Employee Matt Richmond, left, and Boff’s Market owner Michael Sobh unload produce at the store on 10 Mile Road at Lorraine Avenue. Boff’s Market is one of many important small businesses in Warren and Center Line.

Employee Matt Richmond, left, and Boff’s Market owner Michael Sobh unload produce at the store on 10 Mile Road at Lorraine Avenue. Boff’s Market is one of many important small businesses in Warren and Center Line.

Photo by Brian Louwers


Warren, Center Line businesses relish role as ‘lifeblood’ of the community

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published November 15, 2018

 Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders co-owner Michael Fields and employee Samantha Gowing work in the kitchen during the lunch rush at the restaurant on 10 Mile Road just west of Hoover Road.

Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders co-owner Michael Fields and employee Samantha Gowing work in the kitchen during the lunch rush at the restaurant on 10 Mile Road just west of Hoover Road.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Advertisement

WARREN —  It was a Monday just before noon and Michael Sobh was right where his customers can usually find him, inside Boff’s Market.

The store’s owner of 38 years was receiving produce from trusted suppliers, managing deliveries to other local businesses and making sure the store was ready to serve those who come to buy meat from him because they trust him.

“It’s a family. If a piece of meat is not edible for us, it’s not for the customer either,” Sobh said. “We’ve always had that attitude since day one. Our customers trust us.”

Boff’s moved to its current location on 10 Mile Road at Lorraine Avenue in 1999 after 20 years at 10 Mile and Schoenherr Road. Before that, Sobh’s father and brother ran a butcher shop on Nevada Street in Detroit.

He grew up in the business, and knows what it means to be part of the community.

That’s part of what makes local businesses like his special.

“If a customer says they want a ribeye steak 2 inches thick, no problem. We’ll go in the back, we’ll cut it for them 2 inches thick,” Sobh said. “I’m here seven days a week. I’ve got a great relationship with my customers. When they see me, they’re comfortable. I know a lot of them by name. If not by name, by face. Everyone knows me.”

Further down 10 Mile at Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders, west of Hoover Road, Michael Fields was greeting the lunchtime rush of patrons, including many regulars. He knows them by name or order. One customer likes his pizza with pepperoni, bacon and sausage, and enjoys the toppings on top of the cheese, which is actually the reverse of how it’s usually served at Bellacino’s. Another customer regularly orders a “Bellacino’s Pride” pizza with pepperoni, ham, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and black olives under mozzarella cheese.

“I know the business well. It’s pretty much all I know,” said Fields, who worked under the previous owner for 16 years before he became a co-owner with his brother-in-law two years ago. “I love seeing my customers, meeting new customers every day.”

Many of his regular dine-in patrons come from General Motors, or the U.S. Army’s Detroit Arsenal and Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM).

Bellacino’s supports programs at Lincoln and Center Line high schools. The restaurant also offers discounts for all students at Macomb Community College, and it donates to a local elementary school.  

“You’ll be treated like family here. We’re very appreciative of our customers. If it weren’t for our customers, we wouldn’t be here,” Fields said.

Everyone in the city knows they can find original Detroit-style square pizza that’s exploded in popularity in recent years at Buddy’s Pizza, on 13 Mile Road at Van Dyke Avenue. What people might not know is that Buddy’s supports a long list of local charities, many of which are as iconically Detroit as the restaurant’s pizza pies.

That list includes The Parade Company, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo, the Motown Museum, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Center for Creative Studies, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit Public Television and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Wesley Pikula, chief operating officer of Buddy’s Pizza, said the company has been honored to receive an award from the Michigan Restaurant Association in each of the last five years for work it has done to support community outreach, an endeavor it has continually accomplished through the support of its own customers. Like many of the charities, Buddy’s has been around for decades. Its first pizzeria opened in Detroit in 1946 and the restaurant has been in Warren since the 1970s.

Much of its support for charities these days comes from the sale of “cause pizzas,” with a portion of the price going to benefit a designated group.

“I find myself, if I’m out eating somewhere and someone is telling me this money is going to support this cause or that cause, I feel better about it,” Pikula said. “I’m happy that the business has the wherewithal, and sort of the vision, that it’s not just about the dollars that you’re putting in your pocket, it’s also the difference you’re making in your community.

“I think any business that’s successful or wants to be successful has to understand that the customer base is your community, and what works well for them is going to work well for the business. There’s definitely a partnership there, whether it’s known or unknown,” Pikula said. “We all sort of branch together more than people realize.”

Tom Bommarito, Warren’s director of community, economic and downtown development, said the city continues to take steps to support local businesses because of their close ties with the neighborhoods they serve.

“My belief is small business is really the lifeblood of any community,” Bommarito said. “I think that’s what drives local jobs. In each area, the small businesses are the ones that fill that gap. They serve the needs of any individual small neighborhoods in the community.”

Bommarito said part of the work being done to update Warren’s citywide master plan involves looking at burgeoning areas and those where development opportunities exist, and identifying strategies for new or continued growth. That could include developing a small park as a place for people to congregate, adding more parking for those looking to patronize local businesses or supporting the private investments made by small-business owners who want to improve their building’s facade.

While smaller businesses might not pay as much in taxes as the larger corporations, Bommarito said they do bring much to the table.

“Bringing in employees, paying their taxes, keeping the streetscape looking nice and, again, serving those needs in the community are all beneficial, whether it’s from a financial standpoint or not,” Bommarito said. “They have to respond to whatever is going on in their neighborhoods, or they don’t stay open.”

Advertisement