a sizzling pan. The vegetables are cheerfully thrown in air and then land amid marinated chicken breast he’s added.
“Now,” he says, spooning a red powder over the skillet, “here is for the special taste: my own spice blend!”
Holding the plate of golden chicken with its mound of brilliant vegetables and rice, Chalhoub smiles and says, “If you want to stay healthy and eat delicious food, come to Grape Leaves. A visit a day keeps the doctor away!”
As a young Canadian medical student who dreamed of working surgically with her hands and helping cancer patients of all ages, Troy ophthalmologist Dr. A. Luisa Di Lorenzo of Somerset Ophthalmology began her oncology rotation at The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland with eager anticipation.
Dr. A. Luisa Di Lorenzo of Somerset Ophthalmology in Troy
But as the program progressed – and she learned that, as an oncologist, she wouldn’t be doing surgery and would need to choose between adults and children as patients – Di Lorenzo wondered if oncology was truly the best specialty field for her.
“Fortuitously,” says Dr. Di Lorenzo, “in my final year of medical school, my rotation in ophthalmology at Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, was with larger-than-life Professor Louis Collum. During my very first day with him, I saw that he cared for children as well as adults – and he performed surgeries, too. And when, with photos of the inside of eyes, he innovatively taught us that all diseases can affect the eyes, I knew by the end of that first day that I wanted to become an ophthalmologist.”
Having completed an Internal Medicine Residency at Wayne State University and an Ophthalmology Residency at the Kresge Eye Institute of Wayne State University, serving as Chief Resident in her last year, Dr. Di Lorenzo established Somerset Ophthalmology in Troy.
Di Lorenzo explains some of the almost science fiction-like improvements in the field that she has seen and passionately incorporated into her practice of eighteen years.
“Cataract surgery has changed tremendously,” Dr. Di Lorenzo says, “with extremely small incisions and ‘no-stitch’ techniques. Implant lenses are tiny, and anesthesia is now topical instead of being injected around the eyeball. Patients who may be on blood thinners no longer have to stop them.”
The lenses implanted during cataract procedures have also improved dramatically, along with methods for more precise measurements in calculating the appropriate strength of the lens. In the last ten years, inter-ocular lenses have been developed that can correct astigmatism and offer multi-focal and accommodative vision, often allowing patients to forego reading glasses.
Many eye patients dread a diagnosis of macular degeneration which, in the past, has often meant certain loss of clear sight. Dr. Di Lorenzo, who also teaches at Oakland University and Wayne State University medical schools, is thrilled that people with macular degeneration now have vastly improved chances of maintaining – and sometimes even improving – their vision. “There’s been a major treatment development since 2004 for patients with “wet” macular degeneration, in which blood builds up behind the retina, consisting of special intra-ocular injections.”
And the doctor is very excited about recent research of “dry” macular degeneration. “AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Studies),” she said, “found that ingesting nutrients such as lutein, zinc and others in leafy green vegetables not only can halt ongoing deterioration – but can offer condition improvement! Over-the-counter ocular supplements are valuable, and I do recommend them to my patients.”
The doctor has additional recommendations for eye health and safety. “Don’t smoke!” she states. “Smoking is a great risk factor for eye disease. And wear protective eyewear for sports and industrial work of any kind. So many children have eye injuries from soccer balls, etc., hitting unprotected eyes. And I do recommend that children see an ophthalmologist who, with their scope of training, can often spot lazy eye, tumors, neurological and other issues during examinations.”
“Interestingly,” she adds, “exercise is great for vision health. Also, wear sunglasses in bright light. And eat those leafy, green vegetables!”
Dr. Di Lorenzo and her associate, Dr. Sue Lim, do believe in a “total body” approach and, in their personalized and compassionate practice, they treat their patients – children and adults – like family. “It’s easy to make treatment decisions when you feel that way,” the doctor says. “We are available all the time. We love what we do.”
And, where outside the walls of her practice, Di Lorenzo zealously pursues new surgical techniques and knowledge, she also is active with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Michigan State Medical Society and the Michigan Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (serving as its president in 2010). In rare leisure time she enjoys acting, music, all types of athletics, entertaining, traveling and being with her husband, an internist.
But, with everything that she does, Dr. Di Lorenzo’s true focus is stated as a quote on their website (somersetophthalmology.com): “The beauty of life is in the details.”
And, she wants us to be able to see all of them.
2877 Crooks Rd. Suite B
Troy, MI 48084