Food trucks, beer garden, and riverfront dining all are part of the business plan for Drift

It’s an idea whose time has come, and local entrepreneur and businesswoman Jenifer Acosta and her partners are watching it come to fruition. Drift, a beer garden, food truck park, and lounge will open later this summer on Water and Third streets.

The new owners have spent much of the summer cleaning up the exterior and renovating the interior of the iconic Downtown Bay City building.It’s taken the better part of the summer to clean up the waterfront side of what was once The Kingfish Restaurant, among others, and while in the process, Acosta and her business partner and local restauranteur Dave Dittenber have hosted fundraising events and charitable pop-ups.

The collaboration of partners, including Downtown Restaurant Investments (DRI) and Jenifer Acosta Development came together a little over a year ago to come up with a concept that is unlike any other in Uptown Bay City or Downtown Bay City.

Drift will offer open-air dining including a fenced greenspace next to the building where customers can enjoy a meal and lawn games.Acosta says the partnership – which includes restauranteurs, experienced developers, and operators – is bringing life to a dockside restaurant that sat vacant for four years.

The building has its roots back in the mid-1960s when it opened as The Blackhawk Restaurant. Over the years it changed names a few times, opening and closing its doors, but the riverfront access has been a staple.

The first phase of interior renovations involved removing almost everything.Acosta says they are taking advantage of the decks and river overlook to create a place for boaters to land for refreshments on their way to points in downtown.

“Within walking distance of Drift are at least 17 other bars and restaurants, so this will be a bridge from the waterfront to the rest of downtown,” says Dave Graham, the Marketing Manager at DRI.

The glass roll-up overhead doors line the wall facing the river.With so many other opportunities for food nearby, Acosta says this won’t be another “beer and chicken wings type of spot,” because there are plenty of those. Instead, Drift is planned as a food-truck park and shoreside beer garden. Drift will offer an open-air dining experience, with big roll-up overhead doors on the backside, a fenced green space with lawn games for kids, and an area where “people out boating with their dogs will have a safe place to go.”

The restaurant is located within an easy walk of Bay City's downtown concerts, festivals, and events.Drift’s location also makes it a prime spot for a lot of use, especially during boating season. “It really is at the center of it all in Bay City for all events at the Wenonah Park Bandshell, waterfront or downtown festivals like the Fourth of July Fireworks,” says Acosta.

Roll-up overhead doors allow sunlight to fill the indoor space.Over the last few months, the legendary restaurant building at 1019 N. Water St. has undergone some major renovations, including rehabbing and fixing the dock on the waterfront, taking down the little shack on the back, and cleaning up and repainting the interior. While in the process, though there has been some other activity on the property.

The developers plan to rehab the docks on the waterfront as well as fully renovate the interior.“We’ve done some charitable fundraising for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Wellness Alliance,” says Graham. GLBRWA promotes healthy lifestyles, but also supports other organizations like the Toni and Trish House in Auburn, Dow Bay Area Family YMCA at 225 S. Washington Ave., and others. The pop-up charity events include limited menu of beverages and music and will continue throughout the summer.

Open or closed, the roll-up doors connect the indoor and outdoor sections of the eatery.Also, while renovations are being made, a handful of food-trucks have tested out the location. Acosta says for the time being owners being generators to run their trucks, but there will be hook-ups for up to eight food trucks. That means during the summer months people visiting downtown will have their choice of several other street food vendors to choose from along with the nearby restaurants.

“Little Fleet in Traverse City is the only other place like it in lower Michigan,” says Graham, “we wanted to be able to have something affordable, family friendly, and give people a place to go on the way home from work, or before taking in a show at the State Theatre.”

The docks make Drift ideal for boaters looking to take a break and grab a bite to eat.The beer garden will be a unique indoor/outdoor opportunity because of the open-air concept. Graham says they will offer a full beer, liquor, wine and cocktail menu but it is the atmosphere that will draw people in.

 Acosta says this is her first time venturing into restaurant ownership, but she isn’t the only one in her family with a hand in it. Anthony Acosta will showcase Cuban-American-inspired food from his childhood in Miami with a food truck called Havana Bites.

“Jen’s done a great job of preserving what the property was while turning it into a world class venue,” says Graham.