Category: Community

Black History Month: Restaurant owners grateful for past, but ‘every day of the year is black history for us’

A decorated outdoor wall, with faces painted on it

Just as Italian-Americans and Michiganders of other backgrounds contribute to the state’s diverse menu of local food offerings, so do African Americans.

We’re taking the occasion of Black History Month to note and celebrate the influence of black restaurant owners across the state – from Eugene Allen, a “country bumpkin” who grew up hunting squirrels in northern Michigan and has deer and turkey mounts on the walls of his bar, to Godwin Ihentuge, a first-generation American who’s bringing the food culture of his Nigerian heritage to the Mitten State. And from Cory and Tarra Davis, who barbecue award-winning ribs in Grand Rapids while broadening the menu to include plant-based options, to Lloyd M. Talley, a Ph.D. in human development who’s conducting a “social experiment” in Detroit by opening a new kind of eatery that’s a model for the future of urban food.

They all have vastly different stories. Yet, they share in common the experience of being black business owners working to make Michigan’s local food scene more delicious than ever.

 

Continuing a legacy

Cory and Tarra Davis of Daddy Pete's BBQ

How can you support black-owned restaurants in Michigan? “(Black History Month) is not just a one-month fad. It is a life that we live all year long, and we really just want people to be intentional in thinking about where you’re spending your dollars,” said Tarra Davis, here with Cory outside Daddy Pete’s BBQ in Grand Rapids. “Where possible, make an intentional effort to support diverse suppliers and vendors. Don’t let black-owned business support be a trend. Let it be a lifestyle.”

Slow smoked barbecue runs in the family at Daddy Pete’s BBQ in Grand Rapids. Not only are owners Cory and Tarra Davis husband and wife, but the popular food truck with a dine-in location at 2921 Eastern Ave. SE on the corner of 28th Street gets its name from Cory’s pit master father, Pete.

Since Black History Month is about remembering the past and “continuing on the legacy for the up-and-coming generations,” as Cory says, Daddy Pete’s is a perfect black-owned restaurant to highlight. After all, Cory and Tarra have been carrying on Pete’s BBQ legacy since 2012. And they’re living up to the challenge. Combining Cory’s barbecue skills with Tarra’s gift for entertaining, Daddy Pete’s is one of Michigan’s Top 21 Restaurants to Visit in 2021.

“I love the connection between taking something from its raw state and turning it into something beautiful that people enjoy,” Cory said. “The secret to great barbecue is having a passion for it.”

In addition to succulent slow-smoked meats including ribs, pulled pork, chicken wings and beef brisket, Daddy Pete’s has award-winning side dishes and also has launched a plant-based menu with vegetarian and vegan options. There’s even a plant-based version of the restaurant’s iconic “Hot Mess.” Instead of a BBQ sundae served in a funnel cake with baked beans, six-cheese mac and cheese, a meat of your choice and creamy coleslaw, the plant-based “Hot Mess” features vegan ingredients and smoked jackfruit.

The plant-based menu has been one of Daddy Pete’s biggest sellers, “at a barbecue place of all places,” Tarra said.

“We are a husband-and-wife team together in the sauce and doing the best that we can with the gifts that we’ve been given,” she said. “Cory and I know we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who have not had the opportunities that we do, and that we are making them proud.

“Our goal when we started was to change the financial trajectory of our family tree and to leave a legacy of ownership and self-sufficiency. Every day of the year is black history for us. We live it, and we try to be living examples of black business excellence. We are certainly not perfect, but we are always aiming towards that goal.”

Building upon the foundation laid by those who came before

Everybody seems to know Geno’s Sports Bar and Grill. The restaurant in Thompsonville, not far from Traverse City, is a popular stop for northern Michigan tourists who come to ski or golf at nearby Crystal Mountain Resort, to fish or kayak the Betsie River and to snowmobile or bike on trails that run right outside the door.

Yet, lots of people are surprised to meet Eugene Allen, the African American man who has owned the place for the past 12 years.

“They say, ‘Oh, you’re Geno? You’re not Italian,’” Allen explains, with a laugh.

A graduate of Benzie Central High School, Allen is northern Michigan through and through. He grew up hunting and fishing with his dad, who was born in Thompsonville in 1933 after Geno’s grandparents came up from Georgia because they heard how great Michigan was.

