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A Great First Year in Downtown Birmingham for St. Croix

A Great First Year in Downtown Birmingham for St. Croix

A Great First Year in Downtown Birmingham for St. Croix

MAY 2019
LBN Community Series
Bob and Jan Nelson of Owosso have been shopping at St. Croix for more than a dozen years, and have always been happy with what they’ve found.

So it wasn’t a big surprise to see the Nelsons follow them a year ago, when the men’s clothing store made its move from the Somerset Collection in Troy to the streets of downtown Birmingham.



“They have good service, and (merchandise) is good quality,” Bob Nelson said. “If they don’t have what you want, they’ll find it. The service is fantastic.”

Apparently, the Nelsons aren’t the only ones who think so. According to general manager Victoria Knight, foot traffic has doubled what it was at the mall, and many customers have followed the store to its new location (268 W. Maple).

The resulting big business solidifies the thinking of making the move a year ago, following 24 successful years at Somerset.

“It was time for a change, and it was time to leave the mall setting,” Knight said. “We’ve heard from many clients that they no longer like shopping in the malls. So we listened.

“We found Birmingham and realized Birmingham was ‘the’ place,” she added. “A year later, we (believe) we made the right decision.”

St. Croix specializes in men’s clothing, largely made in the United States and Italy. All of the store’s knitwear is made in the U.S., handcrafted and made in the company factory in Winona, Minn. Some sport shirts, trousers and socks are made in Italy, while belts and leather coats are made in the U.S.

More than 80 percent of the store is U.S-made. Coats, pants, shirts, belts and other clothing items can be found in abundance.

Our Previous St. Croix Article

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And they’re being found by both new and repeat shoppers, especially – in a big change from their mall days – by men.

It’s a change that has convinced everyone at St. Croix the move was timed perfectly.

“It’s the best move we’ve ever made,” said Mike Hill, Knight’s assistant, who has worked at St. Croix for 11 years. “We’re more of a destination location. The guys are more comfortable shopping here.”

It was a trend Knight said she’d heard about, even before they left Somerset.

“The wives used to come shopping at Somerset and now we see the husbands shopping in Birmingham,” she pointed out. “Most men have expressed to us … they want a small, intimate boutique shop like ours.”

The other thing the new location has given them for the last year is more creative freedom. Knight said she’s got more room to create in her windows – and within the shop – than she had in Troy.

“We aren’t mandated by the mall,” she said. “We can be as creative as we want with the windows and what we need to do in the store, because no one is telling us what we can and can’t do.”

As the store celebrated with customers new and old, including cupcakes for the occasion, Knight couldn’t have been happier about the move.

“We love Birmingham, we love the community,” she said. “Everything about Birmingham is what they say … small community, everyone works together and it’s just a great place.”

St. Croix
268 West Maple
Birmingham, Michigan














Birmingham’s Vinotecca: A Wine Bar, a Restaurant – and a Forum for Exploring Life’s Consummate Fruits

Birmingham’s Vinotecca: A Wine Bar, a Restaurant – and a Forum for Exploring Life’s Consummate Fruits

Birmingham’s Vinotecca:  A Wine Bar, a Restaurant – and a Forum for Exploring Life’s Consummate Fruits

APRIL 2019
LBN Community Series
Visitors to Vinotecca, Birmingham’s unique wine, food, music, education, and event venue, are always surprised when energetic co-owner John Jonna shares, “I’ve been in the wine business for 60 years.”

“My father was a farmer and grocer in the Middle East,” John says, “who, as a Christian Chaldean, moved here to work for Henry Ford for his famous ‘five dollars a day.’”

“My father ended up, though, being in the grocery business and, even as a young boy, I helped him stock the wines – and that’s when my curiosity about them began.”


“So,” John continues, “from humble beginnings, I’m a sommelier who is one generation from the 3000-year-old homeland tradition of being a farmer and sheep herder.”

His business partner, daughter Kristin Jonna, is also a certified sommelier and was assistant winemaker at Benziger Vineyards.

“This whole restaurant and its concepts are Kristin’s ideas,” John says. “We, as a family, are passionate about wine, food, and learning. We started this restaurant in Royal Oak fourteen years ago, recently moving it here to Birmingham. We also have a sister restaurant, Vinology, in Ann Arbor.”

John adds, “Wanting to create an environment for straight-up communication and in-the-moment enjoyment of food and company, we started with no televisions and, in the time when people still smoked in restaurants, we had no smoking as the smoke interferes with the wine’s aroma.”

“We were packed,” says John. “It was a place to meet and really communicate. “

“Kristin wanted a social gathering spot with wine-friendly cuisine and varietally correct wines, true to the character of the food. We design our selections of wine and food to contrast and complement, and we rotate the menu.”

