During the interview the phone kept calling people who wanted to tell him that they couldn’t believe that Haab’s wouldn’t reopen and that they would miss it.
And people were knocking on the door: the men told Kabat that they had come to his restaurant since childhood. A woman who handed over a card with her name and phone number, hoping he would give her a cherished photo of her deceased mother, a former Haab employee of the year.
Kabat tried to answer all the calls, even if it was, he said through tears, “unbelievable.” So he built his business and loyalty, which resulted in the news of the closure.
“I am a man,” said Kabat. “It’s a restaurant for people.”
Haab was known for many things. It could take the crowd like a post-football party for University of Michigan fans and television broadcasters. Festive events and business meetings, including for General Motors executives who once worked a few miles east in Ypsilanti, contributed to the growth of the business. Many customers came from all over Washington County to celebrate family milestones.
“It’s one of those businesses that gives the community character,” said Andy French, owner of the second-generation pizzeria and grill at Aubree’s Pizzeria and Grill, a network that was founded in Ypsilanti.
“You identify the community with him,” French said. “We lost a lot.”
Over the years, new styles of cuisine have gained an advantage over the typical steaks and seafood served at Haab’s, which have kept the original “Rough Chicken” on the menu for a lifetime. But strong drinks and a relaxed atmosphere, including photos and pictures of Ypsilanti and the history of the restaurant on its walls, were constant.
“We have made very few changes,” said Kabat about the original interior, which included a ceiling of pressed tin and a lot of painted oak. “I wanted customers to feel at home.”
During the pandemic, the restaurant could not help but change. Mike and David Kabat were in charge of the restaurant’s operation when the state ordered the restaurants to close canteens. Since the reopening was allowed, many employees did not return, forcing the partners to shoulder the entire leadership, 51-year-old David, in the kitchen and Mike in the “front of the house”.
Only some of the 30 employees returned to work, which continued to put pressure on customer returns, some slowly.
The food of business groups was declining as people were not going to gather and many businesses were working remotely. The customer base, which Kabat called “mature,” didn’t feel so comfortable when outdoors amidst COVID’s unpredictability.
Kabat owned the building and the apartment above it, which helped their profits. And the $ 172,000 in federal federal payroll protection program that helped forgive them helped them bridge the financial gap.
But David’s health has become a crisis, Kabat said. “His prognosis was not good.”
Both father and son with the support of the rest of the family made a difficult decision. They had no stock.
And, said Mike Kabat, there is no sense of relief yet.