Geno Allen of Geno's Bar & Grill

After nearly 30 years working in the auto industry, Eugene Allen came to his hometown restaurant looking for a change of pace. “I got up out of my chair and asked the owner if she wanted to sell it,” he said. “Two weeks later we made a deal over the phone.” Geno says Black History Month is about “all the efforts people went through to help afford us the opportunity to better ourselves. A lot of those efforts made back then paved the way for folks like myself to have a chance.”

Allen’s dad used to catch raccoons for their pelts as one of his money-making hobbies. Then one day he caught sight of a pretty girl named Lucille, who had moved with her family from St. Louis to a farm east of Thompsonville.

Good thing for Geno. His parents’ genes helped make him a state wrestling champion. And his mother’s talent in the kitchen has helped him succeed in the restaurant industry.

“She could really cook,” Geno said. “Even when we were growing up we would tell her she should open a rib place.”

Lucille passed away last year, but she lives on through her recipes including the “sweet with a little heat” sauce that Geno uses for Lucille’s St. Louis Style Ribs, which is the special on Thursdays. The rest of the menu at Geno’s features American classics from Philly Steak Flatbread and broasted chicken to the best burger and best fish fry in all of Benzie County. And everything at Geno’s comes at great prices. There’s even $1 pints of PBR on tap.

“My accountant keeps telling me I’m not charging enough,” Allen joked.

In the same way Geno benefits from his mom’s rib sauce, he also knows that his success owes in part to civil rights pioneers. Without them, he may never have been able to buy his hometown restaurant when he came looking for a change of pace after nearly 30 years of working in the auto industry. While spending some time in town figuring out what he could do if he accepted a buyout, he asked the restaurant owner if she wanted to sell. Two weeks later, they made a deal over the phone.

“(Black History Month is about) all the efforts people went through to help afford us the opportunity to better ourselves,” Geno said. “Back in the day you weren’t even given the opportunity. You couldn’t get a bank loan, for example, or move into a certain neighborhood.

“A lot of those efforts made back then paved the way for folks like myself to have a chance. All you ask for is a fair shot.”

Celebrating the past

When Godwin Ihentuge started a pop-up restaurant in Detroit, people told him there was no market for African food. Yet, in a city populated primarily by people of color, including many like himself with family ties to Africa, the chef’s pioneering spin on fast casual Afro-Caribbean cuisine has really taken off.

The pop-up evolved into a food truck, then two years ago Ihentuge opened Yum Village in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood. The menu of “African raised, Detroit made” food features dishes such as Moin Moin, a bean dish from Nigeria, Maafe, a West African peanut stew, and Caribbean jerk chicken – many with ingredients imported from overseas.

Chef Godwin Ihentuge of Yum Village

“I think I applied for maybe 300 jobs,” said Godwin Ihentuge, who finished high school during a recession in 2002 and graduated college during the recession brought on by the subprime mortgage crisis. After working dozens of jobs ranging from rock wall climbing instructor to coupon book intern, the first-generation American built a pop-up restaurant into Yum Village, which opened in 2019 in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood.

“I grew up eating this food,” said Ihentuge, a first-generation American whose father survived civil war in Nigeria and came to the United States. “We take part in black history every day by serving African food to people of color.

“I’m here to open up the dialogue so we can start talking about all the different types of African food there are. It’s important for us to see and acknowledge representations of ourselves (in the food we eat).”

Ihentuge has an extensive food background, from working as a dishwasher in the cafeteria at Wayne State University to cooking in the kitchens of several Michigan restaurants. But he envisions Yum Village as more than a restaurant bringing African food culture into the Michigan market. In fact, he’s broadening Yum Village into a market pantry with a variety of products and services including lessons in cooking and West African djembe drumming, sauces, spices, fresh-made juices and smoothies, take-out meal kits, bath and body items inspired by the restaurant’s recipes and clothing.

Some of the expansion has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which overnight shifted the restaurant’s business from about 85% in-person transactions to 90% online. Yum Village needed to generate new streams of revenue to keep providing employees with good wages and quality benefits.

The wider focus also is a natural fit for Ihentuge’s merchandising skills, which he honed as a former district manager at Target.

“We’re inventing things here. We’re doing a lot of pioneering things,” he said. “By the end of it we’ll probably be like an Afro-Caribbean Target or an Afro-Caribbean Trader Joe’s.”

