Running Four Great Restaurants in Bay City and Midland using Great Teams with Dave Dittenber

Dave Dittenber is building a successful restaurant business.  His secret?  He took the time to assemble a great team. Developing a solid model, he owns three restaurants in Bay City and one in Midland. He shares with us how he built his team and what his plans are for moving forward.

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Resources

Old City Hall Restaurant Website (Click here)

American Kitchen Website (Click here)

Tavern 101 Website (Click here)

Molasses Website (Click here)

Transcript

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00]  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the call of leadership. The podcast, where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership, we’ll hear their powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our families, and in our community.

I am your host, Cliff DuVernois, and today’s guest has made a name for himself in the fields of artificial intelligence and in healthcare. But where you probably experienced his greatest passion and that is for food. He is the owner and operator of four restaurants that are located in base city’s downtown area.

Ladies and gentlemen, please. Welcome to the show. The president and founder of the downtown restaurant investments, association, Dave Dittenber. Dave, how are you?

Dave Dittenber: [00:00:46] I’m doing well, Cliff. Thanks a lot for having me today. I’m excited to be here.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:50] Yes, no problem. And I am absolutely full of questions cause I thought only one restaurant was insanity, but you own four.

Dave Dittenber: [00:00:58] And, and we get to reopen them all back up this week too, which is, which is insane in its own. Right. But, but going pretty well.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:05] Oh, yeah. I bet you, that’s just, it’s just, just going to be an absolute goat rodeo for that. So yeah. So speaking of restaurants, let’s talk about artificial intelligence. I’m just kidding. let’s take a trip back in time. Why don’t you tell everybody where you’re from and where you grew up?

Dave Dittenber: [00:01:19] Yes. So I grew up in, up in Aubre, Michigan, which is about an hour North of Bay city.  worked for all the, the restaurant families in, in all gray. So,  started off in a dish pit and, It at H and H bakery and worked at the local, bakery for lots, lots of bakery, delivering pizzas.

And, and then, ultimately ended up, working in the, at, behind the bar and waiting tables for a family, the dumb Levy’s there in town. So all my family was from up in all gray and, and, it was a great experience growing up, but  I’ve been in hospitality and restaurants since.

I was probably 12 years old doing various stuff from cleaning and ultimately working, working up to, to now own them, but yeah, just good experience, small town kind of thing, and yeah. And loved every minute of it.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:06] Excellent. Where did you go to college?

Dave Dittenber: [00:02:08] I went to school at Aquinas college in grand Rapids, studied biology, wanted to be a doctor realized that that was going to be a little bit more, more above my, maybe mental grade, if you will. And, so, but, yeah, it did, the, bio and chemistry degree and was kind of on  the track to do something in healthcare and, And ultimately the, the restaurants drugged me back in.

So that was, graduated in 97 from Aquinas and then moved to Bay city, directly after that to, to open old city hall.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:39] So what is it about Bay city that attracted you  to that area?

Dave Dittenber: [00:02:43] So again, being,  Bay City to us when we were growing up, this is where we went for,  doctor’s appointments and  anything for shopping,  we didn’t have a lot of choices and in all gray at the time. So we always came South to Bay city. And so when I was, When I was about ready to graduate from school, I called back and told my parents, Hey, listen, I think this is a, a good idea.

And they’re kind of like, really, we went through it, we went this college route, and then now you want to go back and operate restaurants. And so they bought into the idea, they were looking, kind of looking around for me. And I think they liked the idea of me coming back over. closer to home being in grand Rapids at the time.

And so honestly, I looked in, there was a place in grand Rapids, which, I had,  looked at that was right down the road from school, across from the Amway grand. I looked at, it looked at a place in Jackson and then  my mom and dad called me up with the place old city hall that had come for sale and wanted to know if I’d come back over and take a look at it.

So honestly, they were the ones who found it and told me about it. And that’s, that’s kinda how we, we ended up back over this way.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:44] Excellent. And I know that between. Graduating from college. And I know you talked about coming back to Bay city and opened it up old city hall somehow, or another, you started dabbling in artificial intelligence. What’s that about?

