I vividly remember the time I went looking for stuffed grape leaves in Chicago. I had just moved to Evanston for graduate school, and I wanted to make sure my fridge was stocked with my usual staples of hummus, grape leaves and tabblouleh.

The staff at the Evanston Whole Foods stared at me blankly as I asked them, one after another, if they could point me toward the store’s grape leaves. Finally, I found someone who knew. He led me to an interior aisle and then handed me a tin of what I suppose was some sort of grape-leaf-like product. I can’t be sure, because I put it back on the shelf and gave up.

That was the first time I realized that metro Detroit’s large Middle Eastern community and its influence on our local culture was unique. Food is perhaps the easiest way to see that influence; I’m not sure what I would do without regular take-out from Anita’s Kitchen or the ability to include fresh hummus in my son’s lunch.

But food, of course, is a relatively surface way to interact with another culture. In metro Detroit, we have numerous opportunities for engaging with Arab history and culture in much richer ways. I was reminded of that the other night while attending an event at the Arab American National Museum. I was there in my capacity as a member of the advisory council of Inforum, a women’s professional association; we held a joint event with the Arab American Woman’s Business Council.

The museum, which opened in 2005 and was the first museum in the country devoted to telling the story of Arab people in America, is a compelling and engaging venue. It features beautiful architecture and interior design, interesting and surprising exhibits, and events such as its Global Fridays concerts, which host musicians from around the world.

I encourage you to check it out and consider it as a distinctive experience to offer your meeting attendees. It’s easy to take for granted the Arab influence on our local area. But for most visitors, a visit to the nation’s only Arab history museum is an exciting opportunity. You might even consider holding a meeting or event at the museum—when I was there, the food was catered by Byblos, which reminded why I love stuffed grape leaves.

First came COVID. Then came the tornado.

The northern Michigan community of Gaylord was just starting to rebound from the pandemic with its groups and events business as a new season was getting underway when a rare EF3 tornado with estimated wind speeds between 136 and 165 miles per hour struck May 20.

Two people were killed and at least 44 were injured, according to official reports at the time. West Michigan meteorologist Bill Steffen said it was the strongest tornado to strike in the U.S. that month. 

 

A conference or convention venue might be described by meeting planners as offering ease and convenience for multiple reasons. It may be because its address is easily accessible from numerous compass points. Or perhaps it’s the destination—with a variety of opportunities for activities and entertainment close-by. And of course, it could be that the venue itself offers a peaceful, easy setting with all the comforts you could want. 

Well, at Treetops Resort, it’s all of the above. 

 

I chatted with Karen Totaro, general manager of Detroit’s newly renamed Huntington Place convention center, for our People Profile page in the spring issue of Michigan Meetings + Events. We didn’t have room for the whole conversation, so I wanted to share more of what Totaro had to say.