Forging a new future

At East Eats in Detroit, Black History Month brings a sense of gratefulness for the past. It also implores the owners to sustain and advance progress into the future, and their innovative restaurant is an effort to do just that.

Birthed out of the COVID-19 pandemic, East Eats has no indoor dining nor even an on-site kitchen. Instead, it’s a collection of geodesic domes set up in an abandoned lot in the city’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.

Lloyd M. Talley of East Eats

There’s a lot happening in downtown Detroit, but there’s so much more of the city’s landscape to be experienced – including a visit to East Eats. “I don’t think we always need multi-million dollars from outside corporations to come and develop (a more robust black future),” Lloyd M. Talley said. “We’ve taken things that already exist within our local area and stitched them together in a framework.” Next time you’re in the Detroit area, come and see a side of the city that you might never have seen before.

Guests make reservations and place orders in advance from an intriguing menu that changes seasonally to reflect the owners’ diverse African American, Caribbean, Liberian and Ghanian heritages. Each reservation includes two sides (soup, salad or dessert) and an entrée such as butter shrimp, roasted chickpeas or salmon tikka. East Eats offers lots of vegan and vegetarian options, too. When visitors arrive for their picnic in a dome, their meals already have been prepared in a catering kitchen about a mile away and are there in hot bags to meet them. It’s merging the best of remote delivery with in-person dining.

East Eats not only gives people the chance to go out safely during the pandemic, benefitting both mental and physical health. It’s also a relatively low-cost alternative to a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant that makes it more affordable for many guests.

And you can tell by the sound of kids playing and of dogs barking in backyards that the neighborhood setting meets people right where they live.

“There are neighbors here that drive past every day and say ‘I didn’t think that could be in my hood,’” said Talley, who teamed with fellow Howard University alum and Detroit Black Restaurant Week founder Kwaku Osei-Bonsu on East Eats.

Talley, Osei-Bonsu and a third partner, Flint native Nygel Fyvie, say the model of East Eats can happen quickly and affordably in an eco-friendly way that empowers the community. And they believe it can be replicated across Michigan and throughout the country, especially in urban areas with large amounts of vacant land and large populations of people of color.

To them, East Eats is a way of taking the celebrated legacy of black history and pushing it forward toward an even brighter future for underserved communities in metropolitan areas around the country.

“Black History Month is a reminder that there are a lot of things that have occurred and a lot of work that has paved the way for us to be here right now,” Talley said. “But I also think about it as a responsibility to ensure that black history is not stopping with us. I hope my role in Black History Month is to show a new black future.”

RELATED: Celebrate Black History Month and explore more incredible stories, art and legacies

Diverse black-owned Michigan restaurants worth celebrating during Black History Month, all year long

A decorated outdoor wall, with faces painted on it

MLive Michigan’s Best’s John Gonzalez and Amy Sherman shine a spotlight on a few of the local, black-owned restaurants around the state. Gonzo and Amy highlight each restaurant’s foundation story while enjoying delicious meals in unique locations. From an ‘igloo picnic’ to a Thursday rib night, to low-and-slow southern BBQ and Afro-Caribbean eats – these restaurants are your next MI Best ‘must try’!

East Eats – Kwaku Osei-Bonsu and Lloyd M. Talley, Ph.D., started East Eats in order to bring something special to this neighborhood and community. Intentionally choosing a location ‘off the beaten path’ and a unique dining experience of domes/igloo picnics. East Eats diners can travel around the globe from their dome with the sights, smells and tastes of a rotating seasonal menu of Eastern hemisphere foods.

Geno’s Sports Bar and Grill – after 28 years working in Detroit Geno Allen returned to Thompsonville and purchased the local bar. Quickly becoming a favorite for locals and tourists. With $1 pints of PBR, lots of TVs to catch all your favorite sports and plenty of great food including everyone’s favorite, Thursday night rib nights.

Daddy Pete’s BBQ – Cory and Tarra Davis, had a gift for BBQ and entertaining so they started Daddy Pete’s BBQ. Offering low and slow Southern style BBQ from both a food truck and dine-in location. They are committed to family, food and their customers.

Yum Village – with the motto, African raised, Detroit made, Chef Godwin Ihentuge is bringing Afro-Caribbean food to Michigan. With food as diverse as jerked ox tail and curried chickpeas and events such as group drumming lessons, this restaurant is not only a must-try foodie destination but also a community gathering spot.