Dave Dittenber: [00:04:00] So that was a, it was an interesting, I guess, pivot and,  I had from school, I went to, I worked in the restaurants,  for about three years before I’d actually truth. Be told I was, I was doing some catering jobs for a lot of pharmaceutical reps and,  from the restaurant I’d go in and I’d deliver food.

I’ve,  getting to know these people and. I’m one of the girls angelic that I used to work with said, Hey, what would you ever consider about. , going back into, going into pharma when I told her what my background was going into sales. And so ultimately,  the, the pharma thing led getting back into healthcare a little bit.

after I transitioned out of pharma, I went to and started another, a company that got me hooked up with some people locally here for, that used to be with Dow chemical for 30 plus years that were on the.  computer science and information systems side of things, gangs. And, they had looked at starting a start up and wanted me to kind of go in on the business development side.

So truth be told out of the gate, I had zero experience and data science and AI and machine learning and all the buzz words, and just had to, kind of, they were looking at me to set up the sales and do business development, so on and so forth. But,  that was going on five years ago now.

it is absolutely. been a blast. I mean, it’s something I would have never thought that I would have been,  been the field I’ve been working in, but ultimately,  to deal with these,  really smart kids coming out of school and with data science degrees and theoretical physics degrees and all that kind of stuff, and be able to now, kind of.

A start in the health care and then we’ve actually started to do some of the AI related stuff. with my partners, my partner, one of them lives in Switzerland, was, is, is Dutch by, now nationality work for, Dow for , 30 plus years and now lives back in Switzerland. So. We’re international, which makes what’s brings its challenges as well.

But , it, I guess that’s kind of in a nutshell how the AI piece came about of it. So it started in healthcare and then we’ve even been transitioning, doing some stuff in hospitality as well.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:59] And so with, and I do want to go and cover that point, in, in a couple of minutes. And I know that we, at the beginning of the episode, you’re we talked about you being a part of the downtown restaurant, investments. What are the, what are those restaurants? What, what, what comprises that investment firm?

Dave Dittenber: [00:06:20] Sure. So we, so the, the, the restaurant operations in that we have old city hall, American kitchen and Tavern one-on-one and downtown based city. And then we also have molasses, in downtown Midland. So those are our four. Restaurants. And then we have, another, just a catering, operation that runs out of there as well, that runs under old city hall.

but so  that runs all of our offsite. and then also our kind of our, I think our passion, our mission was,  since old city hall was our flagship and, and,  downtown at that point was just starting its revitalization. we really kind of fell out love with this idea of,  doing the.

the business and the core cores of the old downtowns. And so it’s been really kind of the, kind of our vision, right. And, and, see that growth and be part of that growth and be part of that community. And,  I’ll be honest with you when we first came to Bay city to talk about, even reopening old city hall, people thought we were a little bit crazy.

And then when we wanted to open a second one and a third one within the same block, they really thought we were not. but , for us, it was. It was just great because we got to see,  kind of that, you know, what, what we believe in which is that feeling of all those little neighborhoods, having their own different personalities and watching the residential and all those other things come down there.

So, so that’s where it started. And then,  we started investing into real estate, in those areas as well. and so not just in, in, In Bay city or Midland, but also sagging off Freeland, all gray and we own some property there. And some of those areas that basically trying to be part of that, not only in the restaurant hospitality side, but also on the, the investment side as well, just to kind of keep those cores intact.

Right. So, yeah, that’s been, that’s been the vision over the years.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:02] I know that running a restaurant is tough. I mean, it is just,  my hats off to anybody who can go out and make a successful run at, at having a restaurant. But you guys have got three of them in operation. What? Wow. What, what, what in the world? What’s, what’s part of your magic sauce to, to be able to not just do it once, but be able to just be able to replicate that.

Dave Dittenber: [00:08:29] You know, for us, it’s always been about the team and the people. And so,  part of downtown restaurant investments, was. We always had the restaurants that were operating individually. And we said, if we’re going to be able to scale this and continue,  with the growth and, consistency and quality and all the things that we,  are really, truly passionate about, we need to kind of have a management company that’s able to.

