The story behind Northern Trails’ innovative approach to dining ‘out’
Here at N3 World Headquarters we have embraced creating meals at home with LSC Lil assuming the role as the primary architect of our ever expanding menu and this writer serving as sous chef, supply runner and head dishwasher. Save the occasional take out we have supped, dined and breakfasted at home.
However, hearing about ‘the pods’ at Northern Trails from N3 friend Martha Gabrielse piqued our curiosity.
A few days ago, with some remodeling work looming at N3WH, it became necessary to run a few errands involving these upcoming efforts. It was a long day and after a conversation that resulted in simultaneous agreement we decided to give NT a shot on our way home.
We found the pods to be an intriguing and enjoyable experience, not merely for the wonderful NT food and superb service that we’ve been missing, but also for the unique ambiance the enclosures provided.
Following our visit we reached out to Stephanie Barrett one of the owners of the enticing eatery to pose a few questions.
N3-This has been a tough time for restaurants. Have the pods helped increase business significantly?
During the first round of closures (March-June) business slowed considerably, but between stimulus checks and the additional unemployment that our customers received, we experienced a financial hit, but it was nothing like the second round of closures (November-Current). Since we've added the pods, we've had very steady reservations and it has nearly tripled our current sales, despite the fact that there are only six pods and two additional areas that we have since added outside the pods.
How did this go from an idea to a reality?
Long story..., although the business was our Dad's, Our mother, my brother and myself purchased the restaurant in September of 2019 from his estate after his passing. Our mother was diagnosed last spring with cancer and passed away December 4th. I've learned from my years in the restaurant industry that in most things, you have to carefully weigh decisions, and my brother who's new to the industry, but a business person himself, is more of a risk taker. He has contacts with Blox, LLC who had brought the idea to him and my brother was all for it. I was initially opposed to the idea, but I decided that our mother, who's not here anymore to vote, would be in favor of taking the chance so we went with it.
Blox, LLC is a fairly new company that my brother is very familiar with. They had a very detailed concept for the shipping container pods, but hadn't had anyone commit to spending the money on them yet. We received the Weatherization Grant in December, and while the grant did not pay for the entire project, it paid for a good portion of it. Some adjustments had to be made to be compliant with the outdoor dining regulations, but Blox, LLC made them immediately and once they got the go ahead, they had the project completed in about a week and a half.
What has been the response?
The response has been great! We get some people here and there who aren't happy that the pods are still chilly, but I think that's to be expected. We've got two radiant heaters going nonstop in each of the six pods, and 2-3 propane heaters going in the additional pods where ventilation wouldn't be a concern. People seem really excited about them, both because they're very different from the igloo type dining (which was our intention), and because they can experience a little bit of something normal by going out to eat, and doing it in as safe a manner as possible.
What have been the biggest challenges?
We're learning as we go. We had to develop a completely different set of operating procedures for this type of dining and we are tweaking it daily. Keeping reservations to the allotted time frame has been a huge challenge as well as adjusting reservation times to stagger the amount of orders for our kitchen. Keeping the pods warm has been a battle. My brother has been working to make things as comfortable as possible by adding an additional heater to each pod, lowering curtains, etc. Dealing with power issues because the load of 13 heaters had us scrambling to spread the heaters out to avoid blowing breakers during peak times. All in all, it's smoothing out, and it doesn't seem like it should be that much different from our perspective than indoor dining, but it's proving to be very different.
Is this something you might continue to offer as a novelty this winter if the ban is lifted?
We're definitely going to continue to offer these if/when the indoor dining ban is lifted. We had discussed the fact that there will be customers who may prefer the privacy they offer for groups, as well as the fact that COVID 19 isn't going anywhere, and there may be some people who feel safer dining in the pods that indoors, even with the capacity restrictions and curfews we're sure to experience upon reopening. We've had several calls from people asking the same question, which shows us a demand, and we've got reservations already into February thankfully.
We've also got plans to re-purpose the pods after the winter if things return to some kind of normal, so our hope is that they'll transition from a necessity to a novelty, even into the summer months!
