PODS moving containers turned into makeshift private dining rooms at Kalamazoo restaurants
KALAMAZOO, MI – A year of unprecedented problems called for unprecedented solutions. Kalamazoo’s Millennium Restaurant Group thinks outside the igloo by transforming moving containers into private dining rooms.
The Cove Lakeside Bistro and 600 Kitchen and Bar have been caught in a balance between meeting coronavirus guidelines and tackling Michigan weather conditions, said Shelly Pastor, managing partner of the Millennium Restaurant Group.
Both restaurants offer take-out, but even with take-out orders, they only see about 10% of typical sales, Pastor said.
“We have to figure out how we can keep people in jobs,” Pastor said.
Both places are particularly windy, which meant the igloos, yurts and tents weren’t going to cut it, Pastor said. So she got creative and rented 11 moving containers from storage company PODS.
The six PODS containers at Cove in Portage were opened temporarily before the holidays and were then closed to customers for further inspection by the Fire Marshal. They are awaiting final approval and are expected to open next week, said Vicky Thinnes, director of sales and marketing for the Millennium Restaurant Group.
All five 600 Kitchen containers have been approved and are now taking reservations, Thinnes said.
Each location’s PODS containers have their own unique aesthetic and provide customers with a unique experience.
“On the catering and event side, we are entering and transforming spaces,” said Pastor. “That’s what we do. So I started to think about what we could do to make people feel comfortable.
Cove spaces have sliding glass doors, specially installed for guests to admire West Lake. They are decorated with the decor of the restaurant to keep a coastal atmosphere.
At 600 Kitchen, plastic door shutters cover container entrances and openings face each other to create a sense of socializing with diners next door. The containers are decorated to be comfortable to give them a cabin feel.
All pods are on and equipped with electric heaters. They also include a contactless Bluetooth speaker so that customers can choose their own music. Guests are advised to dress appropriately for the weather, but single-use cotton blankets can be rented for $ 2.
Sanitation protocols are listed on the walls for the convenience of clients and staff. Customers can reserve a container for up to 1.5 hours. Each booking sets aside a 15-minute sanitation period between guests, where fresh air enters the room and staff wipe down badly affected areas.
The Kalamazoo County Health Department has reviewed and approved disinfection protocols, Environmental Health Chief Vern Johnson said.
When Cove first introduced the concept on Facebook, the response was overwhelming, as “the floodgates were opened,” CEO Troy Lutke said.
“The biggest part is people really don’t come up with expectations at all,” Lutke said. “It’s almost like we’ve been through this with you in a different way, locked up at home, so we just want to get up and do something. Even though it’s just something out of their norm, they appreciate it.
Interest in the new approach to outdoor dining has also generated more take-out orders, Lutke said. They help generate revenue to bring the restaurant closer to breaking even or even to the point where it becomes profitable again, he said.
Restaurant staff are on board to try the experience, even if that means walking in and out of the restaurant during a Michigan winter, Lutke said.
“Any opportunity that they have to make money right now, they will take it,” he said. “A lot of them were on leave and once we got them I called a few back. Some haven’t seen their unemployment yet, so it’s a chance to earn some money. “
Each PODS container has a capacity for six people from the same household. Reservations can be made by calling the main restaurant phone numbers. Cove can be reached by calling 269-350-5380 and 600 Kitchen by calling 269-443-2401.
The states the closure of indoor restaurants has been extended until January 15, but the Millennium Restaurant Group’s plan is to retain the alfresco dining option throughout the winter, said Pastor.
“Even though we have some capacity inside, I still think we’ll have a good group of people who right now is where they will feel comfortable,” the pastor told About the private area.
Learn more about MLive: