After a series of pandemic-induced closures, can the downtown Kalamazoo restaurant scene bounce back?

KALAMAZOO, MI – Downtown Kalamazoo has been a revolving door for businesses that have closed and opened over the past year and more.

While as many new companies have appeared on the landscape as they have disappeared since March 2020, all things have not been equal.

A search for news articles, social media posts and more identified a total of 17 businesses that have closed downtown in the past 16 months. Ten of them were in the restaurant industry, including longtime downtown favorites Olde Peninsula Restaurant and Brewpub and The Union Cabaret & Bistro.

According to data provided by the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, 17 new businesses have also sprung up since the start of the pandemic. But only two new restaurants – Cairo’s Kitchen, which will open on July 26, and Benny DiCarta’s – plus a bar, The Tin Can, make this list of new downtown businesses, which means the restaurant scene of downtown Kalamazoo has narrowed.

Related: Despite a difficult 2020, downtown Kalamazoo welcomed 16 new businesses

“The past 16 months have created unprecedented challenges for businesses – downtown and beyond,” said Andrew Haan, President of Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. “Mandatory closures, mask requirements, changing capacity limits, loss of income and other things have combined to create a different environment than we have experienced before.”

The non-profit partnership works with the public and private sectors to preserve and improve the economic health of downtown Kalamazoo.

“Unfortunately, the economic challenges of the past year have resulted in the loss of a number of downtown businesses, some of which have been staples for decades,” Haan said. “Staff shortages, especially in the hospitality sector, are sorely felt; in downtown, in the greater Kalamazoo, Michigan and nationwide.

One business affected by a downtown staff shortage was Millennium Restaurant Group, which announced the temporary closure of its Central City Tap House at 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall in late June.

Related: Kalamazoo’s Central City Tap House closed until further notice due to staff shortage

“We have every intention of reopening,” Shelly Pastor, Millennium’s operating partner, told MLive earlier this week. “It’s just a matter of finding enough qualified team members and having the opportunity to train them appropriately. “

Pastor said the decision to temporarily close the popular downtown location was made “to preserve staff, not to injure staff.” Temporarily relocating team members from Central City Tap House to help fill the gaps at other Millennium restaurants has allowed them to consolidate their resources while providing the level of customer service people expect when they are have dinner at one of their restaurants, she said.

“We were just trying to be smart in our decision making and try to be conservative and not give up; and rotate and adapt, ”she said.

One of the restaurant group’s other downtown establishments, The Wine Loft, is also temporarily closed.

And while the company’s plans are to reopen both restaurants as soon as possible, the restaurant group has also been hit with two permanent closures in the past 16 months. The Union Cabaret & Bistro and the Cityscape Event Center, both owned by Millennium, were among the downtown businesses to close since the start of the pandemic.

“We have never experienced anything like this in all of our years of activity, but we are not alone,” said Pastor. “It’s true. The stakes are real. They are not made up.

Other food and beverage businesses on the list of closures in the past 16 months include: Tibbs Brewery, Civil House Coffee, Fandango Tapas Bistro, MacKenzies’ Bakery, Nonla Banh Mi ToGo, Olde Peninsula Restaurant and Brewpub , Fuze Kitchen and Bar and Kelvin & Co. Urban BBQ.

Related: “We will miss it,” say fans of Olde Peninsula, Kalamazoo’s first brewery

Another restaurant closed during the pandemic is Zazios, which has served upscale Italian cuisine inside the Radisson Hotel Plaza for 16 years. Its owner, Greenleaf Hospitality, announced the temporary closure in November, with plans to unveil a new restaurant concept by summer 2021.

New restaurants are also planned in areas that previously housed Fandango Tapas Bistro and Ouzo’s. Ouzo’s, Rupert’s Brew House, and Mangia Kitchen & Bar all closed in the final months of 2019, just before the pandemic hit.

Not all of the downtown restaurant closures in the past 16 months were directly linked to the pandemic, Haan said. Some, like the MacKenzies Bakery on Harrison Street, had been on sale before the pandemic began as owner John MacKenzie prepared for retirement.

Asked about the number of restaurants leaving downtown versus those entering, Haan said his organization is committed to working with partners to create a clean, safe, welcoming and active downtown environment; and one that appeals to locals and visitors.

“Ensuring that this foundation is in place paves the way for investment in any economy,” Haan said. “We are actively working with landlords to explore opportunities to connect them with potential tenants, in all sectors. “

Haan said that as immunization rates rise and COVID cases decline, his organization has seen a dramatic return to the city center, “with considerable pent-up demand for in-person experiences and spending.”

