Summer 2021 has seen Downtown Bay City bustling with revitalized activity, with many new businesses being established as visitors and residents flock to the area. Fewer cars, more foot traffic, and readily available scooters cater to a younger demographic.
You could say that things downtown are really smokin’.
There are three cannabis shops (Lume, Skymint, Diamond Cannabis Company) within strolling distance. And business at Timothy’s Fine Cigars, at the corner of Center and Saginaw, has never been better. “There’s a real cigar boom right now,” says Owner Timothy Socier. “Nobody went on cruises during the pandemic, which translates into lots of cigar sales for 2021.”
Other new businesses making their mark include Ocean Jasper Wellness Spa on Saginaw Street and Crazy Quarters Arcade on Center Avenue.
And the options for dining downtown are plentiful, with an emphasis on comfort. Among those persevering through the pandemic are Gatsby’s, Old City Hall, Tavern 101, Fusion Cafe, Beaver’s Pub, and recent addition MI Table. New to the mix this year are M2 BBQ, another Downtown Restaurant Investments property, which replaces American Kitchen at the same Center Avenue location.
But there are two new dining spots, both started by Bay City natives, that are getting attention as well.
Mandy and Doug Strieter started their adventure to open Mandy’s Diner, at the old location of The Omelette Shop on Saginaw Street, in February 2020. Plans paused a month later, when the first COVID shutdown happened.
“There were a lot of times during the shutdown when we weren’t sure if we would ever open,” says Mandy. “When things got shut back down last November, we were just gonna wait and see.”
Mandy’s finally opened to the public in mid-February 2021. “We were working 16 hours a day the first month,” she recalls of the schedule she and her husband kept while they were getting things off the ground. The 25-percent capacity restriction that was in place helped ease the business into a manageable flow.
Things may have eased up a little, but not much. With a bare-bones staff of seven and new hours that extend into the early evening, Mandy’s is always firing on all cylinders.
“We don’t have a crazy menu, but we specialize in homemade recipes, from my family and from staff input as well,” she says. “People love our homemade sloppy Joe’s and lasagna.”
Whereas the Omelette Shop was strictly a breakfast/lunch spot, Mandy’s is open until 7pm Tuesday through Friday, while the weekend still favors breakfast/brunch/lunch hours.
A lifelong Bay City resident, Mandy is happy to be part of the business community working to make Downtown inviting to all.
“I worked at the Omelette Shop a couple different times over the years,” says Mandy. “I love this spot so when it became available, my husband and I talked about it one night.” I reached out to [building owner] Greg Causley via email to see if he was willing to give us a shot and he was behind us 100 percent.” Causley, unfortunately, passed away right before Mandy’s opened for business.
The restaurant is decorated with woodworking that Mandy and Doug create together, and the cash register table was rebuilt, but other than the kitchen -- which was completely remodeled with stainless steel surfaces -- the casual diner will not notice abundant changes from the previous layout.
“People say it’s cozy and homey here,” says Mandy, gazing out onto the outdoors dining area that is extended into Saginaw Street. “I’ve always loved downtown Bay City and how they’re building it up trying to get people back down here.”
Another business that has experienced favorable support and quickly gained a loyal customer base is BarqueBC on Washington Avenue. Owner Tim Schmidt opened February 11 at 25-percent capacity, so most business was take-out.
Schmidt worked in sales for 5 years, but other than a stint at a fish market and some catering, his food service experience was nil when he undertook his dream of opening a BBQ restaurant. “My background is in customer service,” he says. “I spent 16 years at a golf course, and customer service is huge in that industry.”
When scouting out a downtown location in his hometown, Schmidt initially looked at the spot next door to his current location, but Diamond Cannabis Company secured a lease first. When he signed his lease in April 2018, City Market had just opened. Then between delays related to contractors, equipment, and COVID, the restaurant opened, at limited capacity, just 2 months shy of the 3-year anniversary of signing his lease. So while success has been meteoric, it wasn’t achieved overnight.
“The real challenge is that the concept is intended for dine-in, with a liquor license,” says Schmidt. “We’re not [prep-intensive], we can’t pump out a sandwich quicker than you can pay for it.”
But if you’re looking for a madly popular brisket taco, or gigantic, golf-ball-sized tater tots, then BarqueBC will satisfy. The eatery received its liquor license in August, so diners can enjoy an adult beverage with those adult-sized portions of meat.
With the goal being to maximize efficiency, the BarqueBC format is counter service, with food being brought to the table by servers. “Everyone makes tips, front and back,” says Schmidt, who can be found most days toiling alongside fellow staff who are working hard to fill orders.
As Downtown Bay City makes strides to connect diners with new options, it’s nice to see local talent rising to the occasion to contribute their ideas, energy, recipes, and sense of community to the mix. As summed up by Schmidt: “Bay City has a lot of awesome business owners from all the area districts.”
So take advantage of the final month of summer, get out and support your local merchant, eat good food, and maybe even apply for a job. Local restaurants are hiring.
Mandy’s Diner is open Tues - Fri 8am - 7pm, Sat 8am - 4pm, Sun 8am - 2pm, closed Mon.
BarqueBC is open Tues - Fri 10:30am - 8pm, Sat 10:30am - 9pm, Sun 11am - 3pm, closed Mon.