GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Haven has been packed during a beautiful holiday weekend along the lakeshore, and the surge in travelers has restaurant owners feeling confident for the summer after a difficult last few years for the industry.
“Summertime, we have two-and-a-half months where it’s just crazy, but that’s what we thrive on,” said Josh Sandberg, the owner of The Paisley Pig Gastropub in Grand Haven.
Big crowds for the unofficial start of summer are bringing big business to local restaurants.
“We were really waiting for some good weather because it really just sets everyone in a great frame of mind,” said Steve Loftis, the owner of multiple restaurants in Grand Haven including Snug Harbor. “This weekend has been terrific.”
“A little sweet sunshine, a little sweet weather, people want to come out where the water is,” Loftis added. “We’ve got boaters and walkers and bikers and hikers and everything you can think of. That’s really what we’re hoping for, and it’s a great start for everyone.”
The heavy holiday weekend traffic to Grand Haven is no surprise for one of Michigan’s more popular travel destinations. But restaurant owners are hoping the success continues beyond the weekend as the industry reels from pandemic challenges — from closures and restrictions to supply chain issues and rising inflation.
“We’re working hard to get our feet back underneath us,” Loftis said. “We’re really starting to put the pieces back together.”
“It’s like kind of we’ve wiped the bugs off the windshield,” he added. “For a while we were looking in the rear-view mirror, and now we’re looking forward.”
At least 90,000 restaurants nationwide closed during the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. Loftis said they’ve learned a lot from the pandemic, like staying flexible, getting creative to bring new workers into the business and focusing on what they can control.
“We have evolved,” Loftis said. “We’re morphed into a little different proposition now in the industry, and that’s what we’re really good at.”
Both business owners said things are generally improving for the industry.
“It’s gotten somewhat better,” Sandberg said. “Supply chain is definitely better.”
“The supply chain issues have been modified to some degree,” Loftis said. “Our guests have been unbelievable; they’ve been very supportive as has our staff.”
Despite the progress, restaurants are still dealing with staffing shortages. Although The Paisley Pig Gastropub is fully staffed, getting there and staying there hasn’t been easy.
“Staffing is still a struggle as you see pretty much everywhere,” Sandberg said. “We’ve been trying to hire nonstop. Front of the house personnel has been easier to find, servers and hosts and things, but kitchen has been a struggle.”
The surge in customers for the holiday weekend isn’t only good for business — it helps restaurant owners prepare for a busy summer.
“That uptick, restaurants thrive on that,” Sandberg said. “We look forward to those holidays because it’s always a push. Memorial Day is kind of that kickoff of summer, it just kind of gets us prepared for what the summer season’s gonna be like.”
“This really sets a table for the rest of the summer,” Loftis agreed. “We’re able to see how our staff did, what further training they need, what some of the guest needs are, how the menu’s going, what are the price points.”