BRIDGMAN — Mike and Jennifer Stone are the perfect combination to own and operate a restaurant.
He’s a chef by training and work experience and she has a background in small business development and process improvement.
The result is The Early Bird Eatery, which opened June 1 at 9735 Red Arrow Highway, a short distance south of the stoplight in Bridgman.
The Stones are parents of children ages 21/2 and 4, which determined their hours. The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Wednesday.
“We knew we didn’t want to work nights,” Mike said.
The Stones lease the space that housed the Olympus Restaurant from 1975 until it closed in April when owners Anastasia and Chris Lepeniotis retired. The Stones got possession by mid-May, Mike said, then came a lot of cleaning and renovation before opening.
As for the menu, Mike said, “I’m trying to enjoy what I do and make something delicious.” He said he and the kitchen staff make everything from scratch except for bread. They even make the biscuits.
Breakfast choices include strawberry shortcake French toast, coffee cake pancakes, eggs Benedict (as well as “eggs any way”) and gluten free shakshuka, defined as “two eggs soft poached in a tomato and red bell pepper sauce, spiced with cumin and saffron, topped with feta cheese, cilantro, and choice of toast.”
The lunch menu includes Kentucky hot brown (open face sandwich with boule bread, roasted turkey breast, bacon, oven-roasted tomatoes and Mornay cheese sauce), chicken pesto, shaved ribeye, bulgar chickpea burger, bagel and lox and shrimp and grits. Salads are also offered.
“We’re a little unique with the type of menu we’re doing,” Jennifer said. The restaurant’s complete menu can be seen at www.theearlybirdeatery.com.
Catering is also offered, starting with a holiday menu for those planning Christmas gatherings, but don’t want to cook. The menu, which includes a choice of three main dishes, is on the website. Dec. 20 is the last day to order and orders have to be picked up between 4 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 24.
Jennifer said they might next try catering corporate events and graduation parties.
She and and Mike, both 37, said they have known each other since they were in third grade at Brown Elementary School. Both graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1999. But they didn’t start dating until 2011, and were married in 2013.
When Mike was in high school, he worked at the Grande Mere Inn in Stevensville. He earned a culinary arts degree from the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes in Denver.
The Stones moved to Lansing in 2015, where Mike worked at the Walnut Hills Country Club, until it permanently closed in fall of 2017. Prior to moving, Jennifer worked in small business development at Cornerstone Alliance. In Lansing, she worked in process improvement for the Michigan Department of of Technology, Management and Budget.
But they wanted to return home and learned about the space to open their restaurant where the Olympus was from Mike’s friend, Joe Koehneke, who is the stepson of Marty Mason. Mason is the owner of MTM Group, which owns the Monogram Centre Project – the building that now houses The Early Bird.
“We got an opportunity to take this on,” Mike said, and, “it seemed like this was the right time,” Jennifer said, finishing the sentence.
While Mike is in the kitchen, Jennifer’s duties include being general manager and overseeing dining room operations. She said her prior experience in business development and process improvement was beneficial in getting The Early Bird started. “I felt I had a good handle on what needed to be done.”
The Stones’ children both attend preschool, but when they need to picked up or watched over, their grandparents are available when Mom and Dad are working. “We couldn’t do this without both sets of parents here,” Jennifer said.
Also, the Stones say they couldn’t operate without what she calls “a great team of employees,” some of whom worked at the Olympus. The staff is composed of about a dozen people, including three in the kitchen. Some servers work only one day a week.
During the busier summer season, they expect to have 16 employees.
Although business is obviously slower during the cold weather months, The Early Bird has been attracting customers from such places as St. Joseph, Three Oaks and Sawyer, as well as closer-by, “who really like our food,” Jennifer said.