5 things to see and do in Michigan before the snow melts

woman gazes out at a wintery lake

Who knew that the huge cinnamon rolls at Hilltop Restaurant in L’Anse weigh more than a pound? Or that there’s a statue just up the road along U.S. 41 called “Spider Jesus?”

That a nearby waterfall pierces the icy landscape of the “Grand Canyon of the U.P.” and that the parking lot of Irene’s Pizza in Baraga is a splendid place to watch the sunset over Keweenaw Bay?

“Every small town has something unique about it,” said Tieka Knight, a travel blogger who recently spent a gorgeous winter day exploring the distinctive character of the L’Anse-Baraga area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “I like to find all those gems.”

Tieka Knight is a graphic designer who also blogs about travel at selectivepotential.com.

Tieka Knight is a graphic designer who also blogs about travel at selectivepotential.com.

Knight discovered snow-covered gems such as Canyon Falls and the Bishop Baraga Shrine on her day trip, and there are many more winter treasures to encounter in places all over Michigan. Whether you follow in her footsteps or blaze a trail of your own, the recipe for a winter day trip is the same: Just find something interesting on the map to visit – maybe a lighthouse or a scenic turnout – search out a few local shops and restaurants, then hit the open road for a day you’ll never forget. With a spirit of adventure, any Michigan town becomes a destination.

A winter day trip is one of many ways to enjoy the season while our state is glistening with snow.

And here are five more things to see and do this winter in Michigan before the snow melts:

Strap on some snowshoes – Snowshoeing is a different experience than speeding down a ski slope or pedaling a fat tire bike through the snow. But that’s not to say it’s not a workout! It might actually be the perfect way to get exercise out in the beauty of a Pure Michigan winter. And most anywhere you go in the state, you can find a place to rent snowshoes. Knight suggests renting from the Escanaba Civic Center and snowshoeing around the Peninsula Point Lighthouse or through Fayette Historic State Park.

Lace up some ice skates – From frozen ponds to outdoor rinks all across the state, there’s plenty of opportunity to get out on the ice and fancy yourself an Olympic champion – or just spend time hand in hand with your special someone. Knight suggests checking out the outdoor ice rink at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. You can rent skates right there and enjoy an extraordinary setting amidst all the tall buildings. It feels like you’re in a real-life snow globe! Plus, there are lots of places just a short walk away for hot cocoa or dinner. And through February, Grand Rapids is hosting the World of Winter Festival with large-scale art exhibits and ice sculptures.

Visit a waterfall – People usually flock to see the incredible waterfalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the summer. But each falls has its own special character in the winter, when the landscape is as beautiful as ever. You’ll feel a bit like an explorer discovering something for the first time! Some parking areas near waterfalls are closed during the winter and some falls can be difficult to reach in the snow. But many falls are easily accessible with parking right on the road. Knight recommends Bond Falls off U.S. 45 near Paulding.

person walks across a snow covered wooden bridge in the woodsDine in an igloo – Even now that indoor dining is available again in Michigan, outdoor dining remains a popular winter activity. As a resident of both Marquette and Grand Rapids, Knight has recommendations for both areas: the heated igloos at historic Mt. Shasta Restaurant in Michigamme, the heated “deck rooms” on the deck at Elizabeth’s Chop House in Marquette and the heated igloos at Royals and other restaurants in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids. “It’s a fun way to experience the outdoors without being cold,” Knight said. “You don’t need a coat or anything.” Whether in an igloo, shanty or some other kind of enclosure, there are .

Take a lighthouse tour – There are so many summer photos of Michigan lighthouses. But these maritime relics remain standing throughout the winter, too. What better place to see them in all their wintry glory than in the Traverse City area? From Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfurt to Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula to Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, the Traverse City area is home to some of Knight’s favorites. “A lot of the colors, especially the red ones, really pop in the white snow,” Knight said. Take a look at these incredible photos of frozen Michigan lighthouses.

There are so many great ways to spend a winter day in Michigan that it’s hard to whittle the list down to just five. The ideas above don’t even include cross-country skiing on the Noquemanon Trail, popularly known as the “Noque,” in Marquette; hiking through woods full of towering, snow-covered evergreens at Hartwick Pines State Park near Cadillac; having the surreal experience of visiting the Eben Ice Caves near Munising; winter rafting on the Sturgeon River near Gaylord; snowmobiling around Grand Marais; or walking the trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore west of Traverse City.

