Did we ever dream we’d see the day when a killer virus swept through the globe, cities and communities shut down, quarantines were in order, and practically all the businesses closed their doors? Once upon a time that would have been an unthinkable prospect, a nightmare fantasy from, perhaps, one of those futuristic books or movies.
But suddenly it’s a reality. Throughout Michigan and a number of other states, the order has gone out: stay at home. Unless you must partake of essential services, or unless you’re employed by one of those services, do not go out. If you need to walk the dog, or just take a walk, period, do it alone. Keep at least six feet away from others. Sanitize any surface with which you come in contact. Keep washing your hands and don’t touch your face. Remember, your actions impact not only you but your family, your friends, your entire community.
Many businesses in the country are feeling the impact of these dire directives. And among those hardest hit are restaurants and other food establishments. Many have closed completely. Others have transitioned to take-out only. They’re trying their hardest to cope—to go from one day to the next, paring down, trying new things, struggling to keep going until “all this is over.” Just when that may be is entirely unknown. Weeks? Months? According to the starkest prediction, a year?
How are our local restaurants faring? What are they doing to stay afloat for the short term? The Herald-Journal surveyed some of them. Here are their stories.
• Soup of the Day Cafe
213 E. Main St. in Hart
When Ruthann Woods Curtis was forced to close her popular cafe, Soup of the Day, offering, like all other local eateries, take-out only, it was a blow.
“I’ve got a mortgage,” she says. “I’ve got rent. I’ve got employees. With zero income, I’m not sure what to do. But then, no one knows what to do.”
She did know what to do, though. At least when it came to those who depend on free school lunches.
“When Hart Schools closed, so did the free lunches. Shelby schools were still providing them, and to some other communities as well. But there was no one stepping in to fill the void here. So I decided to use this opportunity to make free lunches for the children of Hart.”
Curtis put the word out on Facebook, and received “an incredible response.” Donations poured in as soon as her post went up.
“Within an hour, hundreds of dollars were donated,” she reports. “I have enough money now for several weeks’ worth of lunches. It’s wonderful, how people are willing to help.”
The first week, Soup of the Day distributed 280 lunches. The meal usually consists of a breakfast item, like instant oatmeal or Pop Tarts; a juice box; crackers or a granola bar; fruit snacks; and a sandwich or main dish.
“One day I made mac and cheese, with ham and broccoli,” Curtis recalls. “They really loved that. One child told me, ‘That pasta was so good!’ That made me feel so happy.”
Fridays are particularly important, Curtis notes, because many children don’t have enough to eat over the weekend. “I try to give them extra on Fridays. Enough to make the food last.”
Currently, Soup of the Day is closed to the public, but open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lunch pickup. Curtis and her staff are definitely kept busy. “Today we did 80 lunches,” she notes. “I have help—my daughter, Meghan Peterson, cooks, and Holly Revilla and Becky Bonnville pack the food. People call in ahead and we’ll set the lunches in boxes outside, or bring them to someone’s car if they’re parked out front. That’s for their safety and ours.”
Curtis admits to being “a little surprised” that more of her fellow restauranteurs haven’t offered to pitch in.
“Kristi’s Pour House, next door, did bring me things, like bread and other items,” she acknowledges. “That was really nice of them. But I’d love to see other restaurants step up and help with supplies, or lunch items. Tacos, sandwiches—anything is welcome.”
As she assesses the future of her establishment, Curtis is trying to deal with the uncertainty that the rest of the country is feeling.
“I can only go for so long,” she admits, the strain evident in her voice. ““I don’t know how long I can hold out as far as the restaurant goes. But I’ll do the lunches for the duration. I don’t plan to stop until I run out of money or supplies. Right now the donations have been so generous that I have to spend down what I have. When I need more, I’ll post on Facebook.
“It’s something to do. And it makes me happy. You can see on people’s faces how happy and relieved they are. Kids have to have their lunch. I’m glad to be of help. That’s what we should be doing. Helping people.”
For more information, visit Soup of the Day Café on Facebook or call (231) 301-8338.
The Bakery on the Corner. 69 S. State St. Hart
For years, the Bakery on the Corner—formerly Morat’s—has been a local watering hole, offering a friendly, cozy place for a faithful clientele to gather for coffee, pastries, lunch and friendship. For the moment, that’s all in the past. But the bakery-restaurant is still open for take-out.
“People can still come in,” says owner Chris Dold. “But they can’t stay and linger.”