To see that. And so that was a really hard transition at first because we started to take our really good people out of the restaurants. Right. And move them into more of a regional type approach where they were overseeing strategy , and so that, to me, the building of the team has been the reason that we’ve allowed to do that.

So you have some really great people that I’ve worked with for.  20 years, my exec chef, Mike has been, we’ve worked on and off together since 97. my CFO, Scott and I have been together now, he left, I always say we have, he had the mistake and he left and then he came back, but we’ve worked together and have been friends for 20 years.

My marketing guy, Dave, we’ve known each other for 20 years and work together.   and then my GM Curt, I mean, he’s, he’s the newbie on the group, if you will only been here for a few years, but he’s,  just amazing guy that gets customer service. So for us,  it was the ability to first have the talent that we can move into a position where we could scale and be strategic and then,  take those guys and put them in, be able to, to train others.

And so I think,  the, the ability to have that team in place is the only reason we were able to do it.  Every one of those people that I just mentioned. I mean, I don’t know what I’d do without them. They’re fancy.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:03] Yeah, it sounds like you would have to have a really good team in place, just because of the fact that,  we usually with an owner, they have a vision for the particular restaurant and they’re so into the workings of that restaurant that I just don’t think that  they would be able to come up for air, but you’ve been able to successfully replicate this now four times.

Dave Dittenber: [00:10:24] and I think the other thing too is you have to be really, you have to be flexible. Right? I mean, I, I, and I’ve worked for some great, like I said, H and H bakery and lotses and Don Levy’s and, , did a stint at Outback on the corporate side for a while. And so I had some really good.

Training as some legacy type family people, or some strong corporate value people that really did a great job. And so I think all those aspects, really helped us to be able to, to kind of, , understand what w what was needed in order for us to be, successful. But,  I think it’s, it’s really difficult sometimes to.

To, to sit back and, and, , really keep that, , keep that focus because the reality is,  restaurants are changing conceptually,  what people want, the customers are very smart.  I saw a stat that said,  every seven years you need to reinvent and we’ve even taken it and said with social media and everything that goes on, it needs,  you might need to reinvent daily or weekly.

Right. So, and for a conservative person,  in terms of approach the way I am, because I definitely, , I’m a kind of a repeatable scalable, but  you need to be very open minded and any of the team members, not only from our leadership team, but also from,  the development of leaders in our, in our management teams, at our respective restaurants, our employees, it’s very, it’s very important to hear their views.

So you can actually start to. Implement some of those ideas, because that’s what keeps you current, right? That’s what allows you to do that type of stuff? Because if not, I think the days of those, yeah. The restaurant tours that, , I’ve been in business for 80 or a hundred years, and I know some really good ones that continue to do it around the state and, and, and people that I really respect, , Zehnders and Bavarian Inn some of those, but you don’t see as many of those now, I think because it’s, it’s more.

 the consumers drive, what they want and, and if you don’t, if you’re not flexible and you’re not out there listening, I think that you can really kind of get, , caught up or stagnant. So we, we that’s part of our strategy is to continue to be current and, , learn and listen and, and,  bring the ideas in and the people that can produce the ideas internally.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:28] And talking about producing ideas. cause I know you’ve, you’ve got the four restaurants. Each one of them is different. I’d like to spend a little bit of time talking about them. Well, before we do that, where, where do you get the idea from to, to open up the restaurant? Like,  it’s one thing to say, okay, let’s open up a restaurant here in this building, but each one of the, each one of your restaurants has got like a different theme, a different idea, a different type of food that they serve.

So where do you get the idea for that?

Dave Dittenber: [00:12:53] So,  and again, in the beginning, I will tell you that old city hall, we kind of fell into it a little bit.  there was a guy who came and had a really good idea, and then we just,  continued the idea and were able to do that. the, the, the second one American kitchen,  my partner.

and I, at the time, fed wrath camp and fat, and I love the idea of this, this burger concept that we saw in Las Vegas called the burger bar. And we’re like, we think we can do a version of that back in, in, in our region. And, again, , you take something that has high traffic and, , a place like Las Vegas.

and so that idea was ours. And honestly, we just kinda went with it and. Had the team go around the table and, , kind of you handle the menu, you handle this, here’s the ideas, but, but we learned very quickly in that process that we needed to be a little bit more, systematic, if you will. And so,  the ideation is one thing, but then, , the implementation is 99% of it.

And so, the last year cavern one-on-one and molasses, we worked with a great group and, , I’ve been very lucky to, I’ve had great mentors in this business and I’ve had great. Colleagues. And, , from my time, on, serving on the Michigan restaurant and lodging association,  some people that are just kind of like family to me now that if, , if you have an idea and you want to run something past them.

And so we ended up getting together with a guy by the name of Sam short, Sam and his restaurant group is called potent potables. And it’s out of downtown Lansing and, Sam had a consultant, a consulting company. And so he really helped us. Kind of  turn that idea idea into something that was more, more repeatable, more scalable and more easily to implement.

And so, he just had a very systematic way about it, about a year. I want to do it. And then that’s, I think it puts us, , in the right lane for success out of the gate versus,  trying to figure out when we first did it on our own, it w there were things that you’d get to the fork in the road where you’re like, wow, we should have really anticipated this fork, you know?

And we didn’t. And so it was, it was really good to have someone that,  had done this multiple times and multiple areas and,  would help us from everything from,  market information to,  how many people that we needed in a kitchen to be able to execute that idea in a, in a profitable way.

So, I credit,  Sam for the last two of being able to really put us in that systematic way. So it wasn’t all us by any means, but our team was very active in the process.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:15] sweet. And what I’d like to do now is I’d like to talk about, I’d like to talk about and spend a couple of minutes talking about each one of your restaurants. So tell us for old city hall kind of like,  what’s the thinking behind it? What kind of food are, do you serve there? What can people expect when they show up?

Dave Dittenber: [00:15:33] Sure. so old city hall, very, I would say out of all of them , again, still our flagship, but ultimately, we have, an executive chef there that’s very eclectic. So he likes to play around with, , ethnic. Foods, but then also,  we have traditional things like chops on the menu and then,  Allah cart that has sandwiches.

So, the idea that, and we came in with it, we, we came, we came into the, I, I did not come into the idea was there when we were, when we bought it, but it had a lounge and a bar. And that had had a dining room in the dining room at the point where we took it over was very upper scale. and so we knew right up front that we had to kind of tame that back into something that looked, that fit us.

And so, we had a lot of,  the dishes have evolved over the years, but I’d say probably 35 to 40% of the menu is similar to where, where we started in 1997, because it’s kind of been that classic. Place, but we just presented it in more of a casual dining instead of a true, fine dining place. So, , again, past the steaks chops, good sandwiches, good soup, good salads.

 can come in and shorts and a tee shirt and you can be dressed up. Right. It’s it’s it has a very. How do I want to say this, like a set, like a Southern Cal feel like you can walk in and be sitting next to a group of business people. and you can,  be sitting there and, and, and enjoy a sandwich salad on a, on a nice summer evening as well.

So it’s very diverse.  and again, but we, but we like to play, right. That’s always been something that if we get to cities and get to see food trends, that would probably be the place that we. that we implement some of those things in there. Right. And, and that’s always  been part of the menu and the cuisine.

and then the bar is, is always been, , kind of the place to be seen, in Bay city. So,  a lot of, business people, politicians,  just. community leaders, so on and so forth. And so it’s, it’s, we’ve been very lucky to have, , kind of that group. That’s always supported us as well, but,  you can also see a family and somebody that I used to wait on it,  Dunley reason, , 1995 in the summer and there, and we welcome anybody in there, but a very eclectic group from,  demographic to food.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:41] sure. And if somebody was coming to, let’s say that you’ve, they’ve never been your restaurant with before, what would be like,  a couple of dishes that you would recommend that they try, what what’s like some of your signature dishes.

Dave Dittenber: [00:17:51] Sure. Old city hall. I mean, again, the tomato bisque is something that people have talked about for years. we have an appetizer that is a, is a lettuce wrap that it’s a. A chicken, lettuce wrap. That’s just,  people talk about it as we’ve been through COVID right. I mean, people have called me on,  weeks that they wanted to have, have the chicken, lettuce wraps and tomato bisque brought to their house.

