Downtown Midland has a new neighborhood spot.
Aster, a farm-to-table restaurant located at 134 Ashman St. next to WhichCraft Taproom, just celebrated its opening day on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Given the new COVID-19 restrictions, Aster is only doing takeout.
“We wanted it to be a farm-to-table restaurant that is focused on food, sustainability, and community,” says Evan Sumrell, chef-owner of Aster. “That’s a huge thing for us.”
Sumrell and his wife, Lisa Kuznicki, envisioned opening this restaurant when they met in Chicago. At the time, Sumrell was working in Michelin star restaurants and Kuznicki was running hair salons. After Sumrell was furloughed from his job due to the pandemic, they made the decision to move back to Midland — Kuznicki’s hometown — with their son, Stanley.
With Sumrell’s cooking skills and Kuznicki’s eye for design, Aster was born.
“This is an extension of our home,” says Sumrell. “My wife really loves mid-century, so that was the idea. We wanted to have a lot of wood, a lot of earthy colors in here. [...] It feels like you’re in Mother Nature.”
Ask about any piece of decor and Sumrell can give you a backstory. For example, the sturdy dining table tucked in the back has been in Kuznicki’s family for a “very, very long time.” Many table settings were purchased from antique stores and have appeared at their pop-up tasting events at Live Oak Coffeehouse. A handmade rug runs parallel to the wooden banquettes, crafted by Midland carpenter Paul Walker, and upholstered by a local “Mr. Dave.” Even the decorative tiles on the columns were crafted nearby, in Traverse City.
“We’re just a bunch of hippies,” says Sumrell. “We really care about what we’re doing and protecting this earth that we live on.”
Sumrell grew up in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He graduated from The Art Institute of Atlanta with a bachelor’s degree in culinary business management.
That philosophy applies to the kitchen, too. When selecting cleaning chemicals and dishwashing detergents, Sumrell strived to pick the safest and most eco-friendly options. He also plans to compost food scraps and donate them to local farms. Even the fryer oil will be repurposed — as biodiesel.
It comes as no surprise that great care was taken in sourcing the food.
“A huge thing for me is that we’re hyper-seasonal,” says Sumrell. “Whatever the farm has is what we’re going to be selling.”
Produce is sourced primarily from Good Stead Farm. Livestock and animal products come from Old World Farms, Monroe Family Organics and Shepherd Organic Produce & Poultry LLC. Fish is from DMS Fish Supply, and seasonal game meats will come from D’Artagnan.
For now, the menu features seven items, including salads, fish, livestock and ice cream.
“I would rather focus on a smaller menu and focus on getting this done really well, and then eventually build it into something bigger.”
Orders are being taken online-only through their website for pick-up between 4-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Customers can pick up their orders from the back door, which can be accessed through the parking lot located on the corner of East Larkin Street and McDonald Street.
To follow their story, you can visit Aster’s Facebook page.