“Kristin and I are intensive in our studies,” he says.  “We may study 100 wines and then choose only two. We are not in favor of manipulated wine, but believe in wines in their natural, pure state.”

John points out the commissioned glass artwork facing the restaurant entry, created by Chris Nordin Studios in Dearborn and glowing with reds, roses, burgundies, scarlets: hues of the wines the Jonnas lovingly curate.

“Wanting to create an environment for straight-up communication and in-the-moment enjoyment of food and company, we started with no televisions…”

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“We are very proud of this piece. It’s an abstract representation of how wine is made and of Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamic and organic principle that ‘all products grown on earth should be made with cognizance of all other products and of the earth, itself.’”

“And that’s how we live, as a family,” states John, whose son, Ryan Jonna, has a Ph.D. in environmental sociology.

The restaurant’s three, distinctive event spaces also express that environmentalism.

Kristin’s husband, Dave Eifrid, owner of Greenlife Building, created the semi-private “Vintage” gathering space from reclaimed wood from a deconstructed home, a room for up to 45 people.

The Barrel Room, crafted to resemble the inside of a barrel, often holds wine seminars and other events, and accommodates 10-20 guests.

The Elm Room, seating 150, is used for larger events, including weddings, showers, retirement parties, and other celebrations.

“Kristin was able to ‘create’ three elm trees in this room that reach to the ceiling,” John says. “There’s one for each grandchild.”

And, on the partly covered patios, customers meet, dine, and drink in all kinds of weather for wine events, brunches and dinners (complete with kids’ menus), happy hours, and live music performances (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays).

“Now, many of our customers come here and say, ‘I met my future husband here!’ Or, ‘I proposed to my wife here.’ We are also the first to have offered a gourmet cheese plate, our number one seller.”

“I’m a cheese expert beyond comparison!” John grins. “And a life enrichment expert.”

“A bottle of wine is meant to be shared by three, four, five people,” explains John. “And through wine, gourmet food, and the sharing of it all, life is truly enriched.”

210 S. Old Woodward Avenue
Birmingham, MI  48009













Cannelle Patisserie Offers a Little Slice of Paris in Birmingham

Cannelle Patisserie Offers a Little Slice of Paris in Birmingham

Cannelle Patisserie Offers Up a Slice of Paris in Birmingham
APRIL 2019
LBN Community Series
In an unassuming building in Birmingham, is nestled Cannelle Patisserie, filled with fresh, tempting French desserts, pastry and coffee.

On an early Saturday morning, the shop already has a steady stream of customers lining up for flakey croissants, pain au chocolat, savory rolls and fresh bread. Matt Knio, owner, greets employees and customers with the same warm smile—handshakes for some, hugs for others.


(Second from Left)
How Knio’s life story led him to Birmingham is worthy of grabbing a cup of coffee and pastry and sitting down to listen.

He grew up in Lebanon and left home when he was 17 to take a job he knew nothing about—farming cocoa in Ivory Coast.

“My job was to maintain the quality and the volume of the cocoa beans,” Knio said. “Slowly, I made it to manager. It was really hard to accept the job because it was in the middle of the forest.”

By middle of the forest, he means nine hours from the capitol by dirt road.

“After the war in Ivory Coast, I was forced to leave, if not for the war, I would still be there,” Knio, 44, said. “I went to France. I wanted to do something related to something I understand, which is cocoa. I wasn’t planning on being a pastry chef.”

He took a job with a woman who had a pastry shop. She recognized his talent and urged him to pursue it.

He went to the Académie de Versailles. Additionally, the woman he worked for knew a master pastry chef, who took him on.

“I worked and I went to school. I spent about five years with him and I took the same diploma as his,” said Knio.

“The people are really nice, and the food is fabulous…but I’m not sure about telling you how fabulous it is because more people will come here.”
After working for several large chocolate companies, he took a job as head pastry chef at the Ritz-Carleton in Dearborn. After a year, he decided to strike out on his own, so he established his first shop on Northwestern Highway. However, business wasn’t thriving.

“I struggled bigtime,” said Knio. “I stayed for two years. I decided to move somewhere with more activity and more people.”

That led him to downtown Birmingham. But his heart was in wholesale, not retail. In 2008, he closed in Birmingham and went wholesale in Hamtramck.

“I was wholesale completely for about four to five years. I didn’t do any retail until a friend of mine, who owns this plaza, said, ‘Matt, you have to open a place.’ I told him I didn’t want to  but, he said, ‘You do the product, I’ll manage the store.’ We opened this six years ago, and it was a success from day one,” said Knio.