Dold will, however, be curtailing her regular hours. “With the new governor’s orders, I’m going to close at noon. I can’t pay someone to stay until 3 if no one’s coming in”
So far, Dold has enough customers to keep her doors open. “We’ve had quite a bit of foot traffic. Our lunches are down. But we’re still selling our bread and other baked goods. We’ll still have chili, but it won’t be heated. I can’t have food sitting in a crockpot all day. But people can take it home and heat it up.”
How does the current crisis compare to anything Dold has experienced in the past?
“The only crisis I’ve ever had was when our fryer broke down,” she says. “We were without it for four days, and it really hurt the doughnut business. People really don’t want baked doughnuts. They don’t brown and just look weird!”
People do have to have their doughnuts, though, even—or maybe especially—in a pandemic. Fortunately, the bakery has plenty of those on hand, along with the usual selection of cookies, turnovers and other favorites. There’s also a new item.
“I have a new cookie,” Dold proudly reports. “Salted caramel with toffee. I really like it. But then, that’s my problem. I like my own stuff!”
How does Dold assess the bakery’s future?
“If I can keep my crew to a bare minimum, I hope I can weather the current situation,” she says. “Some income is better than none. I plan to stay open. I’ll skate down to no help—just my husband and my daughter—if I have to. Meanwhile, I’m going to think positive. I’m thankful I’m in the business that I am. People have to eat.”
For more information, visit The Bakery on the Corner on Facebook or call (231) 873-0000.
Deb’s Café. 225 N. Michigan Ave. Shelby
Deb’s Café has been a Shelby institution for quite a few years now. It’s where people go for breakfast, lunch and a warm, friendly atmosphere. The omelettes are famous, the English muffin and raisin bread a must, and everything is made from scratch.
That was then. This is now. For the present, customers have to forego the camaraderie. But the restaurant is still open for takeout and delivery.
“We have a full menu,” says owner Ted Tanis. “We’re open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. People can order ahead and pick up at our ice cream window. We also deliver to Hart and Shelby, for a $5 charge.”
In his eight years at Deb’s, Tanis admits he’s “never seen anything like this. We’ll keep going depending on how much financial help I can get. Thankfully, all my employees are on unemployment.”
The restaurant has been a passion for his wife, who’s been in the business 45 years.
“Running restaurants has been Deb’s passion all her life,” Tanis reflects. “She always worked for her mother, Shirley Kludy, who owned Lakewinds in Silver Lake and Hart. She absolutely loves cooking, talking to customers and getting compliments.”
Deb’s is known for its homemade fare. “We’re up at 4:30 a.m. and here by 5:30,” says Tanis. “Deb does everything by hand. Cuts the potatoes, bakes the bread, everything. Nothing here comes from a box, or is a commercial product.”
They’ve had to make exceptions, though.
“We can’t make our bread because I can’t get yeast and flour. So we’ve had to go to commercial store bread, which I hate. But we don’t have a choice.”
How has the current situation affected him?’
“I really miss the customers,” he acknowledges sadly. “They are our true friends. They love coming here, and I love meeting people, talking to them, sitting down with them. One elderly lady told me that even when she goes to the bathroom, it smells so good that she’d eat her breakfast in there! We try to keep the atmosphere as homey and comfortable as possible. Hopefully we’ll weather this crisis and it will be that way again soon.”
For more information, visit Deb’s Café on Facebook. To place an order, call (231) 450-4171.
The Antler Bar. 283 S. Hancock St. Pentwater
In congenial Pentwater, the Antler is one of the most congenial of gathering spots for locals and visitors alike. Now, with streets empty and customers reduced to take-out, the restaurant has had to adjust accordingly. Fortunately, however, business has been steady.
“We’re OK,” says bartender/server Tristan Lewandowski. “Business has been picking up. Last night it really picked up. I thought things would really go downhill but to go’s have helped us out a lot.”
The restaurant is still offering a full menu and is open seven days a week, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. for take-out and noon-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. for delivery.
“We started doing delivery ourselves,” says Lewandowski. “ We have a $5 delivery charge within the village and $10 outside it.”
What are some of their most popular items?
“Our quesadillas. The chicken wraps. And our soups, of course. They’re all homemade.”
Does Lewandowski think the restaurant will weather the current storm?
“I hope so,” he says. “But if it goes on for a long time, say over a month or a month an a half, I don’t know. I’ll definitely be a little worried if it goes on into the summer. But for now, we’re doing OK.”
For more information, visit The Antler Pentwater on Facebook. To place an order, call (231) 869-2911.
Note: You can help keep our local restaurants going by continuing to order from them or purchasing gift cards.