Q&A with Matt Nemode from Mode’s Tavern

Matt and Jill Nemode opened Mode's Tavern at 108 Linn St. in July 2020, the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. They covered an already-existing deck with a white tent to offer outdoor seating in all kinds of weather, scheduled musicians to perform live music, and organized cornhole tournaments and other entertainment events in the closed street outside the eatery. About a year ago, the restaurant and bar debuted #givebackmode, a concentrated campaign that quickly raised $11,000 for local organizations. Then, at around 9:30 a.m. on April 4, while the Nemode family was enjoying Spring Break in Florida, an employee arrived to discover a fire in the back of the building. By early afternoon, the fire had torn through the building. Two second-floor apartments were destroyed, along with the first-floor eatery and its neighbor, JR's All-Star Haircuts for Men.  

QUESTION: I'm sure it's hard to talk about this, but can you tell us about the morning you learned about the fire?

ANSWER: We started receiving calls and texts about smoke in the building. Pictures, videos, and literally thousands of messages followed. We didn’t know what to think and being so far away, there was nothing we could do. Had we been there, we couldn’t have done anything either, helpless probably best describes it. We experienced a range of emotions; we were grateful no one was injured, and we were immediately concerned for our employees’ futures. We reached out to a couple of our restaurant owner friends, and they assured us that our employees would have a place to land for as long as they needed one. We talked to the Deputy Public Safety Director and Fire Chief to see if one of us needed to be home and they said it was not needed, to enjoy the time with our family. That was very difficult, but it also put us at ease somewhat. 

Matt Nemode poses with his staff. Since the devastating fire, businesses in town have organized fundraisers to help staff at Mode's Tavern and JR's All-Star Haircuts.Q: The community response has been amazing to watch. Businesses, including your competitors, are sharing a portion of their sales with everyone affected by the fire including the staff at Mode's Tavern staff and JR's All-Star Haircuts for Men as well as the tenants who lived in the apartments on the second floor of the building. Can you talk about what that's meant to all of you?

A: It’s incredible. We live by the idea that if you do good for others, it will always come back in one way or another. For almost three years, we’ve tried to give back, sponsor, help wherever we could. Mode’s was growing and we knew that what we were doing to help others was a reason. To see the immediate response and all support that continues as we speak, confirms that what we have been doing was definitely noticed by the community, that’s a great feeling.

Read more about the community response and upcoming fundraisers on Mode’s Tavern Facebook page.

Cornhole tournaments held outside Mode's Tavern kept the area hopping last summer and fall.Q: Mode's Tavern has a history of giving to organizations in the community. In less than a year, #givebackmode has raised $11,000 for organizations, schools, and teams. Does being on the receiving end of other people's generosity change how you'll approach giving in the future?

A: Absolutely not. We are in the process of working on some bigger events with the music community and the Midland Street Business District. Our thought was if Mode’s can make a small difference, the entire District can make a big difference. As far as Jill and I, we will continue to do what we’ve done. Some of our scheduled fundraisers have been picked up by local restaurants to still be run, we are so appreciative of that, it’s making a bigger mark in the community. Beyond giving back, we’ve been able to meet so many new people, make new friends, and get to know the community so much better. It’s been very fulfilling to us. 

Q: The Midland Street Business District is home to law offices, insurance agencies, a hardware store, and other businesses, but it has a well-deserved reputation as an entertainment destination. Several popular local restaurants and bars keep the streets full on evenings and weekends. As the Chairman of the Midland Street Management Board, you've overseen district-wide outdoor concerts and encouraged people to come down for a fun night out. Do you think seeing how your neighbors responded to the fire might change how some people view the district? Has it changed how you view the district?

A: It has been amazing to see all the new businesses that have come to the Midland Street Business District in the last year and they’re still coming! This summer both bookends to the district will be occupied with amazing restaurants. Traffic from one end to the other will be higher than it has been in years, possibly ever. 

The positive response to the fire will most definitely have a positive impact on the perception of the district, but local residents having fun inside the establishments within the district will have a much larger impact, much faster. That is happening more and more, especially with all the retail businesses opening. There is something for everyone in the district with more on the way!

We love this District. We’ve grown up here and were able to experience the safe, fun, inviting days when it flourished. In my role with the Midland Street Management Board, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know all of the business owners and see the passion they have for their business and the history of the district. Their response to the fire confirms my pride in the district. 

Music, drinks, and meals were offered on an outdoor deck when the weather cooperated. Since 2020, a large tent has covered the deck and extended the outdoor dining season.Q: It's early, but can you give us an idea of what might be next for Mode's Tavern?

A: That’s a tough one, so many unknowns. Our brand has credibility, we’ve proven we can do this, we absolutely have the support, and we love everything about owning a bar/restaurant. We also survived the challenges of COVID and the Liberty Bridge being closed. We would like to reap the rewards of our efforts. Our goal is to bring Mode’s back and better than ever. #unfinishedbusinessmode 

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com