Anything you care to add?
I don't have much to add outside of the fact that we're grateful for the community support that we've received since the beginning of COVID 19, and that is still continuing. The video that Blox, LLC marketing team created brought a lot of visibility to our restaurant, and we have had a lot of new customers visit in the last two weeks, but our community, and the support they show us is what's kept our heads above water during this awful time and we're so grateful for them.
Thank you Ms. Barrett.
We'll be back soon.
-Ken De Laat
Photos by Stephanie Barrett
On the Run: North Country Trail Adventures
By Alexis Mercer
I grew up in the north. Not “near north” like now. But the actual north. Where the closest mall or movie theatre was more than an hour away. Instead we had Higgins Lake and the AuSable River in our backyards. How lucky was I?
A friend from college once visited my house in the summer and said “is there anything else but trees up here?” I happily replied not really. What a gift to have nature all around.
When two of my friends from grade school and I decided to plan an adventure somewhere in Michigan and I recommended the North Country Trail, one of them couldn't remember whether she knew of the trail. As we hiked and caught up we laughed that this trail ran the entire length of our state and as kids we did not even know it existed.
These friends, David and Megan, and I grew up together. We all went off to college, traveled, and settled in places other than up north. But those roots have stayed strong. Our appreciation for the beauty of nature never left any of us.
So when David and I talked about getting together while he was in the state visiting his parents (an extended stay thanks to his work having been remote since March), we knew we would go for a run or hike to be able to safely and responsibly visit. The idea of running quickly got set aside because as David said “we want to actually be able to talk, right?” and both of us knew trail running and talking were not going to happen simultaneously.
We decided on a hike and brought Megan into the plans. I had just recently signed up for the 100 Mile Challenge on the North Country Trail, so I was itching to explore new sections of the trail I knew quite well from Newaygo County. We all agreed I could do some research and find a location that would work for us.
Not having been on the NCT anywhere except in our county, I really had no idea what I was looking for. I printed off every map from the entire Manistee National Forest section from the website. (https://northcountrytrail.org/the-trail/explore-the-trail/) How does one choose a section not having a clue what it would entail? But I figured if the trail is anything like what I know from around Newaygo, there isn’t a “bad” section. I kept my fingers crossed.
The portion of the trail that for some reason was calling out to me was west of Cadillac. We could do a through hike from Tippy Dam area to Red Bridge River and it would be about an 8 mile stretch if my map reading skills were up to par.
Being that David and Megan are always up for adventure, they agreed without a second thought. Thankfully the trail did not disappoint. In fact, we kept “oohing” and “aahing” at the amazing scenery.
Beginning by the Tippy Dam trailhead, the trail overlooks the Manistee River. We probably snapped 20 photos of the view before we even took a step on the trail. The air was a frigid 7 degrees but that made for a stunning view of ice crystals glistening in the morning sunshine.
Despite the three of us not having been all together in nearly 20 years, we very quickly fell into step both literally and figuratively. We hiked along, catching up on each others’ lives, admiring the beauty of the world around us and laughing until we had tears pouring out our eyes. We hiked for just over 8 miles and found joy in every step.
The choice of where to end up on that day was completely random. David and Megan were praising my choice of trail sections, but I insisted it was only luck on my behalf. Thinking back, I have come to realize that from what I know of every section in Newaygo County I have walked, and the beauty I saw from that location even farther north, it would be pretty difficult to find a section of the North Country Trail that wasn’t majestic.
We are three kids who grew up in the trees. Perhaps we didn’t fully appreciate how blessed we were to have nature around us in every direction. But we certainly today can appreciate the beauty the trails in our own backyards provide us: a perfect backdrop for old friends to catch up, reminisce, and laugh as if there isn’t a care in the world.
NCCA-Artsplace Winter Community Photography Contest Winners
The NCCA-Artsplace Winter Community Photography Contest is a free annual contest for all ages and all levels of skill. The 2021 contest winners were selected by local photographer Gail Howarth of Holton.
