The best thing about restaurants in Michigan opening up again for dine-in service, according to Battle Creek’s Mike Barrix, is that he will get to save some gas money.
“We were driving to Indiana to eat out. Couldn’t eat out around here, so we were going to Indiana and gave them our money,” said Barrix, as he sat down for lunch with his wife, Julia, at the Griffin Grill & Pub in downtown Battle Creek on Monday. “We were so ready for this. Ready for restaurants to open up around here. All we could do before was go to work and come home. We have waited months for this. It’s here finally. It feels good to be out.”
After indoor dining service in Michigan was ordered shut down in mid-November, the restrictions were lifted as of Monday.
While the reopening comes with a limit of 25% capacity for establishments, local restaurant owners were excited to welcome back their customers.
Griffin owner Paul Conkey was asked if Monday was a great day for restaurants around the state.
“I don’t know if it’s a great day. It’s a better day, I’ll say that. A great day would be if we were allowed to be wide open,” Conkey said. “But we were looking forward to this. We’re excited about this. We are looking forward, not backwards. Just excited to see our people back inside and enjoying what we have to offer.”
One new Battle Creek-area restaurant was getting a chance to offer dine-in service for the very first time. WACO Kitchen opened its doors a little more than a month ago, right in the middle of the restaurant restrictions imposed by the state. WACO has been offering takeout only ever since, but the small farm-to-table restaurant in the airport district, with views of local planes landing and taking off, was eager to show off its full dining experience.
“We have been quite busy with takeout, but it feels great to see people again,” said WACO Kitchen manager Brooke Pembroke. “This is our first day for dine-in. We are following the guidelines that we need to, that’s 25% right now, so we are just happy to be able to serve who we can right now.
“I think we are all hoping we will be able to invite as many people as we can in the future here and let people see our new restaurant and the incredible views that we have. But for now, this is what we will do.”
While a coffee shop would seem like it pairs well with the takeout option, Cafe Rica sees itself as more of a hangout for coffee lovers in the heart of Battle Creek and it was eager to open its doors early Monday morning.
“We are really a creative space, so we want people to hang out, interact with each other and kind of build a community,” said Tristan Bredehoft, who owns Cafe Rica with his brother, Jackson. “So even at 25%, to have some people in here has brought back that feeling for us. Before this, it was kind of sad, because the most interaction we had with people was like, ‘Hi, here you go, bye, thanks … .’ So now we can get back to trying to build that community and have people come in and enjoy this space.
“It was frustrating during the shutdown because of the unknown. We were used to doing one thing and then it would shift to something else. But being able to adapt during this tough time has allowed us to keep our heart beating.”
In addition to happy customers, owners and managers Monday, it was also a positive day for all the workers affected by the shutdown over the past few months.
“We tried to get as many hours for our employees as possible during the shutdown, when we were doing takeout,” Conkey said. “And it was good to keep a good core of people working. Plus we were able to keep delivery people working by using EatsBC, which has helped out tremendously and they are local and doing a great job. But being open for dine-in will be much better. I think, going forward, it will be a slow rebuild. More and more people will become comfortable going out and we will see more people come in. …
“The numbers and the pandemic are moving in the right direction, so hopefully restaurants can help that by being safe as we open up and we will all be able to move forward with all of this.”
Contact Bill Broderick at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.