So it’s been really good. And then,  we’ve always been known for,  steaks and, and, the, the state cuts are,  prime steaks that we’ve dealt with, , the same producer for the last 20 years. And so people.  come there for special occasions for, , steak and seafood.

And,  again, I talk about some of the ethnic things, right? We’ve got a couple of our chefs, one trained, down South. And so he likes to do, , a lot of the Southern stuff and, he did a stint in Nashville. So you might see something to do with Nashville, hot chicken.

So it changes a lot.  but I would say are probably the, the most popular dish would be. Artichoke chicken. it’s just kind of a classic and have been around forever. So, and the tomato biscuit, as far as old city hall goes, I’m here. Sorry about that cliff. I thought I lost, I lost, I thought I lost everything there. Can you hear me okay.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:10] Yeah, I can hear you fine.

Dave Dittenber: [00:19:11] Okay. Okay, good. I’m back. Sorry.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:14] well that’s okay. Now, were you able to finish, I couldn’t hear the end of your sentence, but did you, were you able to finish that?

Dave Dittenber: [00:19:19] I was, I, I, yeah, I did. I, I, I ended with artichoke chicken.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:26] right on. Cool. okay. Cause I think it is, as long as you finished off your thought then, that, that part of the recording is safe. So

Dave Dittenber: [00:19:32] Okay, cool. Good.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:33] God. All right. Cool. So I will move on to my next question. Talk to us a little bit about American kitchen. What’s what’s the idea behind that?

Dave Dittenber: [00:19:43] Yes, it was a burger. It was, it was a burger concept. And, it was something that was born out of that comfort food. so, so some comfort food stuff on the menu, but truly just around. Good burgers. Right. And so,  we were dealing with a meat producer,  that had, had done a whole ground muscle meat,  just the, the, the true steak burger, if you will, kind of thing.

And we wanted to turn that into something that you could go get a really great burger. And so. it’s a small little place that was,  a former dairy, in Bay city forever. So it had a little history to it.  not the best location, not the easiest to get to, but,  we’ve had really, really good burgers and really good Mac and cheese.

And so we’ve been recognized in state contest for stuff like that, which obviously makes us proud of that.  people love the 50 50 burger, which is,  a heart attack, heart attack on a bun, which is half bacon, half bacon and half,  half, blend, , house blend  with bacon and, a fried egg and everything in between on it.

So it’s, it’s a popular item for sure. And the Mac and cheese is something that,  we’ve, we’ve, kind of been recognized for that, which is,  pink counting cheese, which is a local, local cheese producer, a local bacon that we use in there and, and, people just love it.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:04] Sweet. Yeah. Cause I, I it’s a handful of years ago I tried my first hamburger that was made of one of those blends. Like you mentioned, it was like half bacon, half hamburger or something.  all my.

Dave Dittenber: [00:21:17] Well, I know you talked about, you did some time in, in, in Southern Cal and, and so the burger idea for the, we called it the 50 50 burger. It actually came from Huntington beach, California. And so, and I’m, I’m absolutely drawing a blank of the place right now. I cannot think of it to save my life, but I went back to our guys.

I’m like, we should do something like this. And they did, it was a little bit different of a blend, but it was literally like, , bacon on top of bacon. And I’m like, well, people like bacon, so let’s try it, you know?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:49] Nice. Yeah, cause actually I spent, I actually lived in Huntington beach for. About four or five years, and there’s a couple of really great burger joints down there. So, if you base that off of that, then that’s probably probably one of those, one of those burger joints is where I had the, the, the bacon and, and,  hamburger blend or whatever it was that just, , made me curl my toes.

Dave Dittenber: [00:22:08] is man. And I’ll tell you what you feel it, I think you sweat salt for about three days afterwards, but it’s worth every minute of it. Right? So it’s great burger, great burger.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:17] you’re right. And you don’t want to plan anything heavy for that afternoon, cause you’re going to be in a food coma for sure.