The first place award was given to Susan Gillaland of Newaygo for her photograph “Perfectly Preserved". Megan Wirts of Grant received second place for the entry “Light as a Feather” and Carrie Homrich of Grant was awarded third place for “Silence”. Honorable mention went to Aaron Carpenter of Fremont for his photograph "Woman in the Dunes".
All entries will be on display through February 6 in the corridor gallery at NCCA-Artsplace, 13 East Main Street in downtown Fremont. January hours are Monday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
By Marsha Reeves
Slow cooked venison roast with ramps, goldenrod, yarrow and a splash of maple vinegar, all sourced from within 5 miles, except for the maple vinegar made by a friend in the Rabbit River watershed. This dish was inspired by Sean Sherman, author of ‘The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. Sean’s idea is that the land around us, especially for those of us who live away from cities, contains wonderful flavors, textures and nutrients that most modern people have yet to know.
I think I might truly be a foodie, at least as far as indigenous food goes. And I don’t mean fry bread and Indian tacos.
I first experienced the beauty and profound taste delights of indigenous local foods at the Intertribal Food Summit south of Grand Rapids several years ago. There I had an ‘instant breakfast’ of freshly hand ground blue corn with blueberries and maple syrup and I immediately began figuring out how to grow that corn and get a grinder like that. It was corn way beyond what I’d ever experienced before. This week a friend and I finally replicated that taste in my own kitchen. It was an experience of fulfillment and delight like few others in my life. And it was worth all that it took to get there.
I started with gifts of some heritage corn seeds from two Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) friends. The Haudenosaunee as well as the Anishinaabe (Michigan tribes) have been growing and living with corn for over a thousand years. Both Peoples are truly experts on how to grow corn and what to do with it. I’ve been gardening with several generations of those seeds for years now, figuring out how to properly nurture the corn that will nourish me and how to keep it safe from those clever and persistent raccoons. I sometimes dream of a raccoon coat, but am not there yet.
Through all the growing seasons, spring, summer and fall, I gather sap, leaves, stems, berries, nuts and roots from right here and preserve them so they’re available year ‘round. And I trade the gifts of our generous Mother Earth with other friends who gather so that everyone has what we need. My pantry is now stocked with dried ramps, goldenrod, yarrow, cedar, sassafras, nettles, monarda, hazelnuts, rose hips and sumac berries, all of which grow here next to the Muskegon River and can serve as seasoning and/or medicine.
We don’t just eat this way on Sundays, but eat local and native food nearly every day. My skill with these foods is growing and I continue to learn about indigenous food ways. As I do, the delicate flavors and rich savory meals expand in their frequency and variety. Nobody at home or in our potluck circles is complaining.
I’ve heard people brag that they eat like kings. I think a stronger praise is to say that we eat like Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee.
Marsha Reeves, Mohawk/Ojibwe descent, is a Holistic Nurse, native foods lover and gardener. She lives in the woods near the Muskegon River. Her water address is: ‘The first bayou on your right downstream from the Croton Dam.
Andrea and Terry Grabill answer your latest avian queries
Whether thistle and the squirrel dilemma
If the "thistle" bird seed is really thistle, will it germinate? Or, is it a possible invasive plant? (I cringe as having to face more thistles or more "invasives" in my pastures.) Salle H.
Salle, your concern is completely understandable! Many of us have done, or are doing, battle with thistle plants in pastures and along roadsides!
The first good news for feeding “thistle” seed to wild birds is that, despite the name, it’s not thistle at all! It’s actually the seed of the African yellow daisy. The thistle name probably started because American goldfinches, which are the most common local bird to use it, will feed on thistle seed in the wild. Originally, it was marketed under the name of niger seed after its country of origin. In 1998, the name NYJER was trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry, in part to move away from the possibly offensive spelling.
A second piece of good news is that nyjer seed is heat sterilized before it’s marketed to kill any noxious species embryos in the seed before importation! This effectively kills the unwanted passengers and prevents the establishment of invasive species. So, no danger of spilled nyjer germinating!
