‘It gave me hope’: Muskegon business bolstered by donation from WI resident

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WFRV) — An anonymous gift from a Wisconsin native has given one small West Michigan business hope during these unprecedented times.

Lakeside Cafe in Muskegon has had to stop dine-in service twice since the pandemic began. Owner Ron Estlick said that each time, it is harder to get back up.

“I was almost ready to say I couldn’t do it anymore,” Estlick said. “It’s been a tough year.”

Forced to lay people off, Estlick and two of his wait staff members, Michelle Policka and Arika Smith, who have been with Lakeside Cafe since it first opened in 2013, now work around the clock to keep the small business afloat.

“I have two people with me each day. I have a server taking orders and a cook cooking the food and I’m making the deliveries or help with the cooking,” Estlick said.

Then, on Jan. 5, a glimmer of hope when Lakeside Cafe got an anonymous gift in the mail.

“I saw an envelope that had FedEx packaging on it and I thought, ‘This is weird,’ so I grabbed the envelope and it was thick so I knew it wasn’t just a card and then when I opened it I saw there was money in it,” Estlick described.

The mysterious envelope contained exactly $302 and a message for the servers. The letter read:

“Lakeside waitstaff,

“I live in Wisconsin and have been in the bar and restaurant industry most of my life. Watching you all go through this shutdown process has been almost painful. I’m sure more so for you obviously. I work full-time at a university here now but once in a while, I help out serving at a restaurant for a friend. I don’t really have extra money, but the money I make there is not budgeted. So I decided to pick one bar or restaurant to send each shifts tips to in my dad’s hometown of Muskegon. I spend a lot of time there, and I love Muskegon. I know it’s not much, but I was hoping you could divide it amongst your waitstaff for me. Please let them know people are thinking of them, we do care, and we see what you’re going through. Hang in there…

Estlick says receiving the message “was like someone had put wind in my sails.”

“It wasn’t about the dollar amount, but the gesture,” he continued. “It gave me hope, especially during these times.”

“I want to shake their hand,” he added of the anonymous donor. “Well, maybe not shake their hand because of the pandemic, but I just want them to know how thankful I am.”

The only thing he knows about the donor the return address on the envelope.

“The only thing we know is that they’re from Oneida, Wisconsin, and so we want to send them a care package in return,” Estlick said.

He said the care package would include a certificate, a T-shirt and some other local favorite items as a small token of gratitude for the large impact the donor has made on lakeside Cafe.

Estlick hopes to reopen dine-in services at Lakeside Cafe soon, but until then the business remains open for takeout or delivery seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays through Tuesdays and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays through Fridays.

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