Dowagiac businesses gear up for reopening of dine-in service

DOWAGIAC — At long last, the day the restaurant industry has been waiting for has been set.

On Monday, Feb. 1, restaurants and eateries across the state will be able to open their doors for limited capacity dine-in eating.

According to the new Michigan epidemic order signed by Robert Gordon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, food service establishments will be able to allow consumption of food and beverages only in the designated dining area where guests are seated. Tables should be at least 6 feet apart with no more than six people seated together at a table, booth or fixed seating.

The order also limits indoor dining to 25-percent of normal seating capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Outdoor tents with four sides are permitted under the same rules, and information for contact tracing must be collected.

Indoor dining and bars are required to close between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. New mandates will last for three weeks after it begins, ending on Feb. 21.

The news was music to the ears of Nicole Stacks, who along with her husband, Larry, owns Railway Cafe locations in Dowagiac and a new location in Marcellus.

The Stacks purchased the building that the Marcellus location resides in back in December 2019. The Marcellus location was gearing up to open just as the pandemic began. In total, the new location has been open for 13 weeks.

Larry manages the Dowagiac location, while Nicole manages Marcellus.

“With the new location, it has hurt us a lot,” Stack said. “Our bills and lease payments have taken a toll. With having to lay employees off, it has hurt us big time.”

With the first of the month fast approaching, Stack has been busy preparing the cafe for in-person business.

“We’re making sure we are following health department guidelines,” she said. “With our Marcellus location, we have been trying to get our menu ready. We’re adding dinners and trying to hire people. We don’t know how many to hire or how much help we need. We’re trying to plan and not hurt ourselves. We don’t want to add more than we can handle.”

Also in the greater Dowagiac area, Indian Lake Pub owner Betty Schadler has been patiently awaiting the day she can open up the dining space. An employee at the pub for six years, Shadler became the owner of the pub in September. Having to take the reins amid the pandemic was taxing on Schadler.

“Since November, business is probably down 60 percent,” Schadler said. “We’re doing okay but it’s not great. We are anxious to open.”

Ordering products like food supplies, beer and liquor have been Schadler’s primary goal this week. Schadler employs 17 workers at the pub but only six are currently working due to current restrictions. While she has increased her workload as a result, she is thankful for the skills that years of experience in the business have brought her.

“I think I’m lucky because I’ve been in the business for so long that I can be in the kitchen and out front,” Schadler said. “I’m doing a lot of work myself. I still have a mortgage and insurance to pay for the business.  I can be here all the time to be able to make it. When some people buy a restaurant, don’t know how to do some of the things. I can’t wait to open so we can bring workers back.”

Times have been tough, but both the Stacks and Schadler appreciate the support they have received from their staffs and communities.

“We get a lot of support from Marcellus locals enjoying the food,” Stack said. “We’re all about making good food and putting smiles on faces. Our workers have stuck with us through all of this. We can’t wait to see everyone again on the first.”

“Everyone is excited,” Schadler said. “I think it’s gonna be great. People are ready to get out. They’ve been locked down for too long.

Our regular customers have really supported us through this. It will be exciting to have them back in here again.”

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