Traditionally, visitors traveling to Ludington look forward to experiencing its sandy beaches, charming lighthouses and miles of picturesque Lake Michigan shoreline.
But in recent years this small town of 7,700 has a new destination: STIX, a multi-venue attraction that includes a restaurant, bowling alley and biergarten.
“STIX is an entertainment destination that offers food, music and bowling in a unique setting,” said Brandy Miller, executive director of the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There is a little something for everyone.”
The venue, which began welcoming guests at the end of 2021, is the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Riemer, a local ophthalmologist and Ludington native who grew up driving by the original restaurant there on a daily basis. But when that restaurant took a turn for the worse, he knew he had to step in.
“It was having a hard time, and then COVID hit, and it was kind of a sad story,” Riemer said. “I talked with [the owners] several times and said, ‘If you want to get rid of this, I’ll take care of it.’”
The plan at the time was to do a simple renovation, but when the work and costs proved greater than expected, Riemer decided to raze the building and start from scratch, while keeping the restaurant’s original name. When the nearby bowling alley went up for sale, Riemer’s vision grew.
“When you understand Andy Riemer, he can see things that you really don’t understand,” said Sue Demott, who manages all of Riemer’s entities. “When he starts designing or coming up with these concepts for his businesses or for buildings for whatever it is, it is always better than you ever could imagine, and it evolves as it starts.”
The venue’s primary attraction is its restaurant, a two-story, nautical-themed eatery and bar, featuring a 30-foot sailing boat hanging from the ceiling and an outdoor patio designed to look like a ship deck.
Developed and overseen by Executive Chef Ryan Wierenga, the menu serves high-end American fare, featuring a range of burgers, wraps, salads, pasta and steak, plus a variety of seafood dishes. Its brunch menu includes sweet favorites like cinnamon candied pecan French toast, blueberry bread pudding and Belgian waffles and savory options like chorizo and eggs tacos, biscuits and gravy, smoked brisket and a Monte Cristo sandwich.
“You look at the dish, and it’s going to be a high-end dish, but it’s really at a very family fair price, and that’s what people like about it,” Riemer said. “You can eat there several times a week and not get tired of it.”
STIX’s year-round outdoor Biergarten includes a bar with a selection of local craft beers and a separate menu with smoked dishes and barbecue from its outdoor barbecue pit. Its array of backyard activities makes it welcoming for children as well. Families can enjoy corn hole and bocce, plus giant patio games like Jenga and Connect 4.
The space sits between the restaurant and bowling alley in an inviting
setting among landscaped rocks, woods, and a giant oak tree, plus a bandshell for outdoor concerts and a 1945 tugboat on display. Seasonally, visitors can enjoy events like pumpkin carving and Halloween costume contests in the fall and ice sculptures and a Christmas tree tour in the winter, complete with hot chocolate and hot toddies.
“It is the best [biergarten in Michigan] by far,” Demott said. “There’s nothing like STIX. It’s a very unique venue.”
Its bowling alley is no run-of-the-mill bowling alley either. While Riemer kept the original building, he gutted the lanes completely, replacing them with state-of-the-art Spark Immersive Bowling from Brunswick. The interactive lanes allow guests to play animated games like Angry Birds or Horse, in addition to traditional bowling. The bowling alley also has its own menu with burgers, hot dogs and barbecue, plus “STIX Famous Pizza.”
Despite being located in a tourist destination, Riemer said his goal was to create a space for locals, in addition to supporting the local tourism industry.
“The people who come out just love it … and they’re all appreciative of having such a high-quality spot in a relatively rural small-town setting,” he said. “And people will drive to it, and they are more and more, as a destination.”
Tourism is a significant source of STIX’s revenue, especially since it’s the last business before the entrance of the popular Ludington State Park, which sees nearly a million visitors each year.
Demott said the venue has since begun to draw national attention.
“I have gotten more requests for events from people that have never been here, that live in Ohio, that live in Georgia, that just hear about STIX and want to come here and do a wedding or do some type of event here,” she said. “It’s been really overwhelming.”
Miller said it’s been a welcome space for both locals and tourists.
“STIX has been a very welcome addition, especially in the north part of Ludington that hasn't had a big dining scene,” she said. “While the original STIX was always a local watering hole, the new STIX now gives locals an elevated dining experience as well as a casual outdoor food and drink area where you can also catch live music. It's a great place to meet up with friends and family.”
A notable aspect of the restaurant is its commitment to supporting the local economy. Riemer used all local contractors in the building construction and invests in his staff, paying above-market wages as well as benefits like health and life insurance. Demott said the goal is to develop their staff to create long-term careers.
“We want them to be here for the long haul,” she said, “and see the opportunity as we grow and do more businesses, that they can also move up in the organization.”
Next up, Riemer is working on “AndyS,” a two-level, high-end sports bar and concert venue in downtown Ludington on the former site of Michael’s Bar and Grille. The project just broke ground and is expected to open at the end of 2024 or early 2025.
While AndyS is still in its infancy, all of Riemer’s businesses are top quality, Demott said.
“It’s not so much about [that] we need to make money from the business,” she said. “It’s about having a place that he can be proud of, that serves the community, that provides fun and entertainment for the community, that’s really why he does it.”
Erica Hobbs is a writer based in Detroit with a passion for arts and culture and travel. She has reported for numerous news outlets including the Detroit News, Fodors, Business Insider, Reuters, WDET and AnnArbor.com (now the Ann Arbor News), among others.