ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Pizza Bob’s is a cozy spot in a popular cluster of businesses on State Street in Ann Arbor that offers, among other things, pizza, subs and milkshakes.
Customers often get a drink and small bag of potato chips with an oven-toasted sub. Their chip options include Fritos, original Lays and Doritos. Michigan fans who like to order the Doritos can thank Jim Harbaugh for that.
“The thing it does seem like he gets every time is the Doritos,” said Nathan Pietryga, whose family owns Pizza Bob’s. “I guess he can’t resist them. It’s really the only reason we kept them in stock. They don’t necessarily sell as fast as the other chips. Sometimes they get to where we don’t sell them all before the expiration date, but apparently he can’t resist them so we said, ‘OK, let’s keep them.’ ”
Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor in 2015 has revitalized the football program. The Wolverines are ranked No. 2 in the country and have won 17 of his first 20 games as head coach at the school he once played at in the town he lived in as a kid while his dad, Jack Harbaugh, was on the coaching staff.
The Michigan football coach is always going to be one of the biggest celebrities in this town. Harbaugh, because of his roots here, his time as a player and now as one of the most talked-about coaches in college football, is already approaching legendary status. He’s a unique character in the sport, and his personality and generosity with his time have made him even more beloved in one of America’s great college towns.
So where does Harbaugh and his family like to hang out in Ann Arbor, when he’s not preparing to coach in a football game or traversing the country courting recruits? Land of 10 spent a couple of days trying to find out.
‘If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was two of him’
Bill Stollberg is in his fifth decade cutting hair at State Street Barbershop, which is next door to Pizza Bob’s. He cut Harbaugh’s hair “from time to time” when he was a student at Pioneer High School, which is basically across the street from Michigan Stadium. He cut it when Harbaugh was a student and quarterback at the university.
And he cuts it now, though he hasn’t seen him lately.
“It looks like he hasn’t had a good cut in a while,” Stollberg quipped while he put the trimmers to a student’s close-cropped hair.
Stollberg’s shop doubles as a museum of Michigan memorabilia. There are game-worn jerseys from football legends like Tom Brady, Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard and Tyrone Wheatley. There are two Harbaugh jerseys, one from Michigan and a faded one from his days with the Chicago Bears. Stollberg said he doesn’t pay for them, but they just “show up at my door step.”
There is a framed photo of Harbaugh, the quarterback, talking to iconic coach Bo Schembechler, who is probably the only one keeping the current coach from being the most popular in team history. Both coaches autographed it.
Near where Stollberg is cutting hair, there is a framed Sports Illustrated cover with Harbaugh on it and his message, “To Bill, State Street Barber Shop — the best in North America!”
When Harbaugh stops in, it’s often not for long. Stollberg tries to avoid football talk.
“He hears it enough all day,” Stollberg said. “He always talks to the students when he’s in, asks them where they are from, stuff like that. I don’t think he lands in one spot for too long. If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was two of him. Good guy. He’ll carry on a conversation with you about anything. If he’s on the phone with another coach or a recruit or something like that, I try to tune him out and let him do his business.”
On this Tuesday morning, Harbaugh and his staff were sequestered in preparation for a game against rival Michigan State, one of the three teams to beat Michigan since he arrived. They had lunch delivered to them from Mr. Spots, which is three doors down from Pizza Bob’s on State Street.
Mr. Spots is popular for its Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks, but Harbaugh is also a big fan of their burgers, according to co-owner Keith McKendry. The Michigan coaches have been getting Mr. Spots delivered for years, dating back to the Lloyd Carr regime. The restaurant will celebrate its 30th anniversary on State Street on Election Day, Nov. 8.
A large portion of the Michigan football team made the walk from the heart of campus down State Street past Pizza Bob’s and Mr. Spots on Tuesday afternoon. Being in the direct path of the football players from class to where they live is an advantageous location, and the players have meal cards through the athletic department to eat there, along with a few other places around town, when they don’t eat at the football facility.
They are celebrities too, but nothing like Harbaugh.
“All the kids love him. Grade school kids, high school kids,” Stollberg said. “They ask for pictures and he’s always, ‘Yeah, sure.’ He’ll ask them what sports they play, how they’re doing in school. He’s really been a good thing for Ann Arbor. Wish they would have hired him a few years ago.”
