In April of 2016, FireKeepers Casino Hotel and its owners, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi purchased the historic Fire Station No. 4 located near downtown Battle Creek, Michigan. The goal was to revitalize the building and turning it into a restaurant, bakery, and, most importantly, a much needed food pantry to help those less fortunate.
A first of its kind, non-profit hands-on investment by a casino operator, The Fire Hub’s concept was the vision of Michael McFarlen, Vice President of Food and Beverage at FireKeepers Casino Hotel and 2016 Volunteer of the Year for the state of Michigan. The most important goal of The Fire Hub was to give back to the community. The project was designed to accomplish this goal via multiple programs. First, the rear section of the building houses The Kendall Street Pantry, an agent of the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, distributing food from shelves to those less fortunate. Second, was the creation of a fund to support local charities, with 80% of all restaurant profits and an 50 cents from every restaurant check providing the funds. The remaining 20% of profits are reinvested in the historic property. Last was another original concept, to secure land on the tribe’s Pine Creek Indian Reservation in 2018, and purchase Hoop Houses to grow food year round. The goal was to provide a free salad bar for area schools.
The Fire Hub opened its doors to the public on April 19, 2017, after nearly one year of construction.
In the first year of operation, the Kendall Street Pantry has accomplished a lot. Volunteers have distributed more than 75,000 pounds of food to more than 8,500 people. The pantry serves an average of 85 families at each weekly distribution. The pantry provides a dignified experience for those in need to receive assistance. Rather than waiting in line to receive a pre-packaged case of food, clients can enter the pantry once per month and select their food from the shelves.
The Fire Hub and Kendall Street Pantry marked the anniversary with a Fresh Food Initiative (FFI) food distribution on April 23. Neighbors in need came to the pantry to receive fresh produce as well as easy but nutritious recipes to prepare the produce they are given.
“The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi is honored to lead this amazing community initiative,” stated NHBP Tribal Council Chair, Jamie Stuck. “Supporting the local community has always been a priority for us, The Fire Hub is a successful collaboration of the tribe’s community focus, Chef McFarlen’s vision and the dedicated efforts of the Battle Creek community.”
Since that opening, The Fire Hub has made incredible strides to meet the needs of the Battle Creek community. After a few months of operation, it was realized that the community was hungry for an unparalleled dinner experience. The Fire Hub offered exclusive dinner opportunities to test this theory, then shortly after, the hours were adjusted to accommodate. Breakfast has also been a big hit. Held on the last Saturday of the month, guests can enjoy breakfast sandwiches, pizzas and other staple items along with Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s. Draft beer is a recent addition; The Fire Hub now has six local craft beers on tap, along with a variety of bottled beers, wine and cocktails.
“This is the culmination of our plan to simultaneously create a successful restaurant product and help the community in an impactful way,” McFarlen stated. “It has been incredible watching the community embrace The Fire Hub and our mission.”
The Fire Hub recently partnered with Horrock’s Farm Market in Battle Creek to provide a variety of artisanal breads and desserts, including whole wheat bread white bread and several artisan breads; chocolate chip, blueberry, and banana nut muffins; birthday cake, Oreo, s’mores and carrot cake cupcakes; iced sugar cookies and several gluten-free options.
Looking ahead, The Fire Hub is excited to expand the patio this spring. Chef Dan and Manager Kevin will be grilling burgers outside as soon as the weather breaks for good. This spring will also see the groundbreaking of the greenhouse gardens on the Pine Creek Indian Reservation. This will bring another spoke of the hub to fruition, by allowing the operation to provide salad bar items for area schools.