Station 702 at the intersection of North Street and Douglas Avenue has served its last omelet with a side of spuds, but the restaurant is not another COVID-19 statistic.
Instead, owner Brad Loomis has decided to leave the restaurant business to pursue his second business full time. Aeron Wireless is a fixed wireless internet service that transmits from a terrestrial tower to an antenna on your roof.
The internet business that started out small in the Douglas neighborhood has been on a steep growth curve lately and Loomis saw more potential for personal growth there than in the restaurant business. And that was before COVID-19 shut everything down.
"I saw an opportunity for real growth," Loomis says.
With his purchase of JF Wireless of St. Joseph County and a merger with a second wireless company, Loomis found himself with less time to devote to Station 702.
And he needed more time for Aeron projects such as providing wireless internet service to the 200 units of InterFaith Homes, a job that is expected to be completed by September and will offer internet service to residents as part of their rent. "These are not just cellular hotspots," Loomis says. "There is going to be a massive amount of bandwidth for everybody."
Aeron Wireless is available locally in the Douglas neighborhood, Stuart and Edison. With the purchase of one wireless company and the merger with a second Aeron will have 500 customers in five Michigan counties. It has two part-time employees working with Loomis.
Aeron Wireless grew out of Loomis' frustration with a lack of competition among internet service providers and a desire to provide internet connectivity to the neighborhood. After he realized the many obstacles to using fiber his research led to Wireless Internet Service Providers
, better known as WISPs.
WISPs use fixed wireless broadband technology to deliver the same high speeds and service of traditional broadband providers but it is delivered wirelessly as opposed to through buried cables.
The decision to become a fulltime internet service provider meant steps had to be taken regarding the future of Station 702, a 1,200-square-foot eatery with seats for 30 people and three employees. So far, though there has been initial interest in the successful neighborhood restaurant, no buyers have followed through to snap it up.
Station 702 never closed during the period where restaurants were allowed to sell only as take-out as part of Gov. Whitmer's requirements that people stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19. "We didn't have any layoffs due to COVID," Loomis says.
Since those restrictions have eased business has returned in a strong way, Loomis says in an interview before the business final day of operation on June 20. "Business has bounced right back," Loomis says. "It's as good or better than it was in the beginning of 2020."
Loomis reports the restaurant had been showing double-digit growth during four of the six years it was open and even when business slowed a bit in 2019 it was showing 7 to 8 percent growth. Not bad for breakfast all-day eatery that also served flatbread sandwiches and salads. Vegans also found the menu friendly.
He attributes the restaurant's success in part to it consistency. People knew the hours 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day would not change. "That's a mistake a lot of restaurants make. They start changing their hours and then people get confused and lost."
No doubt, his 20 years' experience in foodservice also kept the restaurant on track.
Part of the original vision of Station 702 was that it might help revitalize the Douglas corridor and make it more attractive as a gateway to the city. Since then, Cookies Five Star Restaurant has opened next door and Loomis says they have been doing very well.
"People wondered whether a business could be successful in this area without selling liquor, one that wasn't another convenience store. Now they have two examples that it can. It's changed the perspective of what could be done in one of the more neglected areas of the city."
Ultimately, Loomis realized his original vision of creating a place where the churchgoers of the Northside, the families of Stuart, and the college students of the Douglas neighborhood could all find something in common, a good meal close to home. And now it's time to pursue a new vision.
More Second Wave stories on Station 702.
An alternative internet service provider can be seen on the rooftops of the Douglas neighborhood
Eatery, Station 702, is about more than omelets and sandwiches