Dave Dittenber: [00:22:22] Exactly. Exactly.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:24] Exactly. Let’s talk about the, the concept idea, a little bit of food behind Tavern one Oh one.

Dave Dittenber: [00:22:31] Yeah, that was the Tavern one Oh one has all been about the, all been about the beers. Right? So craft beers, we have,  70 beers on tap and local try to, highlight as many local people as we can.  again, I remember, when the craft bureaucrats kind of started, , it was all over the map.

Right. And, and, there were things there breweries coming out of the woodwork from all areas of the country. And then all of a sudden, Michigan is like producing. All these won, just unbelievable beers and, , actually, yeah, some of them, I remember like when bells started, , back in the mid nineties when I was still in grand Rapids in college, and now all of a sudden, , like too hard, it is a thing again, I’m like, well, this is awesome.

You know? And so, so that was, it was kind of the inspiration behind that. All the beers. the stories that these brewers,  that they tell. And so we had some, a lot of good friends in that market and,  Midland brewing company and Mount pleasant brewing company and mountain town brewing company now.

And so we went to those guys and said, Hey, what do you think about, we kind of want to be that,  Aggregator of the craft beers. And so, it’s a really cool spot, too great location across from the water,  excellent in the summer. that’s one of the places we’re reopening today, obviously, and, it’s just a great place.

and we’ve kind of graduated into doing some craft cocktails and stuff out of there. The food is more flatbread pizzas and,  appetizers snacks kind of thing. It’s definitely, definitely driven more by the beers.  that are complimented with the food, but then we do some fun stuff with food.

With beer too,  whether it be,  saw Tang something and,  and beer, or doing some,  techniques with beer infuse or some of the dessert,  stout, puddings and stuff like that. So just a fun menu and, are really a really good demographic too. So lots of fun.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:15] How about how many craft beers do you usually have on tap there?

Dave Dittenber: [00:24:18] so right now we have 70. and, so that’s, depending on we have the ability to do a few more, to, to, if we’re doing tap takeover, something like that. So it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s just really cool and it allows us to stay very current with the different. Different craft brewers. Cause as soon as they get something cool, they wanted to bring it to us first, which is, which is fun.

So, and then we’re also kind of going, gonna do, I’m starting actually today doing some more with the, the craft cocktails on tap. So we’re going to have five of those,  old fashion,  some, some fun specialty cocktails that just are kind of in that same thing. Keeping with that tap kind of, kind of theme.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:56] Well, I  I am a huge sucker for a really good old fashion.

Dave Dittenber: [00:25:02] You’ll have to come over and sit, you’ll have to come over and try it, man. And I’ll tell you what the best part about is the, is the rig is the intelligence of making it correctly. So,  anytime we’d love to have ya.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:12] Yeah, I’m going to take you up on that offer brother. Cause I, I will, I will share this with you and for the people in the audience. Sit down. Now, if you do not make an old fashioned correctly, it tastes like bandaids.

Dave Dittenber: [00:25:23] It does.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:24] you either have a really good one or a really bad one. There’s nothing in between there’s no.

Oh, this is okay. No, it’s either good or it’s bad. So I’m going to hold you to it.

Dave Dittenber: [00:25:33] Alright. Alright. I welcome the challenge. I welcome it. And if not, we can work out the recipe. You know, it’ll be w we’ll work it out together. You’ll be on the focus group. It’ll be good.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:44] Yeah. We’ll have to do a podcast around that episode too.

Dave Dittenber: [00:25:49] It might be longer and harder to hear, you know,

Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:52] Yeah, exactly. And that’s perfectly okay. I’ve never, I’ve never drunk podcasts before, so that could be a lot of fun. Love it love it. Let’s talk about molasses in Midlands. So first off, cause I know this at the time of the recording, you just had the dam burst over in Midland. So first off was, was molasses impacted in any way, shape or form.

And then second off. Yeah, go ahead.

Dave Dittenber: [00:26:12] Go ahead. Sorry. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:13] was your restaurant impacted at all by this? And, and, second off,  talk to us a little bit about the restaurant.

