Whether it’s grabbing some Crepes Et Amis downtown or enjoying breakfast at Laskos in the Center City district, there are convenient spots that fit the bill for food and drink. But two Midland restaurateurs saw value in opening on the edges of town. And amid the pandemic and in the aftermath of May’s historic floods, these resilient businesses have found innovative ways to keep serving the community.
In July of 2010, The Creek Grill opened in the south side of Midland, quickly gaining a reputation for its chef-inspired bar food. In March of 2015, Beer & Brats set up shop on the north of town, transforming an aging dive bar into a family-oriented restaurant that specializes in — you guessed it — beer and bratwurst.
We sat down with both owners to talk food, pivoting during a pandemic, and the recent floods.
Serving the community
Aside from the namesake beer and brats, barbecue is another focal point at the restaurant, owner Doug Krawczak says.Doug Krawczak recalls looking at the old Tiz-It bar and seeing an opportunity. While it needed work to fix the brick and mortar as well as the reputation, he saw a convenient location for those living in the north Midland and Hope communities, as well as respite from the bustle of the Eastman business district for those willing to drive a few miles up the road.
"It was a dive — the kind of place where you wipe your feet on the way out, not on the way in," explains Krawczak when asked about the original building. "We went through and remodeled. It had no windows, so we installed those. This wasn't the kind of place where you would bring your family; now we welcome all ages."
Krawczak was no stranger to the culinary scene, having owned and operated a catering business for several years prior to opening Beer & Brats.
"We have a big focus on barbecue, and offer 21 different flavors of brats," says Krawczak. "I come up with the recipes, and we work with a company out of Bay City to make them."
In addition to brats, a full menu consisting of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and salads is on tap. Adjacent to the building is a large fenced-in area that provides outdoor seating and plenty of space for yard games. Once a week, live entertainment fills the restaurant. Local artist Dale Cousineau, who recently recorded a song to memorialize Midland and Sanford flood victims, frequently plays at Beer & Brats.
"When he plays, we serve a mason-jar punch, and two dollars of every drink goes to flood victims," says Krawczak. "Two weeks ago, we were able to cut a check for $500."
Krawczak and his team of 15 staff members worked from 3 a.m. to 12 a.m. for about three weeks to feed Consumers Energy staff during the immediate aftermath of this summer's devastating flood.
"We made 100 meals each for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and again at midnight. Plus the takeout meals for our regular customers. It was a long month."
While they remained open with takeout service during the height of the pandemic, Beer & Brats did make changes while in-person dining was closed, including new flooring and swapping square tables for rounds to help distance indoor seating.
Beer & Brats, 4562 N. Eastman Rd., is open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday, from 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, and from 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.
Reinventing a business
The Creek, as it's known, prides itself on being both a casual spot to enjoy a beer or sit down to a fine-dining meal.
Katy Dean and her husband, David, opened The Creek Grill in July of 2010. What would have been a 10th anniversary celebration this July was spoiled, like every other event, by COVID-19. While disappointed, she and her staff went to work reinventing the business while they were forced to close their doors, but not their kitchen.
"We have a couple staff members who have been with us for each of our 10 years, and we were excited to give them some recognition during our 10th anniversary," says Dean. "We'll still make it happen somehow or another. But we basically woke up on a Monday morning and had to figure out a takeout-only model. The first night, we were slammed. It was actually kind of terrifying, we were so busy. We ended up hiring a staff person just for the phone, one just for the text line, one just to fill the condiments — it was a lot to handle."
Dean says she has felt the community rally around the restaurant throughout the pandemic with frequent takeout orders, larger tips, and a sense of understanding while her team learned to serve takeout only, then eventually limited seating.
A loss of indoor space created an opportunity to extend outdoor seating later into the season. With help from the Eat Great Festival, the food festival offshoot of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, The Creek Grill now has several "igloos" placed throughout their outdoor seating area. The round, enclosed plastic spaces provide seating for groups up to eight.
"The Eat Great team is amazingly supportive. We worked with them to get igloos set up, and plan to offer those to our customers well into the winter."
As for the food, The Creek Grill (locals tend to drop the "Grill" and simply call it "The Creek") pride themselves in being a restaurant where you can order a fine-dining meal, or stick with beer and nachos.
"To be able to order mahi-mahi in a place where you can also get smoked wings is pretty cool," says Dean. "Before opening, we thought a lot about how we liked to eat — good food but in a relaxed atmosphere. We have all your traditional bar food with a wide array of burgers and other items. Our pulled pork and brisket are all smoked on-site. We wanted to create a casual atmosphere that still had a top-quality menu."
The Creek Grill, 1259 S. Poseyville Rd., is open from 4 p.m. - 9 p.m. Monday, from 11 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.