Taking the plunge: Starting a new business in Midland

Launching a new business can be an involved process with many hurdles, but as several local businesses have witnessed first hand, Midland has been a great place to take the plunge — due in large part to the welcoming and ample community support. From opening a new restaurant, testing a new summer concept, to opening a farmer’s market stand and everything in between, here are a few businesses that decided to make a go of it here in the region.

Dave Dittenber, owner of the soon to open Molasses BBQ restaurant in Downtown Midland.

Downtown BBQ set to open
Dave Dittenber is known in the region for being a restaurateur with a flair for delivering excellent food and increasing a city’s culinary footprint. Perhaps best known for his trio of Bay City restaurants: American Kitchen, Tavern 101, and Old City Hall —Dittenber is opening a new front in Midland — a St. Louis style BBQ restaurant named Molasses.

Dittenber says that Midland has been an area of interest for the last 10 years. “Things just seem to fall into place perfectly. We were told about the location, fell in love and everything just clicked.”

A rendering of the outside of Molasses in Downtown Midland.

Dittenber has long been a fan of Midland and stressed the positive community spirit that the city has always possessed. “The walkability of Downtown Midland is just amazing.You're dealing with a town in Mid-Michigan with some of the characteristics of a much bigger city.” It was this sense of place, that sense of big city aesthetics meets small town charm that drew Dittenber to Midland.

Dittenber also stressed that the City of Midland had come through with flying colors for him and Molasses. “It really helped that we are dealing with a municipality that really has their stuff together. It has made this entire process so much easier than it might have been.”

A rendering of what Molasses will look like inside the Downtown Midland restaurant.

The enthusiasm of community leaders has been an integral part of opening Molasses in Midland. Dittenber credited Dave Ramaker, president of the Michigan Baseball Foundation, with being especially welcoming and offering support with open arms into the Downtown Midland business community.

A long standing member of the business community in the region, Dittenber stressed that businesses and communities grow hand-in-hand. “Businesses do not grow without an invested community, and it is up to us as business owners to make that investment worthwhile,” says Dittenber. He added that the goal is to become more and more involved as Molasses opens its doors to the public and becomes a fixture of downtown restaurant life. Molasses is located at 201 East Main Street.

Wednesday wine and feeling fine
Jim Barker, of the newly launched Circle Wine Garden, was born and raised in Midland. Barker attended H.H. Dow High School and graduated from Northwood University. He moved to Washington, D.C. because he wanted to make a difference. After operating a nonprofit wine school in D.C. for 18 years, his home called to him. Jim says that moving back to Midland represented a significant improvement in the quality of his life.

Food trucks line up to support the new Circle Wine Garden in Midland.

Fortunately for Midland, he brought his passion for community development and wine along with him. For every Wednesday until September 26, the Circle Wine Garden will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. where a portion of Ashman Circle from North Saginaw Road to Ashman Street. The area will be closed off to car traffic during that time and proceeds from the weekly event will benefit Midland Recyclers. Jim stressed that the Garden is meant to facilitate and help local nonprofit organizations.

He was quick to point out the increased walkability in the downtown area has helped local businesses, and will certainly help the development of the Circle Wine Garden.

Wine Wednesday at the new Circle Wine Garden.

Offering a variety of wines from around the world as well as craft beers, the Circle Wine Garden aims to be a gathering place where education can occur in a relaxed, social setting.

Partnering with nonprofits is the central goal of Barker’s vision and with that, he is able to help these organizations generate funding through wine sales and education, which he also sees as the key to further community development.

“Local nonprofits often have trouble putting on events like those offered at the Circle Wine Garden and they deserve that sort of opportunity,” says Barker.

Jim Barker, the brain behind the Circle Wine Garden.

He went on to echo how much the City of Midland has helped achieve this vision, offering support and encouragement throughout the entire process of getting the Circle Wine Garden up and running. Barker truly believes that this support system and these partnerships, are absolutely necessary to the continued, encouraging development of the burgeoning Midland community.

Locals gather for wine and beverages for the first Wednesday kickoff.

The wine garden will be located in the front area of Ashman Circle in the area that houses Smith's Flowers and Gifts, Plaid Giraffe Children's Boutique, Pop-Pop's Gourmet Popcorn, Gringrich Piano's and more.

Both Dittenber and Barker stressed often that the City of Midland and it's municipal government had made the process of opening these two establishments as easy as it could be, as well as the tremendous outcome of support and enthusiasm from the residents of Midland and surrounding communities. Both were animated when discussing the continued development of Downtown Midland in the exciting things that have been, and continue to go on each day in Midland.

Serving up drinks and food from local food trucks in Center City.

Resources for growth
Jennifer Bruzewski, director of marketing and communications at the Midland Business Alliance reiterated that there are numerous resources for both new and existing businesses in Midland. “One of the many great benefits of doing business in Midland is the Midland Business Alliance. By bringing together the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce and Midland Tomorrow, we are working hard to become a business hub – providing support for all types and sizes of business,” says Bruzewski.

Bruzewski comments that this support and growth runs all throughout Midland.

“One of the other places to see the support of small businesses in the city is the Midland Area Farmers Market. Every single vendor there is a small business owner! Just head down on a Saturday morning – it’s packed! The product mix is so diverse, you can buy everything from fresh, handmade pasta to goat cheese, fermented foods and hard cider,” says Bruzewski.

A great place to stop before dinner or after work, you'll find this mid-week spot in Center City.

The market is a great place for food entrepreneurs to get started selling their products. Just last month, 12-year old Nate Surbrook launched his food truck, Nate’s Cart, at the Market.

“There is a lot happening in the business community right now and we want to be right there to support it," says Bruzewski. "So far, it’s paying off, as the Chamber of Commerce has already completed more ribbon cuttings this year than all of 2017!"

Whether it is breaking ground on a new restaurant venture, testing out a concept or finding the right space to get your creative juices flowing, Midland and the surrounding community tends to welcome new ideas with open arms.