H2Os Brings a Proven Family Recipe to Revive Waterside Dining Ambiance

    icon Aug 10, 2023
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Bay City’s newest waterside dining destination comes courtesy of a family that has an established track record in the area. H2O’s Waterside Grill, which opened in June, is the brainchild of Marc and Laura Owczarzak, who established O’s Pub and Grill in Auburn in 2014.

If the Owczarzak name sounds familiar to Bay Cityans, that’s because Marc’s two brothers, Jeff Owczarzak and Craig Owczarzak, have operated successful eateries on Bay City’s west side – Governor’s Quarters and Meats and Mooore, respectively. 

The brothers got a collective introduction to the restaurant business through their parents, Ambrose and Mary Owczarzak, who owned and operated Ole Tyme Broadway from 1989 to 2020. They also owned The Meat Market on Wenona Street, which would become Meaty’s Roadhouse BBQ and finally Meats and Mooore as Craig took over the business. 

Marc and Jeff went a different path, both earning professional degrees before opening their respective restaurants in 2014. Jeff opened Governor’s Quarters, featuring a broad selection of beers on tap and pub food. Marc’s engineering degree from Michigan Tech landed him a job at GM. After 20 years there, he and Laura bought the Auburn Sportsman’s Bar and renamed it O’s, combining Laura’s hospitality degree and Marc’s restaurant background to create a formula for success. 

After O’s opened, Owczarzak worked at Consumers Energy for 9 years before being offered early retirement this past June. The timing was perfect, as H2O’s would open June 12. 

“Although I enjoyed my time in the professional world, as I got older, there were things I wanted to do more. We decided that early 2020, we were either going to expand O’s or create another restaurant. Laura and I had previously talked about me having to make a decision to quit. So when the early retirement buyout offer came, and I got to leave and come here.”

The location at the end of Midland Street, vacant for the past few years after Hooter’s left town, has been exquisitely revived since reopening. Riverside ambiance just got a substantial upgrade, with the July 4 holiday giving the new restaurant great visibility.

“Business was huge, and it was our first big test,” he says. Live music, courtesy of The Rock Show, Nameless, and Marsupial Creampie kept the mood buoyant. “We had lots of boats anchored, listening. It was a successful first year, and we’re looking forward to building on it for next year,” says Owczarzak.

H2O’s is targeting “people who want to come to their hometown and feel like they’re on vacation,” says Owczarzak. Inspired by dining destinations in other Michigan coastline cities like Petoskey and Traverse City, the goal was to “build a menu around atmosphere,” he says. 

Offering a “wide-variety dining” experience, the menu ranges from fancy to informal, whether one’s palate is craving prime rib or pizza.

While each Owczarzak brother has found success with his own venture, each of the four restaurants has a distinct style and menu, with some overlap, which Owczarzak acknowledges. “We’ve all been successful, and each restaurant has its own niche,” he says.

One common thread among each location is live music. “I love live entertainment,” Owczarzak says, adding that as O’s has become busier, it’s become a challenge to make live music work in the venue because of size constraints. H2O’s is featuring matinee entertainment on the deck on weekends through the summer, but Owczarzak, a “yacht rock” fan himself, would like to do more as the restaurant finds its rhythm.

Speaking of yachts, boaters can currently dock at Liberty Marina, which has 51 slips available for a $5 fee. “It’s a good in-between until 2024 when we get our dock permit,” he says.

The H2O’s staff of 83 skews toward a decidedly young demographic, and Owczarzak has no problem with that. “I would say 60 to 70 percent of our staff are 17 to 20 years old,” he says. “They’re all amazing, and we’re blessed, because they want to work. We were initially worried about finding enough employees, but we found enough staff easily. The young generation is here working, really hard, and learning quickly.” 

Still, he acknowledges that having the experience starting and operating O’s for 9 years helped establish some parameters for success. “We’re really close to finding our groove already,” says Owczarzak, adding that Laura’s customer service expertise and Mark’s kitchen and operations know-how complement each other nicely. But he readily acknowledges that “the means to run a small business really started with my parents.” Ambrose Owczarzak passed away in 2021, but Mary Owczarzak has been able to enjoy the new restaurant.

While he may have retired in June, Marc Owczarzak is perfectly content to spend the next few years building the H2O’s brand. Still, succession does cross his mind now and then. “We have 3 girls,” he says, “[and] I hope one of them falls in love with the restaurant business.” 

“I think we’ve all been successful in doing what we do and it gives Bay City area four really awesome places to visit that are all a little bit different. I think if my dad were here, he’d be really happy.”




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