As Anita’s Kitchen expands with a fast-casual spot and restaurants in Lake Orion and the airport, its executive chef is ready to help the beloved brand grow.
By Dorothy Hernandez
Photography by Viviana Pernot
Cooking at a frat house, steakhouse, boutique hotel, brewery, fine dining restaurant and even for two presidents — Anita’s Kitchen executive chef Timothe Crandall has pretty much done it all when it comes to food.
The Rochester, New York native didn’t grow up in a culinary-minded family so it wasn’t until he moved to Ohio, where he was going to college to study music management, that he started cooking. At first he was as a short-order cook at places like Panini’s, a local chain frequented by inebriated college students looking for snacks after hitting the bars at 4 a.m. The greasy bar food actually turned him off of food so much that he left for northwest Massachusetts to live at a vegetarian and vegan-focused community on a nature reserve.
After about a year and a half, Crandall, 38, came back to Cleveland and got his first job in fine dining — and lied his way into it. But he was a quick study. This was a turning point for his culinary career.
“I decided during that job that I was going to end my pursuit of being a musician … and focus completely on being a chef,” Crandall says.
Not long after that job, he made one of the most significant moves in his career by working at a restaurant called Moxie, which was connected to Red, the Steakhouse in Beachwood, Ohio. After working the hot appetizer line at Moxie, he moved on to Red. The environment was intense, but inspiring, he says, because that’s where he learned the fundamental skills of working in a restaurant.
“It pushed me over to the next level to where I wanted to go,” he says. “I knew there was a whole world that I wanted to just dig in, and I was ready for it.”
His hunger took him to the Windy , where he landed a job at Terzo Piano at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Tony Mantuano, the chef-partner at James Beard-nominated Spiaggia, is also chef-partner. This is where Crandall had the opportunity to cook for former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Crandall then got a call from the the owners of Red, the Steakhouse who offered him his first sous-chef position in Miami. He worked in South Florida for four years, including a stint as executive chef at a boutique hotel, where he had a miserable experience, and at a frat house at the University of Miami, which he loved, before heading back to Cleveland.
He worked at a sports bar, in foodservice and a couple restaurants before making the move to Detroit’s West Village to be with his girlfriend in August. And unlike that first fine dining restaurant job where he lied his way through the interview, now he had an impressive resume and could have his pick.
“Detroit has such a huge up-and-coming culinary scene going on right now. So there’s no shortage of opportunity,” he says.
Within days of moving to Detroit, he already had six interviews lined up. One of those was with Joe Wegrzyn, owner of Anita’s Kitchen.
“Before I even had the interview I was like, I want this job,” Crandall says.
The executive chef position is new for Anita’s, which has been in business for nearly 40 years. Wegrzyn’s in-laws, Anita and Pierre Farah, started the business in 1980 at Tally Hall, a food court in Farmington Hills, where it evolved into a full-service restaurant.
In 2003, the Wegrzyns had the opportunity to take over the Troy location, which has since closed. In 2008, the Ferndale location opened.
Last summer, the family opened AK Takeaway, a fast-casual spot in downtown Detroit on Jefferson, which is where Anita and Pierre Farah coincidentally ran into each other one day. Born and raised in Lebanon, the two knew each other as kids but didn’t reunite until years later after both had moved to Michigan. Anita was in graduate school, and Pierre sold cars at the Jefferson Chevrolet. It’s a romantic story, Wegrzyn says, and it formed the basis of what would become Anita’s Kitchen.
When Wegrzyn and his wife Jennifer, a daughter of the Farahs, took over Anita’s, they weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel. They wanted to stay true to the roots Jennifer’s parents planted and stick to the principles of fresh Lebanese food and good service. Dishes such as the lemon lentil soup, chicken shawarma and hummus are staples that people have come to know and love.
But now that Anita’s is growing with AK Takeaway, an upcoming restaurant in Lake Orion slated to open in March and expansion to Detroit Metropolitan Airport in the fall, they wanted to ensure Anita’s hallmark food stays consistent and high quality. That’s where Crandall comes in, Wegrzyn says.
With his experience, he can make sure everything is executed at a high level, Wegrzyn says, but his creativity and resourcefullness will also help Anita’s branch out. For example, nothing goes to waste such as using leftover pieces of salmon to make salmon cakes or lamb pieces for a tagine.
“Being creative is his biggest strength,” Wegrzyn says.”That is what we are excited for — taking that next step.”
Spicy Kale Bowl
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
3 cups water
1 Tablespoon dried fennel seed
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 Tablespoon granulated salt
2 12-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
16 ounce marinated and poached chicken, cooled pulled
1 bunch roughly chopped kale
Brown rice, for serving
Start with sweating out the garlic in the olive oil in a sauce pot until translucent and fragrant, then add canned tomatoes. Add some additional water by filling the empty tomato can with water and add that to the sauce pot as well. Once that sauce is up to simmer, add the spices, chickpeas and pulled chicken. Allow the sauce to simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes and then finish by adding the chopped kale, which can be cooked until soft. Serve over brown rice.
Watch SEEN in the Kitchen to see how to make the recipe:
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
150 W. Jefferson Ave., Detroit