Explore all there is to do this winter in Michigan and plan an excursion while the snow’s still on the ground. Note that reservations may be needed for some activities due to pandemic-related capacity limits.

Winter is at its peak! Enjoy the snow and look forward to what’s next

person downhill skiing in Michigan

We’ve gotten a lot of snow all across Michigan in the past couple weeks and our state is as beautiful as ever. It is an ideal time to get out and enjoy the winter activities that make this time of year where we live so special.

It’s also time to start looking ahead to the next season of fun and book your spring and summer adventures in the Mitten State. Fortunately, many Michigan destinations are offering money-saving offers right now both for winter excursions and warmer-weather recreation.

In our Pure Michigan Featured Deals for February you’ll find a luxury getaway to Mackinac Island’s historic Grand Hotel, which has an April opening that will be here soon! If you book the hotel’s Simply Grand Package now, you’ll get a bonus resort credit to use at Grand Hotel restaurants and shops or on resort activities. And since we’re in the “month of love,” you can make a Simply Grand Package the perfect gift for your valentine by topping it off with a Touch of Romance basket that’s filled with a bottle of wine, flowers, world-famous Mackinac Island fudge and a card.

RELATED: Explore Local: A magical, local Valentine’s Day adventure

Of course, there’s still time for a winter getaway, too, either just the two of you or an entire family. But Mother Nature won’t keep sending snow for long. The groundhog says we only have a few more weeks of winter left!

skier shushing through fresh snow in MichiganIf you haven’t yet hit the ski slopes or taken the kids tubing, then make a plan today to do that before the snow’s gone. You can tube and go downhill or cross-country skiing – and save money too! – with lodging rates as low as $119 a night with the “Bellaire Means Fresh Air” deal at Shanty Creek Resort. At Trout Creek Condominium Resort in Harbor Springs near the Nubs Nob and Boyne ski areas, you can get a third night for free and warm up by the fireplace after each day of outdoor winter recreation.

With pandemic restrictions on indoor dining now relaxed, you can add nice sit-down dinners to your trip. Explore the incredible diversity of dining options in Ann Arbor while escaping for a night or two at any of 40-plus hotels offering rates starting at $89 a night. Or book a Traverse City Escape Package and get discounted lodging plus coupons for attractions, shopping, dining and drinks at some of Michigan’s best wineries and craft breweries.

For a more intimate dining experience, look at this amazing Dine-In deal at The Townsend Hotel in the walkable upscale community of Birmingham, where a night’s skis, snowshoes, and walking polesstay comes with a $75 room service credit and valet parking. And if you’re looking to escape from the world for a while to enjoy a unique nature-centric retreat, how about a winter cottage getaway to southwest Michigan’s picturesque Bay Pointe on Gun Lake?

Winter only comes once a year. Fortunately, there’s still time to make this winter extra special! And as you plan ahead for spring and summer, be sure to explore the wide variety of ways to shop, eat and stay local right here in our Pure Michigan.

RELATED: How to make the most of our Pure Michigan winter

Explore Local: A a magical, local Valentine’s Day adventure

Explore Local: Valentine's Day video screenshot

Eric shows you how to put together a beautiful, local Valentine’s day extravaganza for your loved one – by shopping local you build relationships with local businesses (which means you get the inside scoop), you help to build a vibrant neighborhood and state, and your get unique products that represent our great state.

Shopping local means that your money has more impact; $73 of every $100 spent locally, stays local. It means you are a name, not a number; vibrant, thriving communities; 52% of Michigan jobs are provided by local companies; and MI continues to move forward.

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So, as you shop, please try first to find local Michigan options for the items on your list. A helpful way to get started is by checking out this Pure Michigan Shop, Eat & Stay Local page.

You can also subscribe to Pure Michigan’s Featured Deals eNewsletter and get a look at money-saving Michigan offers. Each month will highlight a selection of packages and specials available throughout the state.

3 things to do this winter right here in Pure Michigan

person carrying skis looks across a snowy landscape

Far fewer people are flying to Florida and other warm-weather destinations this winter. That means there’s even more opportunity than normal for Michiganders to get out and enjoy their own state’s snowy paradise.