“We are optimistic that as customers continue to return to their pre-pandemic habits and people return to the workforce, these problems will start to subside,” he added.

While things were closed, Haan said, the community showed incredible support for local businesses, purchasing an abundance of gift cards and 10 times the typical amount of Kalamazoo Downtown Dollars compared to an average year. The Downtown Dollars, which are purchased as part of the Downtown Partnership, are accepted at 47 businesses in the area, he said, and generated more than $ 150,000 in profit last year. .

Matt Caruso, owner of The Stamped Robin and Nextdoor Wine Store, said the deadline for spending the downtown dollars was approaching at the end of June, his businesses saw an influx of people coming to spend them at his wine bar and store. before they expire – resulting in unexpected income.

“A lot of people weren’t sure what to spend them on at the last second, so they ended up getting gift certificates instead,” Caruso said. “This money will now go even further because it guarantees more business.”

Some have survived the pandemic thanks to staunch community support and the ability to pivot when closures and cancellations of popular business-boosting events threatened their bottom lines. But things are still not back to normal.

“We’ve done our best, but things still need to improve,” said Betty Peristeridis, co-owner of Theo and Stacy’s downtown area with her mother, Stacy Skartsiaris. “It’s slowly coming back to normal, but we’re still far from capacity and don’t have any waiting lists or anything like that. “

Peristeridis said the switch to a take-out model during the first shutdown in late March helped save the business and kept it afloat. Although the dining room is starting to fill up again, she said 70% of Theo’s and Stacy’s business is still take out or take out.

“Unfortunately, take out is a lot more expensive for us,” Peristeridis said, pointing to additional costs such as containers and silverware. “Plus, Grubhub takes 33% off the top for all restaurants on deliveries. While Grubhub is awesome, it was more of a necessary evil for us, given that restaurants got 60% of it as it is. But it has helped us stay afloat.

The most important factor that has impacted the flow of activity of Peristeridis and its staff over the past 16 months? The lack of pedestrian traffic in the city center, due to the courthouse being closed and people who typically work downtown working remotely from their homes, was noticeable for the restaurant, she said.

The cancellation of other annual events, like the Do-Dah Parade, KIA Art Fair and Holiday Parade, was also devastating, Peristeridis said.

Plans for this year’s holiday parade are uncertain, as business owners say they have been notified of its cancellation for 2021. Haan recently told MLive that an announcement on the holiday lineup will be made in August.

Related: Holiday parade must be held for ‘survival of downtown Kalamazoo’, say business owners

“Parade days are our busiest days,” said Peristeridis. “The art on the mall, all that pushes people downtown and it has an impact on everything. We are lucky. We created it. And all my staff are there. I have a fantastic, loyal and amazing staff and I don’t face staff shortages like many of my other industry partners.

Peristeridis will offer this staff a week of paid vacation and will close the restaurant from August 8 to 15. She wants to get ahead of this news, tell people now, before the public thinks her restaurant has closed as well.

Another location of Theo and Stacy, operated by Skartsiaris and his siblings, has closed during the pandemic. And while the decision has more to do with plans for the siblings to retire soon anyway, Peristeridis admits COVID has definitely brought the decision to the fore a bit faster.

“We were one of the lucky ones, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “It turns out that we were able to pivot at the right time. We are, however, a different kind of business. For lack of a better word, we are a diner. Rather, high-end restaurants that serve alcohol have been the most impacted.

Downtown businesses that have closed since March 2020 include Fandango Tapas Bistro, The Union Cabaret & Bistro, Nonla Banh Mi, Mackenzie’s Bakery, Civil House Coffee, Olde Peninsula Brewpub & Restaurant, Fuze Kitchen & Bar, Kelvin & Co. Urban BBQ, Tibbs Brewing Co., Cityscape Event Center, Curate & Co., Nature Connection, Suzanne’s Organics Salon, Kalamazoo Barre, AMC Theater, Clock N Lock Escape Rooms, and AT&T Store.

Downtown businesses that have opened since March 2020 include Rose Street Nutrition, Beowoof Provisions For Pets, Kalamazoo Fashion House, Gold & Sass, Ballet Kalamazoo, Great Lakes Thrift Co., Mason Jar Plant Shop, Bee Joyful, The waiting room, Couleurs et cocktails, Two Twins Coffee, Next Door Wine Store, Benny Dicarta’s, Samson’s Barbershop, Tin Can Bar, Trim Salon, Cairo’s Kitchen.

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