Dave Dittenber: [00:26:19] Yeah, it was so directly affected. we lost power for a few days. but ultimately,  everything was. Nothing was affected, the neighbors around us. I can say weren’t so lucky. not necessarily Midland, but just some of our customers and so on and so forth. So yeah, it was, yeah, it was, it was, it was a rough, it was a rough couple of weeks and,  we actually went and, and, we’re feeding a lot of the people, Sanford, Midland,  taking meals out to them, just with all their.

Houses and stuff just destroyed. It’s just, it was sad to see,  I had my inlaws, they were up on Sanford Lake. And so it’s just, it’s been, it’s tough. It’s, that’s a, that’s a tough one, but  resilient community and everybody’s getting through it. A luckily we were not directly affected, but felt like we just had to do something, , to try to.

Alleviate some of the pain that was going on. but I think,  the, the restaurant itself molasses in this, so we have our one, one year anniversary, next week, when we opened to the public and, and, and so we’re like, this is,  kind of fitting that we get to reopen,  almost a year ago.

Like we get two openings, which is great, but the community’s been fantastic. It’s a barbecue place. again, the. The concept took about a year to, come together. we had a, a great, Pitmaster that came in and, and, worked with us that had been in it for 30 years. And so we were really lucky to have Steve.

and, and, yeah, it’s, it’s good. Barbecue, man. It’s, we’ve, we’ve kind of evolved and we weren’t barbecue people, so we knew we needed to surround ourselves with people that understood barbecue and then take our, , our service model and kind of meld those two together. And, Yeah, I love, I love the restaurant, man.

It’s a great location. Midland’s great to be in. And, yeah, it’s good food. Well,  we are, the motto is we smoke meat every day. That’s, that’s kind of, we try to keep it simple, but really great stuff,

Cliff Duvernois: [00:28:06] I don’t think I’ve been this hungry on recording a podcast ever.

Dave Dittenber: [00:28:12] man. We’ll we’ll we’ll fatten you up a little bit. Come on over.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:28:15] Dude, I’m starving Marvin and I don’t need to be fat anymore. I already got, like, if I’m walking down the road, I got a little kid that points at me and says, look, mommy, a whale. So.

Dave Dittenber: [00:28:23] I wouldn’t know.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:28:24] No, I’m just, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I, I know I want to, I want to get on and try all these places, man. And I am a, I am a, I’m a Freudian true sense of the word.

I will eat anything as long as it tastes good, but I do want to go back to something here real quick that we talked about for molasses. And you said that it’s barbecue, there’s all different kinds of barbecue as, or is there one particular style of barbecue that you, that you focus in on?

Dave Dittenber: [00:28:49] So, so again,  the, the Pitmaster that we opened with, he’s more of a traditional, competition, barbecue. so,  it’s, it’s regionality,  it’s kind of st. Louis. So the, the molasses based sauce, You know, stuff that it, and, and again, it, but he likes to sauce. So his style is he likes to let the meat smoke or meat speak for itself and then,  kind of offer up the sauce as a compliment afterwards.

So, , he, so he, he he’s been able to take that competitive, kind of barbecue feel, but then also do it in a way that is very approachable. To the customers by really taking different sauce, flavor profiles that kind of fit in with, with what P what different people would like. So,  we’ve got, eight sauces that we put on the table, which,  again has been a little bit different from our experience because it’s kinda like we.

Serve it on a sheet pan and the barbecue comes out and,  you can take sauce, we use bottles and get a little dirty and all that kind of stuff. So postcode that that’s been a little different for us because that’s part of our after the fact. So, it’s, it’s been a little different to adjust, but It’s just really good.

It’s just really good, simple barbecue, but done correctly,  and, and, we’ve got, a Hickory smoker that we brought in that sits behind the restaurant and, and, that things go on 24 seven right now, which is a great thing.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:11] Yeah. Talk about going old school. That’s awesome. The, one of the things that I do want to discuss with you is the, at this time of this recording with a, the governor has lifted most of the restrictions on people getting out restaurants are gearing up  to start opening and you and I have chatted about that a little bit.

