By Karen Dybis and Jackie Berg
Flint’s restaurants, like the city itself, have their own unique flavor and vibe. Some have a saucy staff and menu options to match, while others are known for their sophisticated charm and cuisine.
All are on display during Flint’s Restaurant Week, which puts Flint’s growing culinary scene on hyperdrive throughout a week-long gastronomic adventure featuring signature dishes at deeply discounted prices at more than 20 participating venues and Flint Farmers’ Market eateries.
If you were among the thousands of patrons who enjoyed Flint’s 4th Annual Restaurant Week, you likely are already planning your return visit.
Co-founders Ken Laatz, the general manager of Soggy Bottom Bar and Spencer Ruegsegger, the former general manager of Blackstone’s and co-owner of The Eberson, an arcade bar, started the event in 2016 “to tell the world that Flint’s restaurants are doing well and are great places to dine,” they said at the time.
With the growth of the downtown business district and interest in Flint’s emerging nightlife scene, Flint Restaurant Week is seeing more interest than ever from area restaurants, eateries and bars.
The renewed investment and interest in Flint’s restaurant scene comes at a time when food, food service and dining experiences are booming in the city. For example, Mott Community College recently opened its new state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Institute, highlighting its 36,000-square-foot renovated building expanded curriculum and restaurant service.
Currently, 246 students are enrolled in either a certification program or one of the culinary associate degree programs at Mott Community College. This new space enables us to double our capacity to more than 500 students, said Dawn Hibbard, MCC’s Communications Specialist.
“Based on our research, a culinary arts institute of this caliber will not only draw students from the surrounding area, but also from across the state, and possibly from nearby states,” Hibbard said. “This potential influx of students will generate a widening economic benefit to the community through the need for housing, increased spending, and support of local businesses and other services.”
There’s a multiplier effect of efforts like Detroit and Flint Restaurant Weeks, according to Morin Yousif, the principal of Paxahau, the producer behind Detroit Restaurant Week as well as other respected events such as Movement and the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Since 2009, when Detroit Restaurant Week launched, more than 500,000 people have participated in the annual event, Yousif said. The event, which aimed to fill seats initially, has evolved to now serve as a way to celebrate longtime participants and highlight newcomers, who enjoy the publicity the well-attended event generates.
Flint likely will see similar effects as its food culture and restaurant scene develops over time, Yousif said. People contact Paxahau throughout the year to find out when Detroit Restaurant Week will be because it has become part of their lives and schedules. Eating in Detroit is a priority and that helps build the city, encourage more entrepreneurs to set up shop there and spread the word to other diners.
“(Detroit Restaurant Week) became an event to show a different side of Detroit,” Yousif said. “Now, it’s a way of celebrating Detroit’s dining culture and culinary scene,” and she believes Flint will see that same return on investment.
Every restaurant creates their promotions around Flint Restaurant Week, according to 501 Bar & Grill General Manager Joe Kukla, who has supported the annual event since its inception in 2015.
“It gives loyal patrons a chance to discover new favorites through small plate promotions and deeply discounted dishes,” says Kukla. “But, as important, it also draws in new clientele who may not have been downtown in years.
“We recorded a 10 percent increase in foot traffic over last year’s event,” he says. “That’s phenomenal and an indicator of downtown business’ growth potential. This event shines a bright light on our downtown business district that is not only good for our bars and restaurants, but area shops as well. Everyone is excited about this year’s success,” says Kukla.
Flint native Emily Doerr says the energy in downtown Flint during Restaurant Week was palpable.
“There were people everywhere,” she says.
That’s exciting to the founder of Flint City Bike Tours and Vice President of Housing Development with Metro Community Development, who says that the kind of energy and optimism these events generate is critical to her professional and entrepreneurial interests.
“People are collaborating like never before,” says Doerr. “Genesee County even opened its private parking lot at Church and Second Streets to provide overflow parking for Flint Restaurant Week patrons.”
Doerr, who is the principal behind Flint’s “Dinner Under the Lights” event, which attracted 60 patrons who vied for a seat at the city’s first “long table’ Restaurant Week event.
The Flint Farmers’ Market also is thriving, noting that it has fed and entertained 2.8 million visitors over the past five years. Organizers say they are hoping to grow even more with a new parking option, offering trolley rides very 15 minutes from the White Building parking lot to seven stop around downtown, including the Flint Farmers’ Market.
Tyler Rossmaessler, director of economic development for the,Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce says that the level of collaboration is increasing between Genesee County and the city and will only continue to grow in concert with economic opportunities.
A strong Flint is key to a strong Genesee County, according to Tyler who emphasizes that everyone is “in this together.”
“Flint is in the center of it all,” says Kukla. “And is quickly becoming a regional hub of food and culture.”