Are you ready to travel local and give Alpine tubing a try? How about a wintry zipline adventure tour or some fat tire snow biking? Maybe a cross-country ski trek or a casual hike through snow-covered woods is more your pace.

“You don’t have to do the black diamond runs at Mount Bohemia Adventure Resort to enjoy winter,” said Dave Lorenz, Vice President of Travel Michigan. “We have it all here whether you’re into downhill skiing, ice fishing, fat tire biking, whatever it is.

“You just need to get out there. We’ve had to be in our houses way too much this past year.”

RELATED: Find rental equipment for skiing, cross country, fat tire biking, snowshoeing and other winter activities

With multiple COVID-19 vaccines being distributed, there’s hope that life will return to normal at some point in 2021. Until then, Michigan’s tourism industry is working hard to make travel as normal as possible.

For example, the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association came together to create uniform standards of operation to help ensure that people can enjoy Michigan’s winter wonderland safely. When you visit one of the state’s many ski areas, you can know that there’s advance lift ticket purchasing available online and touch-free rental equipment pickup. There’s reduced capacity on the hills to promote safe social distancing and chairlifts limited to the people in your own party. Facemasks are being required, but then when you’re flying down the hill you’d be wearing one anyway!

With those precautions – and Mother Nature doing its part by sending fresh, white snow to supplement the solid base already in place – the stage is set for a typical ski season.

“It’s perfect right now with tons of snow,” Lorenz said. “It seems like normal except for a few little changes.

“You just print out your pass (at home) or there’s a kiosk at the resort where you print out your pass and, there you go, you put it on your gear and get going. It’s so easy.”

In addition to all of Michigan’s ski areas, the winter playground of the Midwest also is home to more than 11,000 lakes for ice fishing, or just skipping stones over the frozen surface. There are endless miles of trails for high-octane snowmobiling, or just walking through the serene beauty of a landscape coated with snow.

person standing on top of a snowy hill looking into a forested valleyIf you’re up for an extreme winter activity, try ice climbing frozen waterfalls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. For a unique adventure the whole family can enjoy, go winter rafting on the Sturgeon River in Gaylord. Or, for a more leisurely pursuit, how about snowshoeing through Ludington State Park?

Whichever winter activity fits your style, be sure to give it a try! And when you get hungry, you can experience some new ways of socially distanced dining that are popping up all over Michigan. For example, Treetops Resort in Gaylord is offering igloo dining for up to six people at a time.

You can find igloos elsewhere around the state, too, as well as special patio heaters, tents to block the wind and even greenhouses and shanty towns for unique and relatively warm outdoor dining. Of course, you can also order room service at many ski resorts and other places to stay around Michigan.

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Speaking of room service, lodging operators across the state have signed the Pure Michigan Pledge to help keep guests healthy and safe during their visit. Whether you need a home base for a few days of downhill skiing or just a place to rest your head following an afternoon of hiking, you can know that many of Michigan’s places to stay, restaurants, attractions and outdoor spaces have committed to disinfection and social distancing protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Pure Michigan Pledge logo“We need to vacation to break away from our everyday stress and struggles,” Lorenz said. “We need to travel. And when you are ready to travel, you can travel safely in Michigan.

“We all have a role to play to allow us to travel safely, and if we do these things we can still have a rewarding time.”

This 330-mile trail system, the Snowmobile Capital of the Midwest, is in Michigan

snowmobiling in Munising, MI

It seems perfectly fitting for 2020, which has been unusual in so many ways, that a lack of significant snowfall has delayed activity in the Upper Peninsula’s Snowmobiling Capital of the Midwest, centered around 330 miles of trails near Munising.

But weather reports indicate that a return to normal is coming as the late December and early January forecast shows snow accumulations to hit the area in 7 of the next 10 days.

friends pose in front of the frozen Eben Ice Caves in Munising, MI area“There’s never really a problem or a question if we’ll have enough snow,” said Cori-Ann Cearly, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “It’s always just a matter of when.”

The region averages 230 inches of snow each winter, making Munising and Alger County the perfect destination and starting spot for sled riders looking for a complete trail system that allows travel between towns, through magical woods, and to majestic ice caves and ice structures that daring climbers scale daily.