Added Pietryga: “They’ve had some recruiting events in the summer, and like one time he was in five days in a row with different recruits. It was like he was giving the campus tour himself, so they stopped in and got some milkshakes and subs. A lot of kids who are now on the team.”
Pietryga listed a few names — Ben Bredeson, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Rashan Gary. Wheatley’s father, former Wolverines great Tyrone Wheatley, has been an avid customer as well, especially after he retired from the NFL and moved back to the area, first as a high school coach and then at nearby Eastern Michigan. Harbaugh added him to the Michigan staff as running backs coach last year.
“The times I’ve served (Harbaugh) he got the tuna sub,” Pietryga said. “Years ago, a lot of the players always came in and got tuna subs under the directions from Mike Gittleson, the former strength and conditioning coach.
“I know one regular customer who is normally very talkative with me, but the last time Jim was in here he didn’t seem too interested in talking to me that time.”
‘I just try to make it as normal for them as I can’
Maize and Blue Delicatessen is one of two wildly popular sandwich places in Ann Arbor, along with Zingerman’s. When Maize and Blue was in the process of building a second location, just off Main Street on Liberty, there was a surprise visitor one day.
“This location has been here for about a year. As we were building it, he actually stopped in one day and said hello to all of the workers,” said Hamzah Sukkar, who manages the location and used to work at the original over on South University Avenue.
Sukkar said Harbaugh stops in about once a week during the offseason, but it’s been more like once a month since the games began. One of Harbaugh’s daughters, Addison, is a student at Keith Hafner’s Karate, which is around the corner and across Main Street from Maize and Blue.
“He actually switches it up every time he comes,” Sukkar said. “I’ve seen him have the No. 7 (Sam’s Design), the No. 9 (Maize N’ Blue Awning) and he’ll go for one of the club sandwiches as well. His little girl that does karate, she just gets her turkey, cheese and mayo on white bread, and then (his wife) Sarah switches it up as much as he does. They don’t really have go-to ones.”
Maize and Blue and Zingerman’s sandwiches are a little more, uh, robust, than typical Midwestern delis. The menu is much like the sandwiches. Maize and Blue offers 85 options.
Bill Dever, a manager at Zingerman’s, said Harbaugh has been in for a sandwich a few times. They also catered a big event for him when he first arrived in Ann Arbor. Zingerman’s, which was featured prominently in the movie “Five-Year Engagement,” is a more expansive place, complete with gourmet meat and cheese counters, a corner with culinary books and a pastry and coffee shop next door. It’s also north of downtown in Kerrytown, so it’s a little out of the way for Harbaugh and his players.
Sukkar said most of the players eat at Maize and Blue’s South University location, but a few, including Jabrill Peppers and Jehu Chesson, frequent his spot. When Harbaugh is there, it becomes a happening place.
“When people do recognize that he’s in here, they all come in to see him,” Sukkar said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, he is really outgoing and friendly, unless he’s really in a hurry. He doesn’t avoid anyone. He stops and takes pictures with everyone, which is pretty cool. A lot of coaches in the past have avoided things like that, but he stays really involved with the community.”
Just down Main Street from the karate school is The Chop House, a fine dining establishment that also includes La Dolce Vita, a dessert bar, and a cigar lounge downstairs. There is also the Lloyd Carr Room, named after the former Michigan coach.
The athletic department hosts private events downstairs on Friday nights before home football games, so the Harbaughs are there often, but they’ve also been in to eat on their own.
“For them in particular, we try to keep it as private as possible,” Joshua Waeghe, dining room manager, said. “With my past experience working with celebrities in Las Vegas, it’s the thing I try as possible to create an island for them and allow them to enjoy themselves.
“They are very, very generous with their time. From my end, I try to make it as normal for them as I can, but they also appreciate that everyone appreciates them so much. Just trying to find a balance for our guests.”
Maize and Blue and The Chop House are steps away from each other but oceans apart in the culinary world. There might not be a better synopsis of Harbaugh’s ability to connect with everyone in this community than the idea that he might grab a sandwich at Maize and Blue for lunch one day and then end up dining on Cowboy Steaks with wealthy boosters — or world-famous celebrities — later that night.
“Recently we had a private event for the Jordan (brand clothing) launch, and the first game when (Michael) Jordan was here on the sidelines,” Waeghe said. “They did the dinner here. Michael Jordan was here. Derek Jeter was here. Everyone.”
Waeghe did not say if Doritos were available at the dinner for Harbaugh and his famous guests.