Zeke’s Food & Spirits, located on Front Street in Downtown Dowagiac, is closed every Monday. It has done so ever since it opened 24 years ago, to give the staff a day to work on the restaurant’s maintenance needs. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)
Zeke’s Food & Spirits, located on Front Street in Downtown Dowagiac, is closed every Monday. It has done so ever since it opened 24 years ago, to give the staff a day to work on the restaurant’s maintenance needs. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Archived Story

Restaurants focus on serving customers

Published 6:34pm Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Frequenters of Dowagiac’s downtown restaurants may have noticed the somewhat irregular hours of operation that some businesses have.

Like many restaurants, longtime Dowagiac fixtures Zeke’s Food and Spirits and Wood Fire Italian Trattoria aren’t always open for lunchtime business. Zeke’s is closed entirely on Mondays, while the Wood Fire is only open for lunch on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

For Zeke’s, the early week closing is nothing new. The restaurant has been closed to customers on Mondays since the business opened up 24 years ago, said General Manager Jackie O’Brien.

“It’s always been like that,” O’Brien said. “We use that day to take care of maintenance issues, and to do some extra cleaning and prep work.”

Monday is the only day the restaurant is closed for business. The rest of the week, Zeke’s opens up at 11 a.m., closing at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 pm. on Friday and Saturday and at 9 p.m. of Sunday.

Customers have never complained to the owners or staff about the business’ schedule, O’Brien said.

“We’ve been closing on Mondays for forever,” O’Brien said. “People are used to it by now.”

That’s not to say that the business hasn’t had to adapt in its more than two decades of operation. Since the decline of Dowagiac factory jobs over the last decade, Zeke’s has had to reduce its staff, from around 50 people at its peak to around 35 now, O’Brien said.

“The restaurant business is very unpredictable, you never know what you’re going to get everyday,” she said.

However, the longtime establishment maintains a healthy customer base, comprised of frequent visitors from the city and tourists, O’Brien said. The restaurant’s beer club has played a huge role in attracting business, with more than 6,000 members signed up to enjoy the variety of craft beers in stock, 27 of which are on draft.

“We’re a casual, full-service family restaurant,” O’Brien said. “We can cater to any age group, and we have a large menu that has dishes at almost any price range.”

The Wood Fire has also made changes over the past few months, since owner Jim Kramer acquired the eatery in June. The restaurant has expanded its selection of wines and has begun offering weekday specials.

Perhaps the most significant change Kramer has made has been the scaling back of the restaurant’s lunch hours. The previous owner, Larry Seurynck, opened the Wood Fire for lunch on everyday but Sunday.

For Kramer, the decision to change the schedule made sense, given the nature of the restaurant.

“It didn’t seem to be a big issue for us,” he said. “The Wood Fire has mainly been an evening restaurant.”

Kramer, who owns a number of Southwest Michigan restaurants, made the decision to reduce lunch service at the end of the summer, when noontime crowds began to taper off.

“Our lunch crowds were larger in the summer, so we might change it back next year around that time,” Kramer said.

The reduction of the lunchtime schedule hasn’t had a negative impact on the restaurant, which offers dinner hours all seven days of the week, Kramer said.

“We have a great atmosphere for dining, and our wood oven is pretty darn unique, as it’s the centerpiece of the entire restaurant,” Kramer said. “It’s a pretty cool place to go for dinner, or to just come to have some wine and enjoy yourself.”

Another downtown dining destination, Foodies Fresh Café, offers breakfast and lunch service seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closing at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The Wounded Minnow Saloon is open nearly all day, from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays.

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