The Lunch Room
by Renee Ratliff
Ann Arbor’s popular eatery, The Lunch Room, sprung from the desire to offer quality vegan food at economical prices. Phillis Englebert and Joel Panozzo wanted to show that there is a market for an all-vegan restaurant and that vegan food can have wide appeal among the public.
A fast casual restaurant, orders are placed at the counter and food is brought to the tables. Mouthwatering baked goods greet you as you walk in the door. Recipes, made with quality local ingredients, grace the menu. With a staff that is friendly and eager to answer any questions, The Lunch Room demonstrates the perfect balance of atmosphere, service and quality food.
The Lunch Room started as a pop-up restaurant around the Ann Arbor area. Englebert and Panozzo would prepare meals in Phyllis’ kitchen and then transport them to a local business, morphing it into a restaurant for several hours. The pop-up meals were offered in all different settings including homes, a floral shop and a tattoo parlor. Cafeteria trays were used to serve the food, providing a casual and fun way to present five different courses in each section on the tray.
Engelbert and Panozzo started their food cart May 2011 at Mark’s Carts. Leaving the food cart scene after the 2012 season, they decided on a restaurant as their next step. The restaurant officially opened in August 2013 in Kerrytown. Engelbert and Panozzo put their hearts into this completely custom space with 35 seats inside and 20 outside. An inviting atmosphere, a lot of the elements you see in the restaurant were carefully hand-crafted including cutting table tops, dipping skewers for decorations and painting.
“The best-part or the restaurant is the customers. Having people eat our food, watching the joy it brings.” says Panozzo “It makes all the difference to have hand-made food, and having people recognize that.”
On this completely vegan menu, some of the favorites include BBQ tofu sliders, tempeh Ruben, pad thai and the southwestern salad. All sandwiches can be made gluten-free, and so can many other menu items. Panozzo and Englebert strive to feature a dinner special each night of the week. Specials so far have included a UP night with pasties, sushi night, pizza night and sliders night. Located next to Ann Arbors farmers’ market, there is a commitment to purchase local food and produce. Dinner specials are adjusted to what is in season. Local fruit ends up in the bakery for seasonal creations. On farmers-market days breakfast is served and there is brunch on Sundays.
The Lunch Room is a community place for all to come and enjoy really tasty, made-from-scratch vegan food. VegMichigan members receive a 10% discount by showing their membership card.