Repurposed double-decker bus to serve as new restaurant in Ann Arbor

By Andy Nixon, STN Reporter

Local residents looking for creative dining experiences won’t have to look far from next month. When Aaron and Miriam Orr’s new restaurant, 1923 LLC, opens Sept. 1, Ann Arbor will have a one-stop spot to enjoy upscale Mexican cuisine that will include dishes like Korean barbecue tacos. The restaurant, a bright red double-decker tourist bus, was shipped from Liverpool, England. With the lower level encompassing a full galley, the upper deck will feature umbrella-covered seating for 30 customers as well as an additional 40 bus-side seats in a shaded patio.

Aaron and Miriam are no strangers to the restaurant and hospitality industry, with Aaron working as the restaurant’s general manager and Marium handling bar management duties. With over 20 years of experience each, the pair decided it was time to venture out and follow their own dreams, taking the “good, bad and ugly” experiences with them. The catalyst understood how their bodies would age in a rapidly changing industry. “Without benefits or a pension plan, we knew our future would depend on us, said Miriam, an Oregon transplant. Aaron, from Ann Arbor, graduated from Huron High School and said: “When Covid hit, we both sat down and started putting our ideas on paper to start moving the ball forward. ”

When asked about the idea for a bus-themed restaurant, Aaron mentions, “My mom had actually been to Ashville, NC, and called to tell Miriam and me about a cafe that was a converted double decker bus,” adding, “eventually Miriam and I had to visit and see it for ourselves, which gave us our ‘ah ha’ moment.” Regarding the bus trip, Miriam says “We had to pull the trigger and buy the bus, hoping our funding would arrive in our bank account before we arrived from England.” After the bus unloaded in New Jersey, the couple flew to begin the journey back to Michigan. “The guy at the bus depot asked if we’ve ever driven something that big,” Aaron said, “because if not, it’s NOT going to be easy.” Nerves aside, Aaron and Marium drove 23 hours home at a top speed of 45 miles per hour, Miriam riding a shotgun on a plastic lawn chair as the interior was removed before crossing the ‘ocean.

While keeping the plan a secret for the most part, the couple’s friends and family began to provide additional funding, Miriam saying, “Once they saw the big red bus pull up, they were like, ‘ wow, you really do that! meant no turning back now. Like many budding entrepreneurs, the duo understand the importance of treating hard-working employees with respect, saying, “We wanted to be job creators for people who broke their backs like we did; people need to feel valued and we both wanted to be the curators of that. Under the eyes of the couple’s five children, the husband and wife work hard to show their children that anything is possible with perseverance and determination. “When we sought funds for this idea, of course, many banks and financial institutions laughed at us, but we had to continue to set an example for our children,” says Miriam. After exhausting many traditional resources, the couple opted for a personal loan that would allow them to retain 100% equity in the business; a smart move in any playbook.

The bus will be located at 320 Miller Ave., near Knight’s Market in Ann Arbor. “Miriam and I decided on the permanent location so customers would always know where to find us, instead of having to find us all over the county.” During Michigan winters, large igloo-style enclosures will be placed on the outdoor patio, with the upper deck of the buses closed to protect people from the icy steps.

Addressing their entrepreneurial journey, Aaron and Marium praised the support from both sides of the family. “My dad is very mechanistic, so he was checking us in all the time on the bus ride across the country, asking about oil, coolant, fuel consumption all the time,” comments Miriam. “We couldn’t have done it without their support; everything from setting up the kitchen to babysitting for us along the way.” The company is called 1923 LLC, and the duo already have additional plans underway to add a few more double-deckers in the future.

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