Talk to us. About from,  especially because of this group in this collection of restaurants, you have talked to us a little bit about, some of the preparations, some of the work that, that you’re doing, or some of the procedures that you’re putting in place to make sure that people can come out and truly experience the, the restaurant and what it has to offer, but at the same point in time, feeling safe.

So talk to us a little bit about that.

Dave Dittenber: [00:30:56] Yeah. And that’s a great question. And,  you’ve heard people talk about the new normal after the last,  kind of things that have went on over the last few months, but,  our, our, the first thing is, is, and again, it’s great to get. back reopened and,   we had some really good sources again through the Michigan restaurant lodging association that provided us some really good information and,  kind of the roadmaps to reopen.

And so, one of the reasons that we decided to open up sooner than later, even for takeout and delivery, is we really wanted to get some of those things implemented into our places. So, when we were ready to,  know that,  as restaurant tours,  from a food and health safety point of view, I mean, we’re all trained and we work really closely with the health departments and all those different organizations.

And so we understood the importance of. ensuring that we were going above and beyond and then retraining our people. But most importantly, letting our customers know that,  this is something that we take really seriously, and we want to make sure that when you do come into our places that , you’re safe and you can count on that.

And so. So through these,  some of these groups and focus groups that I sat on that were part of the reopening process, we, we just, as soon as there would be, any sort of initiative, we would kind of beta I that in the restaurant,  whether it be.  kind of the six foot social distance, plans, even though we didn’t have people in the places, we were able to kind of set those seating charts out and kind of get a feel for how we’re gonna manage through that.

Right. And then,  how would we, how do we make this as easy? For the customers that are coming to our place yet, let them know that,  we got to follow the rules too. And so,  from CPE to shields, to, digital menus, things like that. So we’ve, we’ve really spent a lot of time and,  getting innovative too with different, different products, too,  stuff that can go on, stuff and go on surfaces and,  be up there up to 30 days that kind of asks.

Acts as a defense and working with Dow, chemical, getting hand sanitizer and doing different stations for that. So it’s all been, like I said, we, we feel like we’re really prepared for it. last week when we got, when we did open, because Midland opened a week before Bay city did. we were, it was honestly,  we were, we were kind of ready to ready to go.

And even from a,  from the employee standpoint, we’re still, we’re still taking people’s the employees, temperatures as they come in, all the employees need to obviously it’d be in masks and gloves and all those types of things. And so we just really wanted to make sure that from the customer standpoint that they, we knew that we were taking it seriously and we want it them to be safe.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:33:36] Excellent. And for, for the people that are listening to this podcast that might want to connect with you or follow you online, or, or, , just maybe like a,  just learn more information about the restaurant. So what’s the best way for them to do that.

Dave Dittenber: [00:33:49] Sure. so social media, on any of the social media, things that goes directly. to my managers and they can, people can get in touch with me there. My, my email address is really easy. It’s . and again, even though we’ve, we’ve tried to scale and be bigger, we’re still approachable.

I mean, the people that are in our places, we’re in our places every day, we’re talking to people every day.  and again, there’s a good chance,  anybody that’s on, on my team,  we’re a text message or an email away, but you know, the social media sites are all a good place to see what we got going on and communicate with us.

But yeah, I’d,  we’ve reached out, especially in the restaurant from the restaurant tourist perspective about what they can do to get ready, to get reopened. So, you know, we’ve, we’ve established, I’m really good friends and networks from around the state of people that have reached out to us.

So. and customer wise, we love hearing from our customers. So any ideas or anything they have, we love it.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:34:44] Excellent. And for our audience, we will have the links in the show notes down below. Dave, I’m actually sad. We’ve reached the end of the podcast and, I met, I’m so glad that that, that you were able to carve time out for today. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Dave Dittenber: [00:35:00] Me as well, cliff. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate being here and, love listening to,  some of your previous podcasts and really I’m honored to be part of it. So was absolutely my pleasure.

About The Host

About The Host

Cliff Duvernois

Cliff is the host of “The Call of Leadership” podcast.  He has published over 500 short stories over Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn.  He is a passionate lifelong learner, marketer and philanthropist.  He currently lives in Reese, Michigan with his fiancé Sherry and her two children.

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