Today, walking into Cannelle Patisserie is a delight to the senses. The name alone is melodic.

“When I was working for my boss in France, we made a cake that was called cannelle, which means ‘cinnamon’ in French. But I chose the name because I like the sound of it,” said Knio.

The pastry cases are full of tasty works of art, glossy with glazes and puffed with cream.

“The majority of the recipes are my own,” Knio said. “I get ideas from different places, but I execute it the way I want. Eighty to 85% of my work is my own creation. Even a simple, traditional pastry that’s been made the same for years and years, you’ll find tastes different when I make it.”

For the last few years, Frank Lee of Troy, has been making Cannelle Patisserie a regular stop in his daily routine.

“My favorite thing here is the people,” said Lee. “It’s good when I’m out with work and have someone with me, I’ll bring them by.”

David Levin of Birmingham also frequents Cannelle Patisserie with his brother.

“The people are really nice, and the food is fabulous,” he said. “But I’m not sure about telling you how fabulous it is because more people will come here.”

159 North Eton Street
Birmingham, MI 48009










‘Old School’ Ways Keeps Primo’s Going 41 Years Later

‘Old School’ Ways Keeps Primo’s Going 41 Years Later

‘Old School’ Ways Keeps Primo’s Going 41 Years Later


MARCH 2019


LBN Community Series

Back in the day, there was a television show about a fictional bar where “everybody knows your name.”

 At Primo’s Pizza in Birmingham, truth is stranger than fiction, because staffers inside they really do know the names. Most of them, anyway.



It’s not really that surprising, since the pizzeria has been at its Adams Road location for 41 years. The eatery, opened in May 1978 by owner John DeAngelis, has been serving multiple generations of families ever since.

“Probably 75 percent of our customers we know by name. They’re that regular. There are people who eat here five or six days a week,” said general manager Michael Beaufore, who ought to know, since he started at Primo’s in 1982. “We know everyone … I like to call it the ‘Cheers’ effect. You walk in, we know what you eat, what you drink, and (customers) like that.

“We’ve been here long enough that the children who used to come in here with their parents are now bringing their own children in,” he added. “They’ve grown up in this place.”

Some of the staff has, too. Beaufore came into the store back in 1982 looking for a night job while he was getting his degree from Oakland University – and hasn’t left. Many of the 20 or so staffers have been there for decades.

“It’s a good atmosphere here … We take care of the employees well, and they seem to really enjoy it,” Beaufore said. “We have a staff that’s been here a long time.”

 One of them is Joe Larson, a cook who’s been at Primo’s for some 30 years. He said the work atmosphere combined with the quality products makes it a great place to work.

 “It’s great pizza, we use good ingredients, the customers like us and they like our food,” Larson said. “I enjoy my job.”

“Probably 75 percent of our customers we know by name. They’re that regular. There are people who eat here five or six days a week.”

While feeding the customers who come into the store, Primo’s also reaches out to others in the community. The restaurant is particularly involved with the local schools, providing pizza for the concession stands at both Birmingham public schools – Seaholm and Groves – as well as for events and activities at local elementary schools and churches.

 That kind of community outreach is integral to the store’s success.

“That’s a real part of us,” Beaufore said. “It’s always been very important for us to be part of this community, and that starts with the schools.”

That’s OK with Seaholm High School senior Joseph Henze, who’s been getting lunchtime pizza at Primo’s the last two years.

 Primo’s is in proximity to his school and the pizza “is delicious,” according to Henze.

 “It’s fresh every time I get it,” Henze said. “And it’s good every time I get it.”

Primo’s isn’t solely a pizza place – there’s a full kitchen, where you can get sandwiches, ribs, pasta and salads, and a convenience store attached with beer, wine and typical fare – and all of that can be delivered.

 “We’re open late. I think that’s an advantage,” Beaufore said. “We were one of the only places in the area you could get ribs delivered or a cheeseburger delivered at 11 o’clock at night.”

Still, Primo’s wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the pizza. Beaufore said the secret to the eatery’s success is the “old-school” way they do things there.

Primo’s prime product is made by hand, starting with dough made fresh every day. Cooks also hand-cut the vegetables and other toppings – something Beaufore says is a dying art in the pizzeria business these days.

 “We do things old-school,” Beaufore said. “I think that’s part of our success.”

Not only is Primo’s the “pizza place to be” for current Birmingham residents, it’s also a gathering spot for former residents who, for whatever reason, come home.

 “It’s a place of destination now. If people grew up in Birmingham and moved away … if they come back for a holiday or other reasons, they seem to always want to get their Primo’s,” Beaufore said. “It’s part of the fabric of Birmingham.”

