The Bluebird soars as a Leland tradition
Some restaurants come and go before you even have a chance to sample their wares. Some are successful for a few years, then fade away. Some morph into something else altogether.
Some, like The Bluebird, become community institutions.
For Lynn and Skip Telgard, the third generation to operate the popular Leland eatery, there’s nothing else they’d rather do. With the tavern, dining room, patio, and the Early Bird next door, running the restaurants keeps them both beyond simply busy.
“I miss golf and sailing, but there’s no substitute for being here on-site,” said Skip Telgard. “Talking to customers – that’s one of the most interesting and fun (parts). Tonight I’ll be hosting, seating people in the tavern. I’ll touch base right before and after they eat. When you see a big smile, that’s very gratifying.”
TRADITION & TRENDS
So how do you deal with being an institution? For Telgard, it means keeping certain items people expect, while still continuing to keep an eye on trends and changes within the industry and the area.
“There are certain things you can’t change on the menu,” said Telgard, “the ribs, burgers, whitefish. But there are four to six new things every year.”
Telgard says they cook the whitefish “the same way grandmother did,” grandma being original proprietor, Leona Carlson Telgard. “We dust it very lightly in flour and a little cornmeal, then fry it in light oil. It’s not greasy.”
Other dining traditions include the large salad bar and serving not only bread but the restaurant’s trademark cinnamon rolls with each dinner.
One thing that’s not really new to The Bluebird is using local suppliers, but Telgard says it’s much easier now than it used to be. “We’ve served local food for a long time, but there’s exponentially more available now. Someone would come in with three heads of lettuce – that’s not going to go very far. But now we’ve got boxes of (local) lettuce coming in.”
All told, the dining room, tavern and patio can accommodate upwards of 250 people, yet there’s still often a waiting line during the summer. And with the large capacity comes a large staff. Telgard estimates they have over 90 people on the payroll (including staff at the Early Bird) during the summer months.
That includes hostess Sandy Tietje, who has worked at the restaurant for decades but is retiring this year. “Sandy has been with us for 50 years,” Telgard said. “She babysat for me when I was a kid.”
Telgard says their business is “ultra-seasonal,” meaning that for the months of July and August it’s extremely busy, while the pace slows in the shoulder seasons. He says the restaurant used to close the entire month of November as the business just died completely. But that has changed as more people have discovered the charms of autumn in Northern Michigan.
“In September and October business is very good, so that’s a great time of year,” said Telgard. “The clientele in the fall is very relaxed, couples mostly. That’s when they are drinking the really good bottles of wine. The wine tours are a huge plus.”
He knows that from firsthand experience, as he’s involved with the family vineyard, which resulted in the opening of Verterra across the street. The wineshop is run by Lynn’s brother and his wife.
The uptick in business led to them keeping the restaurant going in November last year. “It was very, very good,” said Telgard.
PIZZA & ETHNIC NIGHTS
To keep the locals coming in, the Bluebird also offers a half-price pizza night on Fridays. “It fills up the place. Pizza is a huge part of our business year-round.”
It must be good. The Telgards’ son Derek has opened a pizzeria in Tennessee, where he went to school, keeping the family tradition going in the fourth generation. “He took our pizza recipe to Knoxville, and (he and his partners) are getting ready to open pizzeria number two,” said Telgard.
Another of the off-season draws is the restaurant’s ethnic dinners. Planned and executed by the Telgards and chef Dave Slater, a 13-year veteran of the restaurant, the dinners originally focused on the cuisines of such far-flung locales as Italy, Ireland, Greece, Mexico and Asia. But now the dinners have morphed into explorations of regional American cuisine as well. In addition to their availability as entrees, the items also are available as small plates.
Telgard says the dinners have even changed the menu. “We did a pretzel-crusted walleye, taken from pretzel-crusted haddock, as part of the New England dinner. It just absolutely stunned me how good it was.” The result is that the pretzel-crusted walleye is now part of the regular menu offerings.
This community institution also assists the area in other ways. It hosts three major fundraisers during the year, for the Fishtown Preservation program, the Leland school athletic boosters, and the Leelanau Conservancy, as well as smaller ones for several other non-profits and local endeavors. “We’ve got to give back to the community that gives so much to us,” said Telgard.
The Bluebird is located at 102 River Street in Leland. Call 256-9081. Online, go to Leelanau.com/Bluebird or visit its Facebook page.
PRICES: Salads start at $9, sandwiches at $7, baskets at $8, entrees at $13. Tavern prices slightly less on some items.
DON’T MISS: Cinnamon rolls. The crunchy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth rolls are served with every entree. If you don’t order an entree, order the cinnamon rolls anyway.