Feb 21, 2019 | History of the Roadhouse

Zingerman’s Roadhouse: An Ann Arbor Westside Story

Exterior photo of Zingerman's Roadhouse.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

by Marcy Harris

An exterior shot of Bill Knapp's restaurant in 1958, courtesy of Ann Arbor District Library.
Bill Knapp’s restaurant in 1958, courtesy of Ann Arbor District Library.
An exterior photo of Zingerman's Roadhouse today.
Zingerman’s Roadhouse today.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse has been around for 15 years, can you believe it? As with anything that’s been around for over a decade, our well-loved restaurant is in need of a tune-up! We will need to close our doors for a couple weeks (from March 18th to March 31st) to make some repairs, mainly to the kitchen floor.

Two weeks seems like a long time, but the truth is, it’s a drop in the bucket when you think about how long our building has been around. Before the Roadhouse was here, this building used to be a Bill Knapp’s restaurant, built in 1958–over 60 years ago!

A roadside restaurant turned Roadhouse.

We’ve got the pictures to prove it, not to mention the testimony of several locals who used to eat at Bill Knapp’s when it still claimed the address 2501 Jackson Rd. on Ann Arbor’s Westside. Check out the Ann Arbor District Library’s page with newspaper clippings and photos of the colonial-style building!

Bill Knapp’s started in Battle Creek with the concept of opening restaurants near the highway. This worked out in our favor when we took over the space! What can be more convenient than being located right off of an I-94 exit? When the former managing partner and head chef, Alex Young, cold-called Paul and Ari in 2003 with his concept for the Roadhouse, this was just the beginning of a developing story. We’ve packed a lot in over the past 15 years.

Here is the timeline of events:

  • 2002- Bill Knapp’s closes, including the restaurant at 2501 Jackson Rd. in Ann Arbor.
  • 2003– Alex Young, Ari, and Paul open the Roadhouse on September 15, 2003 in the old Bill Knapp’s space.
  • 2004-The Roadshow opens. The 1952 Spartan aluminum trailer was originally parked across the parking lot and not connected to the building.
  • 2004– Pit-master, Ed Mitchell, from Raleigh, NC, helps design and build the pit-smoker in back of the restaurant.
  • 2004– Alex starts his garden, which later turns into a 4-acre farm in Dexter. His produce becomes a huge part of the menu, especially his heirloom tomatoes.
  • 2007– The Roadshow Spartan trailer is connected to the restaurant.
  • 2007 and 2008– Zingerman’s Roadhouse chef Alex Young is nominated for Best Chef-Great Lakes Region by the James Beard Foundation.
  • 2010– Alton Brown from the Food Network names the macaroni and cheese at Zingerman’s Roadhouse “America’s Best Comfort Food.”
  • 2011– Alex wins James Beard.
  • 2017– Alex leaves and farm closes. Bob Bennett becomes head chef.
  • 2019– The Roadhouse closes for a couple weeks to upgrade a 15 year old kitchen floor.

The cake is a little different. So is the building.

Have you ever needed to take time off just to get stuff done? That’s where we are at in our timeline here. It’s been 15 years since we’ve done anything to the restaurant. Bob Bennett, who took over as head chef after Alex Young left in 2017, actually helped paint the walls back in 2003. He recalls the remodeling done to the building to make it ours. If you really look at the old photos, you can see where we opened up the kitchen line, moved the front door, and laid out beautiful barn wood throughout the restaurant for our signature flooring.

Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman's CEO, mops the current kitchen floor at Zingerman's Roadhouse.
Ari Weinzweig mops our current kitchen floor. 15 years of love!

As for the kitchen floor, apparently we laid new tile over the old tile of the Bill Knapp’s kitchen. At this point, we need a new kitchen floor that will last us at least another 15 years. We’ve picked out a beautiful brick red color for the tile– one that is very non-slip. We can’t wait.

Is this all we are doing to fix up the restaurant? For now, yes. But we always have a vision of what’s next, and we’d love to keep updating the Roadhouse! Stay tuned for more tune-ups in the future that don’t involve us closing for two weeks!

We will still be serving food out of the Roadshow from March 18th through March 31st!

Our Dining Room is Open!We can't wait to see you!

Dining Room Monday-Friday 8am–8pm // Saturday-Sunday 9am–8pm
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Drive Thru Daily 7am–8pm
Curbside Pick-Up Monday-Friday 11am–8pm // Saturday-Sunday 9am–8pm
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Our dining room is open at 25% capacity as of February 1st.
We will continue our drive-thru and curbside pick-up options as well. Stay safe y'all!
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