As you know, nyjer is an excellent, although relatively expensive, attractant for finches such as the previously mentioned American goldfinch. Because of its high fat content, it’s also used by irruptive pine siskins and redpolls.
What can I do about squirrels in my bird feeders?
Ahhh, the bane of bird feeders everywhere! SQUIRRELS! These beautiful little rodents can eat a feeder bare in no time and will chew the feeder to bits to get at the last morsels. They will eat practically anything offered to birds and will not tolerate birds in the feeder with them!
There are several companies that manufacture feeders that they market as “squirrel proof”. Some of these have a mechanical lever that lowers when a squirrel’s weight is added to the perch while others have a wire barrier that allows small songbirds passage and blocks the entry of larger animals.
`Here at BirdGoober headquarters, we have a wire rope (cable) between two trees with a pulley system to lower the feeder for filling. We’ve not had a single squirrel on the feeders suspended in this manner. Many advocate making a “peace offering” of sorts by putting corn on the ground for the squirrels, though, even with spilled grain on the ground, my feeders within the reach of squirrels are still invaded.
Finally, and, I’ve never tried this, bird seed is marketed that’s treated with hot pepper spice. Squirrels, being mammals, have a relatively keen sense of smell and taste and will be put-off by the seasoning. Most birds have very little sense of smell and taste and will not be dissuaded.
We’d be interested in hearing your experiences with humanely battling squirrels at the birdfeeders!
BirdGoober is Terry and Andrea Grabill, of Newaygo. They have been birding together since they met and love to share their passion for birds with people of all ages. Please send your birding questions to the Grabills at email@example.com or visit their website www.birdgoober.com.
At the time of writing this on December 28th, the Fremont Area District Library is currently open for Curbside Service and in-person appointments, with printing and copying available as well through Curbside. Information about making appointments to browse and checkout, along with using Curbside Service, can be found at www.fremontlibrary.net.
Beginning January 4th, adults will have the opportunity to join the Cabin Fever Relief Challenge! This is a winter reading challenge and you can either sign up during your in-person appointment at the library, or call 231-928-0256 to pick up your reading challenge card via Curbside. When you complete all 8 reading categories on your card, turn it in for a prize mug! The challenge will run through March 20th and you can sign up any time before then.
The Children’s Winter Reading Club continues this month, and it runs through January 31st. To sign up, all you need to do is call our Children's Department at 231-928-0249 to ask for a reading log for your child, and arrange to pick it up curbside or during an in-person appointment. Children can cross off or color in a snowflake on their log each time they read (10 snowflakes total), and when they're done, they can claim a prize! Just be sure to turn in your logs by Jan. 31st. Finishers will be entered into a grand prize drawing!
Grab-n-Go Crafts continue to be available weekly and can be picked up curbside. Watch the Fremont Area District Library Facebook page to see the new crafts each week. Storytime with Miss Roxanne continues on Facebook as well. New storytime videos post each Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m., and you can find previous ones by searching #fadlstorytime.
Reader’s advisory and fact checking/research help is still available to you as well. You can call our Reference Desk at 231-928-0256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you’d like suggestions on children’s books call 231-928-0249 or email Roxanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget that our digital services are always open. We offer OverDrive, Libby, Ancestry, RbDigital, and now we offer Hoopla! Hoopla is a digital service available to you with your Fremont library card that includes movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks, ebooks, and comics! Get links to all of these services on our website. You can also visit hoopladigital.com or download the Hoopla Digital app, as well as OverDrive, Libby, and RbDigital apps from your app store.
Please keep an eye on our website at www.fremontlibrary.net or our Facebook page for the latest news and updates, and thank you for your continued patience and support during these unprecedented times!
Features and Fun
Concerts, Plays, Happenings, Local Recipes, Gardening, Entertainment, Charities, Fundraisers, upcoming events, Theater, Activities, Tech, and much more.
“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”
- Eric Qualman