The groomed terrain matches any snowmobiler’s taste for adventure, or an easy day on the packed surfaces to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Miner’s Castle. The wide berths and stress-relieving scenic views are the perfect tonic to the tumultuous year stained by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the virus in Alger County has been minimized by safety measures and social distancing. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in winter

“Going on an adventure and seeing things that bring you joy is something we all really need right now,” Cearly said. “The most important thing is that it offers an opportunity for activity that is safe and healthy.

“The trails are like a highway in the woods, and it’s a place that we can slow down take your time and just be outdoors.”

Here is what Munising visitors will find:

330 miles of trails groomed daily

Members of the Snowmobile & O.R.V. Association of Alger County (SORVA for short) begin grooming the trials Dec. 1 and continue as long as the snow lasts, which is usually into April. The system provides access from Au Train to Shingleton and all trails and points between, Cearly said.

Widened trails improve safety

The trails that already allowed riders to glide across the snow will now include a median of sorts. SORVA brought in brush-hogging equipment over the warmer months to provide more room to ride – a key safety factor when sled operators encounter each other while traveling in opposite directions. Cearly estimates that the paths have 30 percent more room. While the width could allow three riders to fan out side-by-side, it is still strongly recommended to travel the trails single-file.

Low-lying areas have been in-filled

More off-season trail preparation has brought even better grading and filling to eliminate large depressions and holes. Don’t worry, there are still great hills and varying terrain, but riders won’t hit pothole-like conditions while zipping around the trail. Previously snowfalls would not completely fill and level the terrain since the snow packs down and forms around the hole, just like a pothole that will jar you while driving on pavement.

“All of this has been done to make it a better experience,” Cearly said. “You’re going to have just as much fun, probably more, because it’s going to be such a smooth ride.”

Smaller season crowds and better rates

Now, to be fair, with hundreds of miles of trails and countless off-trail spots to ride, there’s rarely snowmobile gridlock. History, however, shows that winter is slower than the summer influx of sightseers. Lodging rates fluctuate with demand, so that means there are even better deals to be found at area hotels.

If you don’t have your own machine, you can potentially find rental sleds available at a lower cost as well. It’s the perfect time for a quick winter weekend up north.

Shake off the holiday (and pandemic) stress: The holiday haze is real as we spend much of November and December rushing around shopping and only to hunker down with the turn of the new year. Break out of the cabin fever doldrums and see natural beauty that will relieve all the pent-up pressure.

Learn more about all Munising has to offer here.

 

From beer delivery to Facebook Live: How local Michigan businesses are changing

downtown Kalamazoo, MI

Sleepwalker Spirits & Ale has been in a constant state of change since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.

First, the new brewery in Lansing’s REO Town changed the design of its kitchen and the front of the house to better accommodate takeout orders, which immediately went from about 5% of business to 100% during Michigan’s stay-home order. Then, a side door was converted into a pickup window for third-party delivery drivers on apps such as DoorDash. The local Michigan business also started offering contactless curbside pickup and added a patio for outdoor dining.

Now, Sleepwalker has launched its own beer delivery service. The brewery teamed with local artists to create special labels for 22-ounce bombers that you can have delivered right to your door.

“All you have to do is say ‘Hey, I want you to drop this off at my house’ and we will do that, and we’re not even charging for it right now,” said Jeremy Sprague, president, founder and head brewer. “We’re constantly on the move to find the next thing that makes our customer happy and is compliant (with pandemic health and safety rules).”

For restaurants and breweries that have been limited to takeout orders for several weeks both last spring and this winter, COVID-19 has been challenging. Ditto for many other local Michigan businesses that have had to adapt to new ways of serving customers during the pandemic.

With customers in many cases unable to visit shops and restaurants or uncomfortable doing so, businesses have come up with novel ways of connecting people with their products and services.

glass of beer“The last nine months they have just had to constantly innovate,” said Laurie Lonsdorf, regional director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center in Lansing. “It’s been such a trying time for so many businesses. For those people that have a brick and mortar location, they are working so hard thinking creatively and trying to do everything they can to bring more sales in.

“A common theme is local Michigan businesses either trying to bring customers safely into the store or bring the store to the customers.”

