Red Ginger. Trattoria Stella. Pearl’s. Siren Hall. Lulu’s. Bower’s Harbor Inn.
If you love Northern Michigan fine dining, you have to thank.
Fred Moore, Mary Palmer and Jim Cartwright all worked at Schelde’s restaurants.
Today they are the managing partners of Magnum Hospitality and run Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen in Elk Rapids, Red Mesa Grill in Traverse City and Boyne City, and Cafe Santé in Boyne City.
Paul Danielson once managed Auntie Pasta’s. Now he and his wife Amanda own Trattoria Stella at the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City and the couple are preparing to open The Franklin on Front Street.
Dan Marsh was a chef at Bower’s Harbor Inn, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and returned to Traverse City to open Red Ginger.
Mike Peterson started at Bower’s as a dishwasher and went on to open Siren Hall in Elk Rapids and Lulu’s Bistro in Bellaire.
The Cove, which Schelde opened in Leland, was later purchased by its manager, Rick Wanroy.
Schelde’s former corporate chef, Greg Nicolaou, is today the executive chef at the Great Wolf Lodge.
The list is far from comprehensive, but serves to underscore the positive impact Schelde has had on many restaurateurs whose careers began in his restaurants.
The Northern Express recently sat down with Schelde at the restaurant in Traverse City that bears his name.
NORTHERN EXPRESS: How did you get into the restaurant business?
HOWARD SCHELDE: My dad had cafeterias in manufacturing plants going way back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. So I grew up around the food business. We moved to Chicago and in the summers I was recruited to wash pots and pans in a commissary-type operation…I didn’t like it very well and I made a promise to myself in my teens that I wasn’t going to ever be in this business.
EXPRESS: What happened?
SCHELDE: The way it turned out, after the military and college, I travelled a lot out West [for work.] I was on the road all the time. One of the things that maybe prompted me to get in the food business was so many times on the road, spending a night someplace, trying to find a good place to dine, this was back in the ‘60s – it was really, really difficult to find a good place to eat.
In Chicago, Schelde discovered Mr. Steak restaurants, opened one in Grand Rapids, and bought the franchise rights to Traverse City before ever coming here. In 1973, while Mr. Steak was under construction on Munson Ave., Schelde learned of a sprawling Victorian mansion/restaurant for sale on Old Mission Peninsula. The following year, Bower’s Harbor Inn opened.
EXPRESS: How were those early years, running Mr. Steak locations in Grand Rapids and Traverse City and the Bower’s Harbor Inn?
SCHELDE: It was busy. I was up here so much of the time, I got to the point where I kind of fell in love with Traverse City. I called my wife one day in Grand Rapids, and we had three young girls, and I said, ‘I think we should move up here,’ and she was not in favor of that at all.
We had bought an old home and we had done some remodeling and she was very happy there. She really didn’t want to do it. But she caved in and we never looked back.
In other words, when I opened my first restaurant, there were people that were dying to find places to eat out, and today, you open a new restaurant and what you have to do is you have to steal customers from somebody else.
We moved here in 1974. … I worked a lot. When we first opened this place, my wife used to bring our kids down here at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when there were no customers in the restaurant, to have lunch or dinner with dad, because they were asleep when I left and they were asleep when I got home.
That’s the kind of business it is. And still is. It’s long hours and you’re open seven days a week.
Eventually, Schelde opened the Bowery behind Bower’s Harbor Inn, the Wanigan/future Auntie Pasta’s in Logan’s Landing, the Cove in Leland, the Freshwater Lodge in Elmwood Township, TraVino in Acme, and he took over a Mr. Steak in Petoskey. He was also a partner and manager at North Peak. His Mr. Steak locations became Schelde’s Grill and Spirits around 1987 because Schelde wanted to add liquor licenses, a move that the Mr. Steak head office opposed.
EXPRESS: What do you think of what’s happened to Traverse City, how it’s become a destination for fine dining, wine and beer?
