Eatery, Station 702, is about more than omelets and sandwiches

Station 702 opened its doors Sept. 6 with hopes of being a place that brings three neighborhoods together. Brad Loomis talks about what its like to start a business that many hope will be a catalyst for change on the Douglas Avenue corridor. 
Sometimes the opening of a new restaurant is more than it seems.

In the case of Station 702, the new breakfast-all-day spot (that also offers sandwiches for lunch) at the corner of North Street and Douglas Avenue the opening marks an early step in what many hope will be changes for the intersection of three neighborhoods: Douglas, Northside, and Stuart.

For Brad Loomis, chef, general manager, and partner in the restaurant along with Jason Newton the goal is something similar to what has happened on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids' East Hills neighborhood where neighborhood organizations promoted the redevelopment of the Wealthy Street commercial corridor through the rehabilitation of its existing buildings.

Loomis envisions a place where the churchgoers of the Northside, the families of Stuart and the college students of the Douglas neighborhood can all find something in common, a good meal close to home.

The grand opening is the fulfillment of a dream that started at least four years ago when Newton approached Loomis after the gumbo cook-off at Louie's Trophy House, the annual benefit for Ministry with Community.

"Jason turned me on to the idea that one day this could be an excellent catalyst for change for the community," Loomis says.

Lois Johnson, Executive Director of the Stuart Area Restoration Association, says Station 702 is part of a larger plan and the group is "happy that Brad and Jason have remodeled and opened this restaurant."

"The Stuart Area Restoration Association shares the vision behind Station 702: to help revitalize the Douglas corridor and make it more attractive as a gateway to the city," Johnson says.

The Stuart Area Restoration Association business development committee is drafting a plan for the area.

And Stuart Area Restoration Association also has purchased three empty lots at North and Douglas, across from Station 702. Plans are being developed to make the lots useful to the community, Johnsons says. The neighborhood group also is working with the City of Kalamazoo and private property owners to improve the visual aesthetics of the area.

On the southwest corner of the intersection is an out-of-service, city-owned fire station. It most recently was used by the Fairmont Neighborhood Association (now the Douglas Neighborhood) as their meeting hall. But it has since fallen into disrepair and it cannot be used until costly repairs are made.

Laura Lam, director of the City of Kalamazoo Planning Department, says a plan for the area drawn up in 2009 with the help of funding from Local Initiatives Support Corporation lays out a vision for the corridor in a 65 page document.

Change has been slow in coming as funding needed to bring it about has been elusive.

"The greatest impediment to change is funding," says Lam. "That is why we wanted to support Station 702 and the idea for the area. There is so much energy behind this. We need to make this happen."

While funds have not been available for wholesale change throughout the corridor, some public funds have gone into the restaurant project. Station 702 was one of 14 local businesses that received a $20,000 grant for facade improvements along with a $40,000 low interest loan.

The funding that helped transform the exterior of the former Dips Soul Food Restaurant almost didn't happen, however. Loomis says after approving it, the city cancelled the facade improvement program saying it believed there might be better ways to use the funds that would maximize the benefit of those dollars to the community.

Business owners who had made plans based on the anticipation of receiving the grants went to city hall, convinced city commissioners that the program was good for Kalamazoo, and the program was reinstated.

"It was very nerve wracking," Loomis says.

Renovating the restaurant, which cost a total of about $145,000, has been a very new experience for Loomis who is used to food service where if you know the quantities you are going to be serving everything can be costed out. "You come up with a price and you take it from there."

It doesn't seem to work that way in construction. "It follows the rule of three: everything takes three times as long as estimated and costs three times as much," he says with a laugh.

Loomis has 14 years experience in food service, including experience at Stryker World Headquarters, Kalamazoo College, Zoetis, Pfizer and Kellogg. He also served as chef for Kalamazoo Valley Community College and most recently at Creative Dining Services.

Inside the restaurant, work has been done by the partners. Loomis points with pride to the waterfall he installed himself. He tiled the floors himself, laid the carpet, and installed the counter of bricks. Renovating the interior was a challenge, considering there was almost nothing that was square or straight, Loomis says.

The chairs purchased at an auction came from an old school house. Old church pews also have been put to use.

The 1,200-square-foot eatery with seats for 30 people also offers carryout and delivery. Its breakfast menu of a wide variety of omelets and sandwiches is posted above the counter where orders are taken. The focus is on eggs and flatbread sandwiches. A showcase of fresh homemade baked goods is featured. A vegan menu also is available.

Station 702 calls it casual theme concept of traditional American cuisine.

Loomis has hired five part-time employees and plans to pay $9 to $10 an hour.

By all accounts, opening day, Sept. 6, was bustling for Station 702 and steady the second day of business. In the parking lot Sunday afternoon a prospective customer asked about the food. When told it was tasty he responded a mob would shortly be arriving at the restaurant. Just as Station 702 partners and supporters hoped.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Station 702 is open 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. 269-350-3599. 
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