RELATED: Get ideas for shopping, eating and staying local this winter

Here are some more examples of local Michigan businesses taking inventive steps to survive and thrive during unusual times:

  • Private shopping – While an increasing number of local Michigan businesses now offer online sales, many people still yearn to browse items in person. To do that safely, some stores are setting up private shopping appointments where you get the place to yourself for a period of time. For example, Lansing Art Gallery is offering items from its retail gallery for sale online, but customers also can schedule an appointment to get a personalized, curated hourlong shopping excursion. “It’s one way to ensure a safe shopping experience and that all the protocols are followed,” Lonsdorf said.
  • Private dining – Sit-down dining inside Michigan bars and restaurants has been prohibited at times during the pandemic, prompting some creative workarounds. For example, while the Detroit Foundation Hotel’s on-site restaurant has been closed for dining, the hotel converted several suites into private dining rooms – replacing the beds with tables – so that visitors can enjoy the restaurant’s menu in a safer, private setting. Outdoor igloo dining is another trend picking up steam this winter.
  • Local delivery – In addition to beer delivery from breweries such as Sleepwalker and Presidential Brewing Co. in Portage, many Michigan restaurants are offering delivery of full meals. You can find a statewide listing of restaurants offering takeout, curbside pickup and delivery at com. Retail stores, too, are increasingly offering home delivery services as online orders have surged during the pandemic, up from just 1% or 2% of sales to a quarter or a third in some cases.
  • Facebook Live – Another way to bring a store to the customer is through Facebook Live events. At Bella Grande, a plus-size women’s consignment clothing store in Charlotte, owner Angel Fulkerson uses the platform to spotlight specific items. It lets her connect directly with customers, pandemic or not, and even sell items live. Viewers can comment “SOLD” in the chat along with the number of the item they’re buying, then come into the store to pick up their purchase or have it shipped or even delivered locally.

people shopping downtown“People aren’t waking in the door and you’ve got to figure out a way to have those sales to keep your business running,” Fulkerson said. “Speaking in front of people gives me anxiety, but I know these ladies. They’re my shoppers! I can have a conversation with them in my store, so why can’t I talk to them via Facebook Live?”

Fulkerson was hesitant to give Facebook Live a try, then finally decided that it wasn’t a choice. It was something she just had to do. The sales alone have been worth the effort, along with positive feedback and the thrill of serving customers in a new way.

“It’s not that people don’t want to shop (during the pandemic),” Fulkerson said. “They still want to shop. We just have to figure out other ways for them to be able to do it.”

Explore Local: Shopping local has a real impact for shoppers and communities

Explore Local image

Have you ever wondered what happens to the money when you buy local? Eric Hultgren has partnered with the MEDC and Pure Michigan in order to dig into the impact shopping local has on your community.

Shopping local means that your money has more impact; $73 of every $100 spent locally, stays local. It means you are a name, not a number; vibrant, thriving communities; 52% of Michigan jobs are provided by local companies; and MI continues to move forward.

Related: How to add local Michigan flavor to your holiday shopping style

So, as you shop, please try first to find local Michigan options for the items on your list. A helpful way to get started is by checking out this Pure Michigan Shop, Eat & Stay Local page.

You can also subscribe to Pure Michigan’s Featured Deals eNewsletter and get a look at money-saving Michigan offers. Each month will highlight a selection of packages and specials available throughout the state.

Feeding the Front Lines: See behind the scenes on a day of giving

Serving a meal

It’s a good day when you can bring some of Michigan’s Best food to deserving people, with the help of incredible sponsors in order to help feed the front lines. That is just what happened on Monday December 14, as MLive partnered with businesses to bring meals to hard working health care workers around Michigan.

One of our sponsors, Woman’s Life Insurance Society, was happy to help this effort to acknowledge the work that our front line medical workers are doing every day. “Woman’s Life Insurance Society greatly appreciates the dedicated healthcare workers at McLaren Port Huron and everything they are doing to help keep our community strong and healthy during these especially challenging times,” said Karen Deschaine, manager of communications for Woman’s Life. “We are inspired by their strength and grateful to have this opportunity to express our gratitude.”

Our generous sponsors for this initiative were:

Woman’s Life Insurance Society-Port Huron

The Iles Schropp Group at Merrill Lynch-Saginaw

Rotary Club of Saginaw-Saginaw

Community Foundation of Greater Flint-Flint

Check out the podcast below to learn more about Feeding the Frontlines, and what kind of impact those meals have on frontline workers.

MI Best Stories: In this episode, Eric Hultgren talks with

 

Read the rest of the article and find more at MLive.com/michigansbest.