COLOMA — January Immer has wanted to open her own restaurant for years.
However, the Watervliet resident’s timeline in doing so accelerated when she found the perfect location in Coloma, at the site of a shuttered former restaurant.
“I wanted to become a part of the growing food industry in this area,” Immer said.
The Blackbird Waterhouse, set to open Saturday at 4896 Paw Paw Lake Road, is being promoted as a farm-to-table restaurant featuring locally-sourced ingredients. With a sophisticated atmosphere, The Blackbird will have a variety of local beer, wine and hand-crafted cocktails.
Immer, co-owner and general manager of Blackbird, spent her last three years as a senior manager with the Jenn-Air brand at Whirlpool Corp. But now, alongside her husband, Trip, Immer has been working nonstop to get The Blackbird up and running.
With the culinary experience she gained by working with chefs during her time at Whirlpool, Immer began thinking of what she wanted to do after a corporate career.
Immer bought the property in December, following a two-day bidding war through an auction site.
“I really don’t know how I missed this place because I was probably checking commercial listings just about every other week,” Immer recalled. “When we checked on this property, we found out it was going up on the auction block two days later. So we actually had to make this decision very, very fast.”
Immer hammered out a 30-page business plan over a weekend before presenting the idea to investors. Admittedly, Immer had been putting her ideas down on paper sporadically for six months.
Lynzee Krohne, marketing and events director at Blackbird, said she was relieved to hear that her friend bought the building, which had been vacant for two years.
Back in January, Krohne told Immer that the locals joked that the building was cursed.
While they’ve accepted the challenge to prove them wrong, Krohne said they want to showcase the community through the restaurant.
“We didn’t want to come in and compete with area restaurants. We didn’t want to come in and steal customers,” Krohne said. “We’re here to bring business to the area and keep business growing in the area. We want to restore this community.”
More rooms, more themes
A lot has been accomplished in three months.
The front entrance leads toward the pub, which seats 40 people. It provides a casual atmosphere where people can watch a game at the bar.
Immer paired up with Sister Lakes Brewery to create a beer called Blackbird Black IPA, which will only be served at the brewery and the Coloma restaurant.
“We did rebuild the entire bar and reinforce it,” Immer said.
The pub leads into a room referred to as “The Aviary,” which seats 16 people. In there is a fireplace and what will house the retail portion of the restaurant. Krohne said they expect The Aviary to be a more quiet and romantic.
“We lean toward escapism,” Krohne said. “We want to give people different experiences.”
There is also a main dining room area that will hold 60 patrons. The stone and exposed brick is prevalent in the room. It also offers a glimpse to the outdoor patio.
An upstairs area nicknamed “The Nest” includes overflow dining tables, a large event room, and what will eventually be a second kitchen and bar. The Nest will offer culinary classes year-round, tasting and food-pairing events, and an exclusive space for public and private events.
Phase two of restaurant renovations will include restoring the outdoor patio to create an outdoor space that will house the restaurant’s own fresh herb garden, laid-back seating arrangements, warm fire-pits and a full bar.
The patio renovation could allow added seating of up to 300 people. It should be completed this summer. Taking the first two phases into account, The Blackbird could host up to 465 people.
“We could potentially put up big tents and hold weddings out there,” Krohne said.
The names of the rooms were chosen to coincide with the restaurant’s overall theme. Immer has jokingly referred to the upstairs office as “The Birdcage.”
As part of the a third phase, Krohne said they plan to open “The Waterhouse,” which would be a house on the lake. It would serve as the restaurant’s events center.
“We would restore a lake house, which could host events,” she said. “There would be a personal chef and staff. We would also have a boat we could take out onto the lake.”
What has since been renovated into a 6,600-square-foot building, was recently occupied by Dickerville Bar and Grille.
By Immer’s account, the building was first built in 1931 and known as Wil-O-Paw Inn.
The original building was two stories high. That structure, now restored with its tin roof intact, can be seen upon entering the restaurant.
Immer credits the previous owners for restoring the facade and “bringing it back to life.”
“It’s had a lot of owners since then,” Immer said. “It’s kind of interesting because when you talk to locals, they never remember the name of the restaurant. They always remember the owners.”
In the process of getting it ready for Saturday’s opening, The Blackbird’s crew rebuilt original interior walls and put in hardwood floors.
“We really believe in this town and we believe in restoring it,” Krohne said. “The people who would dine here are also filling up their cars here, they’re shopping here.”
The Blackbird has 51 employees, with about half of them on part-time shifts.
Among those employees are three chefs, who Immer praises.
Immer describes The Blackbird’s food as American fusion, made from scratch.
“We are putting as much focus on the flavor profile of the food and how those flavors come together to give you a culinary experience you’ve probably never had before,” she said. “We talk a lot about that taste-making experience.”
The business will be open every day of the week. The hours of operation will be 11 a.m to 11 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The kitchen will be closed from 3-5 p.m. every day. However, the bar and a limited menu are available at that time.
For more information about The Blackbird Waterhouse, call 269-468-BIRD or visit www.theblackbirdwaterhouse.com.
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski