Alumnus finds success as a local restaurateur

Fiona Lin ‘23, Managing Editor

Pushing open the glass doors to Mani Osteria & Bar, you are greeted by a sense of warmth: the smokey smell of wood-fire ovens, sound of wine glass clinking, and smiles of friendly servers.  Mani, a local Italian restaurant owned by Adam Baru ‘89, sits at the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. As food and connection are inseparable, Mani plays a vital role in building community. 

“Food has history, and we are continuing our own,” said Baru. “In Ann Arbor, you have this small community with incredible diversity. This is an incredible town to open a restaurant.” 

Baru’s relationship with food spurred in his teenage years. From spending the summers in France, traveling to Italy, to later working in Philadelphia and New York City, Baru is driven by passion and curiosity.

“For me, it is about taking care of people, about enjoying food and knowing where it comes from. I like the creating aspect of doing my job. I like the fact that it is different every single day.”  

Through Mani, Baru sought to create dishes that have their own personality and style locally. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, from Antipastis – appetizers – to handcrafted pasta and wood-fired pizza, there is something for everyone. 

“I love the Calamari,” said Jenan Hasan ‘24. “Definitely a classic, but it never gets old. The squid is thinly sliced, which reminds me of shoestring fries. I am impressed by the sauce on top.” 

Antipastis are the best way to start a meal, but pizzas are the real stars of the Mani show. Brock Merrit ‘25 is a big fan of tomatoes. His favorite entree is the Margherita Pizza topped with bufala mozzarella. Anjali Brahmasandra ‘25, on the other hand, takes a different approach; her go-to is the Cipollini pizza. 

“You would never believe that all of the toppings would go on the same pizza, but it all makes sense at the end,” Brahmasandra. “Essentially, it’s a salad on a pizza, and the arugula and balsamic make me feel healthier.”

The Cippollini is Mani’s most famous dish, and heralded as the “best pizza in Michigan.” The balsamic drizzle and bacon bits add a special touch to the thin-crusted pizza, while the greens create a unique texture. 

“I am more of a pasta person, so I personally recommend the Carbonara,” said James Kluge ‘23. “It usually goes well with the Carpaccio, which is a beef tenderloin starter. Arancini is always a good Sicilian snack for a quick bite.”

Mani also accommodates various diets. There is always something for individuals with allergies and dietary restrictions. 

“I have family members who are vegetarians, but dining at Mani has never been a problem,”  said Sylvia Bleakley Wasserman ‘26. “My favorite is the Tartufo. The fontina cheese, black truffles, and runny egg on the top – everything is perfect about it.”

Aside from serving food of fine quality, Baru opened Mani hoping that it’d foster community. In the past decade, it has done more than that. 

“Mani’s food reminds me of my old home in northeastern Italy,” said Kluge. “I often bring my Italian friends from Udine there when they visit. Mani Osteria is the only Italian place in Ann Arbor that they approve of.  In their words, ‘questo è l’unico posto che non fa schifo,’ which means ‘this is the only place that does not stink.’”

Kluge also dines there with his family about once a month, often for special occasions. He celebrated Ferragosto, an Italian national holiday, at Mani this past August. 

“My family dines at Mani on Saturday nights,” said Jenan Hasan ‘24. “We bond over our love for authentic Italian food in the most cozy environment. Mani brings us closer to each other.”

Mani is a place for building connections, whether it is between family members, friends, or partners. 

“Mani has a lovely atmosphere,” said Brahmasandra. “It would be the best spot for a first date.”

In 2021, Mani was given the title “Best Romantic Dinner in Ann Arbor” by The Michigan Daily.

Alumni Office Liaison Bruce Zellers has been in contact with Baru for years. In 2011, he attended Mani’s pre-opening night tasting. 

“My wife and I have been there ever since Mani was a daydream,” said Zellers. 

Zellers’ Mani essentials include Isabela’s Meatballs, Bolognese, Carbonara, and Gelato. When he served as a class principal years ago, it was a Greenhills faculty tradition to dine at Mani after graduation.  

Mani’s success is unexpected. Initially, Baru did not expect the place to become so popular with teenagers. Nevertheless, he loves seeing young people of different backgrounds work and dine at Mani.

“It’s such a young and vibrant community. I love having young people here taking care of other people,” said Baru. 

Indeed, food has been a universal act that facilitates cultural understanding in all parts of the globe. It cultivates community, as the implications of meals transcend beyond the taste.

“It’s a mix of people who come here every single night and they make magic,” said Baru.

There is diversity in and out of the restaurant. From high school students, full-time workers with no education experience, people who don’t speak English, to students from the University of Michigan, Washtenaw, and Eastern.

“When areas start to gentrify, food goes in first,” said Baru. “Restaurants are the center of communities. They pull people and create vitality.”