After 30 years of being opened, Om Café went through a tumultuous period in September as the longtime restaurant manager Jessica Norwood and chef Madu Helsel decided to leave. "I wanted to kind of spread my wings a little bit. It's always been a dream to have my own restaurant and to kind of be an outlet to the vegetarian community," says Norwood.
In reaction owner Jason Thibodeau abruptly announced he would shutter the vegetarian café—a shocking disappointment to many in metro Detroit's vegetarian community.
As the owner searched for someone to takeover, Norwood began to reconsider her decision to leave.
Not just as an employee but as a customer, Norwood says that Thibodeau's announcement was devastating. "I've been eating here my entire life. I was raised on nori rolls and koicha tea." She had always imagined Om would always be there, even after she was gone.
With the future of the Om Café in jeopardy, she and Hesel reassessed their options and began to consider foregoing their dream of founding a new restaurant in favor of saving the Om. When customer Bill Blondy approached Norwood about purchasing the restaurant, Norwood was finally convinced staying was the right decision.
In partnership with Blondy, Norwood decided to take the leap from restaurant manager to owner by purchasing the Om.
Fast forward one month and the vegetarian cafe has reopened to the delight of customers and Norwood.
With the exception of a few items, the cafés remains largely unscathed. Fish and a few of the less popular salads have been eliminated from the menu, allowing for new items as well as making the menu entirely vegetarian. Norwood says the restaurant is also working on re-securing their license to sell items like homebrewed beer, which was lost during the transition.
"We had such awesome client base and such great feedback for the food that we were doing so I don't want to change any of that," she says.
For the first few weeks of reopening, Om offered limited hours in order to make sure new back-of-house employees were prepared to offer the same level of quality to customers. However, this week the restaurant returned to its regular schedule.
While returning to the restaurant may not have been Norwood's initial plan, she and the chef are looking forward to raising the bar in vegetarian cuisine for metro Detroit. "Every vegetarian restaurant around here you have the stir fries and the burgers and the burritos and a taco and [I have] nothing against that. [But] I would love to eventually get to a point where we can just transition and start doing really fun, and different, and inspiring dishes," she says.