About Zou Zou's Cafe

Read the spotlight article from the Ann Arbor News.

Zou Zou's French flavor is authentic

Thursday, May 11, 2006
News Arts Writer

It's become great sport these days to laugh at the French, but Zou Zou's, a French-themed cafe in Chelsea, is no joke. It's truly un cafe authentique.

"I wanted to open a place that was cozy, artsy and comfortable, not the slick Starbucks look, that fit well with the community ... a little place to sit and plan your day,'' said Marie-Ann Fody, who owns Zou Zou's along with her sister, Genevieve Sylvia. "I was born in France and wanted it to have a French flavor.''

So besides Fody's heritage, what makes the cafe French? The name, for one. The real-life Zou Zou was a friend of her mom's back in the day. Then there's the fresh-baked brioche, the croissants and, of course, the quiche.

Another European touch: On a recent Saturday morning the place was jammed with bikers - not the Harley type, but the whisper-quiet kind riders have to pedal themselves, making a first-time visitor feel a bit like he's stumbled into an ersatz version of the Tour de France. The place is a popular pit stop for members of the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society.

Besides the cyclists, there was also a smattering of locals and a mother-daughter duo who chose to meet there because the location is about halfway between Judy Newell's Jackson home and her daughter Gina's Ann Arbor abode.

"It's something different - cute, small and quaint,'' Gina Newell said.

The building itself has a long history. For many years it served as a drug store and, before Fody and her sister bought it, was the home of the Chelsea Standard, the local newspaper.

The building's original pressed-tin ceiling has been restored and a brick wall opposite the service counter exposed, giving Zou Zou's a rustic feel. There's limited prime seating along the front window and a smattering of two-tops that can easily be pushed together. A metal sculpture that resembles Cyrano de Bergerac dominates one wall, which also displays framed historic photos, including ones of Fody's family, taken decades ago in France. "Iron art'' by local artist Rick Detroyer can be seen in planters made from old chemistry sinks and in counters that line the front of the cafe. In season, outdoor seating expands Zou Zou's capacity somewhat, and live acoustic music sets are scheduled most weekends. For the technology-minded, the cafe was the first in Chelsea to sport wireless Internet access. Local artists are welcome to hang their work on its walls, and - here's a twist - Zou Zou's also sells Pewabic Pottery. The connection? Genevieve works for the company.

The small space belies its large menu: Five bakers toil when most folks are still asleep, turning out melt-in-your-mouth scones and other delights. Sweet tooths can be satisfied with sundaes, sodas and malts, and ice cream from Washtenaw Dairy. Homemade soups, sandwiches and salads are staples too. There's even a cappuccino smoothie.

"I couldn't image Chelsea without it,'' said local resident Sheila Brahnam, who was enjoying her cappuccino al fresco with friend Ellen Kirchbaum. "I love the oldness of this building, with the brick walls exposed. (Fody) also has a lot of unique food items not a lot of small cafes offer. ... Try the raspberry white chocolate scone,'' she suggested, waving the remnants of just such a treat in the air. "It's very good.''

Kirchbaum, meanwhile, said she appreciates "the small town setting ... everybody likes it.''

Located right across the street from another popular cafe, Pierce's Pastries Plus, Fody sees plenty of business for everyone. Although it's not a hard and fast rule, she agrees that Chelsea old-timers might tend more toward Pierce's, while the younger set might gravitate toward Zou Zou's.

"Everybody has their little niche,'' she observed.