That’s why the store does so much community outreach.

“We’ve always felt we are part of the Birmingham community, so that’s very important,” Beaufore said. “It’s a way for us to reach the customers, for them to get to know us, for us to give back. We’ve been here a long time, been successful, so you give back to the community, and they continuously come back to you. It works.”

Primo’s Pizza
966 S. Adams Road
Birmingham, MI 48009
(248) 642-1400














Choose a Most Delectable Gift at Birmingham’s Bateel

Choose a Most Delectable Gift at Birmingham’s Bateel

Choose a Most Delectable Gift at Birmingham’s Bateel
LBN Community Series
“I feel like I am in the finest jewelry store when I visit Bateel,” says Rochester resident Carly Strand. “But the sparkling display case and glittering boxes are filled with dates and exclusive chocolates instead of rings and earrings,” she chuckles.

“I’m always uplifted from having gotten something unique and delicious, whether it’s a hostess or holiday gift – or a little treat for me – when I leave here,” she adds.


Bateel (the word means “the young offshoot of a date palm tree”) in Birmingham, which opened in May of 2017, is the first U.S.A. location of this luxury gift boutique that has stores in cities around the world, including London, Jakarta, and Dubai.

“Many of our customers here in Birmingham have seen our name outside of the United States,” says manager Nadia Hamoudi. “And also, many see our window of jeweled and metallic gift boxes and come in because they wonder, ‘What is going on in here?’.”

“I love our brand,” Nadia says, “because it is unique. We have a specific spin on chocolates, which is dates.”

The dazzling display cases are filled with impeccably arranged trays of dates of all kinds: stuffed, chocolate-dipped, rolled in crushed nuts.

The dates are grown naturally on Bateel’s farms in the Middle East and then meticulously processed with custom-made machinery that “polishes” each date.

“I’ve been to the factory in Dubai,” Nadia says. “It is amazing to watch how the dates are so carefully cared for and maintained.”

Nadia’s favorite item is the khalas date filled with caramelized macadamia nut.

“If I eat one, I will not be able to stop,” she laughs.

“I also love our half-moon biscuits,” she shares. “They are butter biscuits, filled with date paste, then dipped in dark, milk or white chocolate and then in chopped nuts or sesame seeds.”

“I’m always uplifted from having gotten something unique and delicious, whether it’s a hostess or holiday gift – or a little treat for me – when I leave here.”
Bateel also offers Origin chocolates, made from limited-quantity, single estate-produced cacao.

“The chocolate is richer, purer, and of the highest attainable quality,” Nadia explains, “and, like our dates, can be packaged in an assortment of types and quantity according to the customer’s desire.”

Maryam Abrahim of Northville is a frequent Bateel customer.

“I have family in New Jersey,” Maryam says, “and they are looking very forward to receiving this box of dates stuffed with candied orange peel and lemon peel that is being packed for me right now.”

In minutes, Nadia has gift-boxed and beautifully beribboned the selection of dates.

“One of my favorite events was a party we did for a couple this Christmas,” Nadia recalls. “We were so busy providing corporate gift boxes to clients, and we were still able to create gorgeous dessert trays that the hosting couple loved!”

“Dates are such a wonderful office treat, too, especially instead of something like donuts,” Nadia says.

“Even though dates have a high amount of natural sugar, they are actually low-glycemic. In small quantity, they do not raise blood sugar levels. And, if kept in the fridge, they last for six months!”

Bateel also offers date jams, marmalades, and mustards; Umbrian olive oil and date balsamic vinegars; caramelized and roasted nuts (though their products do not contain peanuts or walnuts); date sparkling beverages, imported teas, and Yemen coffees: all available for specially packaged gifting or individual purchase.

“So,” Nadia smiles, “we are not ‘that date store’ but are so excited to be a unique shop for the most exquisite of gifts that delight our customers all around the world.”

215 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham, MI 48009








Birmingham’s Try It Raw Café Offers All-Organic, Mostly Raw, Entirely Delicious Foods and Drinks

Birmingham’s Try It Raw Café Offers All-Organic, Mostly Raw, Entirely Delicious Foods and Drinks

Birmingham’s Try it Raw Cafe Offers All-Organic, Mostly Raw, Entirely Delicious Foods and Drinks




LBN Community Series

On Tuesday morning, while on her way to work at 7 a.m., Angela Doman realized she’d forgotten her lunch.

“Rather than stop and get junk food, I’m so glad that Try It Raw is here,” she said as she sipped a frothy green smoothie while waiting for her favorite to-go lunch: nachos that are made with cabbage chips, walnut meat, cashew cheese, avocado, “and all sorts of goodness.”