SCHELDE: I can remember when Ed O’Keefe from Chateau Grand Traverse came out to Bower’s. He had purchased that property and was putting his vineyard in. He would come into Bower’s … it always seemed like he came in at the busiest time, with a couple of shopping bags full of [imported German] wine and he’d want me to taste them.
[At times we would talk] about the peninsula and what was going to happen out here. Not too long ago, I bumped into him at a grocery store, and I made the comment to him, ‘Think about what you started,’ because when he started, I was pretty much just a pup out here.
What we looked at and hoped for has really happened. We developed this beautiful peninsula. It was always a pretty place, but the vineyards, the tasting rooms, we talked about all that stuff, what it was going to be like, 20 years ago. And it’s exciting to see it.
EXPRESS: Are you blown away by what this area has become?
SCHELDE: It doesn’t blow me away. We’ve kind of found our niche. People have discovered it. I remember moving up here, there was an attitude like, ‘Hey, once you come up to Traverse City, close the door behind you, because we don’t want a lot more people here.’
That sort of happened to us in Acme Township when we put TraVino in. We made a big investment in that property with the idea that there was going to be some development, and when the township board turned over, it went from a growth attitude to a pretty much let’s-leave-things-theway-they-are attitude. That hurt us.
But what happened in Traverse City really helped us, because people were discovering Traverse City, and there were enough people interested in seeing it grow versus people who wanted to see it stay the same. When you live here day-to-day, you don’t notice the change as much.
Schelde said one of the most important aspects of his business was that it was family owned and operated. Many of his restaurants have now been passed along to his daughters and their husbands.
EXPRESS: How much has the restaurant business changed since you started?
SCHELDE: My concern going forward … is that small business is going to be able to survive in this country and thrive [for my kids] as it did for me. When I got into this business, the restaurant business was a growth industry and it eventually turned into a market share business.
EXPRESS: Was culinary training important when you started?
SCHELDE: Starting out, no. We learned how to run a broiler, basically. As we got into Bower’s Harbor Inn, we wanted to kick it up a notch. One of my goals out there several years ago was to get mentioned in Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazines, and eventually representatives from both of those magazines came out to Bower’s and we got written up.
Greg Nicolaou … was a Culinary Institutetrained chef who worked in Northern Michigan. He had lost his job at the end of the summer and came out to Bower’s in September when we were starting to wind down and said, ‘I need a job.’ And I said, ‘Greg, I can’t hire a chef now. I’m letting people go now because business is slowing down.’
But I liked the guy so much that we struck a deal. He eventually became our corporate chef for all of our restaurants. I took a chance and said, “We’re going to kick this place up a notch and see if we can attract more business.”
EXPRESS: How much does the Great Lakes Culinary Institute benefit the area’s restaurant industry?
SCHELDE: I think it has made a really big difference. Not so much when it first started. They were over on the [main Northwestern Michigan College] campus and really didn’t have the space and the ability to do the things that they’re doing now. That’s really probably what’s put a spotlight on fine dining.
We had interns from there out at the Inn most years. The problem today, with all the restaurants in Traverse City, is it’s hard to find people. In fact, I just had a conversation with my son-in-law Mike. I said, ‘How are you looking?’ And he said, ‘You know, I need to pick up a cook; I’m looking for servers.’
One of the biggest problems in Traverse City is that it’s hard for people to come up here and find a place to live. Especially if they’re coming up here for summers. Lodging is really a tough one. It limits our ability to find good people. You might have a bunch of people down in Grand Rapids or the Detroit area who would love to come up here, but they can’t find a place to live that’s affordable.
EXPRESS: You must run into a lot of former employees.
SCHELDE: That to me is the most rewarding thing about all the years, to see the people now that got started and learned something and said it was a good experience.
I hear people say, ‘You know, I went to work for you when I was 16 or 17.’ I say, ‘Well, was it a good experience?’ It’s nice to hear them say, ‘Yes, I learned how to work. I learned how to show up on time. I learned how to be able to present myself in a good way. It’s helped me.’
I hear that all around the state from people that I bump into.