Photos by Melissa Lile
Article by Jeremy Evans
"I love, love, love this place." So begins one review of Fralia's on the popular Web-based dining guide Urbanspoon. The sentiment is echoed across the Internet: "BEST little secret in Saginaw!" says one man on Yelp.com. "As good as the best big city delis...a local jewel," writes another on Yahoo. The Saginaw News reported that the late Patrick Flynn, former Saginaw Bay Orchestra conductor and resident of southern California, said he couldn't find anything like it in Los Angeles. Even Michelle Obama was enthusiastic about the food while visiting Saginaw's Democratic Party headquarters, according to one campaigner.
Yet for all the acclaim, this quiet Old Town restaurant still seems to be a "little secret" to the greater Saginaw area. Perhaps it's the distance from the well-worn Bay-Tittabawassee or State Street corridors; perhaps it's the relatively short operating hours (lunch only). Whatever the reason, Fralia's keeps a relatively low profile, and wins its customers over the old-fashioned way: by making darn good food.
Fralia's was opened in 2005 by Adam and Jennifer Bolt, who have been sole owners since 2007. The Saginaw couple had a passion for business and food: Jennifer studied merchandising at Delta College, and Adam trained in culinary arts at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, after developing a passion for cooking while pursuing a fine arts degree at Delta and Western Michigan University (a sensibility that is evident in Fralia's décor, which often features original work by local artists). The Bolts were also passionate about Saginaw: Jennifer says she was inspired by the example of her great aunt, who owned and operated a hat store downtown, to run her own family business in the city. When the location at 422 Hancock Street formerly hosting Richie Rich's New York Deli became vacant in 2004, the two seized the opportunity to bring Fralia's to life.
The philosophy behind Fralia's, says Jennifer, is quality and consistency. Only Boar's Head-brand meats and cheeses are used, along with local vegetables from the Downtown Saginaw Farmers Market, when in season. "Our ingredients are all natural—no additives, no preservatives," said Bolt. "They're healthy as heck." But surely to some, more important than the improved healthfulness of these ingredients is the increased flavor—that, after all, is what so many of the aforementioned Internet reviewers rave about. And Fralia's stands out not just for the quality of its ingredients, but for their diversity: pastrami, liverwurst, prosciutto, havarti and fresh mozzarella cheeses, grilled eggplant, focaccia and even challah bread, to name a few. And Fralia's never substitutes differently-sourced foods on their menu. "If we run out of something, we take it off the board," said Bolt. "If we can't do it right, it's not on the menu."
In addition to sandwiches like the Black and Blue (marinated grilled beef flank, spinach, tomato, red onion and blue cheese on baguette) and the Goodfella (salami, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomato, artichokes, pesto and mayo on focaccia), Fralia's features a range of homemade soups, salads, and desserts. A variety of two or three soups are whipped up daily, and feature both familiar home-style and more gourmet recipes
The economic downturn of the past two years has been tough on many small businesses, particularly restaurants, but Jennifer says Fralia's has been weathering the storm well. The NPD group, a national market research firm, has reported that 5,204 eateries have closed since spring, with almost all those losses coming from independent operators. Yet Fralia's seems to be a success story. "We have a perfect location," said Jennifer. "We've got loyal customers who come from the courthouse, the hospitals, law offices, construction sites, retirees...it's a good round of people." And she expects things to continue well for the future. "Going out to eat is a small, sweet luxury," Jennifer said. "That's one thing you can’t take away from people." And the luxury of Fralia's is particularly sweet.
Catch Fralia's for lunch Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. The restaurant is located at 422 Hancock Street, Saginaw, MI, 48602.
© Jeremy Evans, 2010