“It’s junk food that’s not actually junk food!” she smiles.

Doman, who has been a regular customer since Try It Raw opened in 2012, eats mostly a vegetarian diet.

“They are super-accommodating,” Doman adds. “There was a point a few years ago when I couldn’t eat anything solid, and Michael (the owner) would blend up a bunch of protein-packed, natural drinks for me.”

“Being flexible – and able to give people what they specifically want and need – is one of the best things about running Try It Raw,” says Michael Severance who, with his wife, Natalia Castro, and Marc Dobaczewski opened the unique, organic, vegan café on Maple Road in Birmingham.

“We have a customer from Flint who comes down every week to get her own custom salad and special smoothie,” Severance says. “And once, a visitor in town fell in love with our food and had the tacos, nachos, and burgers that she loved shipped – at a very high cost – to her home in Indiana!”

“Sometimes a customer will say, ‘I can only eat this or that kind of dressing. Can you make it?’ It makes you feel good to be able to do it, and sometimes what you create is so good that it ends up on the regular menu!”

“I’ve always been a very food-oriented person,” Severance shares, “and into all kinds of eating – especially healthy eating.”

In his late twenties, while working with Dobaczewski as a sushi chef at Clawson’s Noble Fish, Severance started making raw food at home.

“I think the first thing I made was a meatloaf out of walnuts,” he recalls.

“Once, a visitor in town fell in love with our food and had the tacos, nachos, and burgers that she loved shipped – at a very high cost – to her home in Indiana!”
He was also playing in a band and considering a career in teaching.

“Even with lots of interests and ideas, nothing was going anywhere,” says Severance. “My wife realized I needed to choose a direction and focus on it, so we took a vacation to Miami to think things through.”

While there, they visited a tiny, raw foods restaurant.

“We loved it, and decided to open one, ourselves, in Birmingham. We came home, walked around the streets of Birmingham, and found this little place.”

Seven month later, they were open.

Severance continues to remain flexible, adding new items and services – like the two or three types of soups he now serves every day.

“I had to adapt my concept of ‘raw’ to include something that my customers really want, and they are enjoying our daily soups,” he says, as he adds freshly chopped onion and squash to his steaming, commercial Insta-Pot.

“This squash soup is extremely popular, and we’ll be serving green lentil soup with lemon, dill, and turnips, too. Sometimes, when my staff sees me walking towards them, they know I’ll be saying, ‘Chop squash, guys!’”

Other currently popular menu items include Caesar salad with cashew dressing, collard green-leaf tacos, avocado toast, the monkey milkshake (with bananas, dates, almonds, cinnamon), and a special for each day of the week: kelp noodles on Monday, lasagna on Tuesday, pizza on Wednesday, burger classic on Thursday, beet “rye bread” Rueben on Friday, Birminghamburger on Saturday, veggie sandwich on Sunday (though exact menu is subject to varying – and to selling out).

Smoothies, juices and sweet treats are also available.

“Celery juice is a big seller right now’” says Severance, “as well as our blend of celery, cucumber, kale, cilantro, lemon, and ginger.”

“Though I don’t get elaborate with desserts,” he says, “the desserts I do have, people like a lot — like our gluten-free cinnamon rolls and our cashew-based chocolate-banana cheesecake. We have a cheesecake every day.”

Try It Raw Café also accommodates deliveries and, with Birmingham’s traffic-packed Maple Road, they’re very willing to make a curbside (or behind-the-building), hand-to-hand lunch delivery.

“That’s another thing I love about having this business,” Severance shares. “We can always do new and different things to meet people’s needs!”

To meet their own needs for fresh produce and other supplies, Try It Raw uses some of this area’s most trusted wholesalers.

“Our organic produce, year-round, comes mainly from B & B Organics, and Cinzori Farms provides our spring and summer stock. Our packaging and disposable goods, of compostable materials, are from Greensafe Products in Detroit.

“And,” Severance continues, “you’ll taste the difference in our cold-pressed juices because we use a Norwalk juicer.”

In addition to providing his home-grown menu (which is 100% gluten-free, with no cross-contamination), Severance enjoys being part of his community. He will be giving a presentation at Birmingham’s Baldwin Public Library on Thursday, January 31, from 7-8 p.m. titled, “Eating Healthy with Try It Raw.”

“I will always remain flexible,” says Severance, “and looking to provide a service people need that maybe no one else is doing. We find where we fit and say, ‘I can try it! I can do it.’”

213 E. Maple Road
Birmingham, MI  48009