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A Mediterranean Twist on Cuisine in Petoskey

Glen Young - February 7th, 2011
A Mediterranean Twist on Cuisine in Petoskey
By Glen Young
Though the idea was already on its way to fruition, a chance meeting
at a local grocery store laid the groundwork for the success of one of
Petoskey’s newest eateries.
Kirsten O’Keefe was hard at work on her business plan for Twisted
Olive Café when she happened upon her old pal John Sheets. The pair
had worked together at Chandler’s, one of the area’s best-known
upscale restaurants.
Soon enough, O’Keefe had convinced Sheets to scuttle his autumn plan
to head to Florida, instead enlisting the veteran chef to join her at
her new Mediterranean cafe in Petoskey’s Gaslight District. Sheets,
who was in town to help usher in the final season at Andante, another
iconic Petoskey establishment, says of meeting his old friend, “It was
looking like it could be fun.”
The two have put together a small but skilled staff that has turned
the former site of Kitchen and Company on Bay Street, into the area’s
hottest new breakfast and lunch destination.

Renovated by local contractor Grantham Builders, the space is pleasing
and warm. There are sweeping views of Little Traverse Bay from the
main dining room, while a smaller side conference room provides
privacy for meetings or other special events.
O’Keefe says she found out the space was available last May, so she
began to formulate a business plan and approached the building’s
owner. “Finances were tough,” she admits, as lenders are reluctant to
loan to restaurant start-ups. “Restaurants notoriously don’t make it.”
Undeterred, O’Keefe says she has maintained a clear idea of what she
wanted the eatery to offer. “I knew I wanted to go Mediterranean. I
knew I wanted to use Italy, for example. You can bring a lot of
different flavors into it.” She also was determined about what the
space should look like. “I knew I wanted an open kitchen.” Diners
move past the open-air preparation area on their way to the dining
room and the sweeping views.
Since the opening, service has gone well, but there were initial
obstacles. “The oven didn’t fit,” says O’Keefe, “so we opened without
a convection oven.”
Sheets, who has logged stints at the Douglass Lake Bar, as well as The
Grain Train and other notable local food locations, says, “I’m a firm
believer in changing menus over time.” He conceded, however, there are
a few “stars,” including the vanilla bean pancakes on the breakfast
menu, and the Tuscan pork sandwich with shallot gravy from the lunch

The breakfast menu also features a Bloody Mary omelette, with fontina
cheese and Bloody Mary concasse, served with truffle roasted potatoes,
as well as a quiche of the day. On the lunch side, there is whitefish
Putanesca, as well as a specialty pizza, topped with Kalamatta olives
and cappicola.
With an emphasis on freshness and local products, Twisted Olive uses
their own baked goods, as well as house mixed salad dressings. The
preserves come from local specialty purveyor American Spoon Foods, and
O’Keefe says she will use Red School Farm in nearby Brutus for
“I’d love to do more with the seasons,” O’Keefe says. “That’s what
Italy is all about; they celebrate the fruits of the season.”
Sheets believes price point is important. He says the numbers have
proven him accurate. “We stared in disbelief as the door kept getting
pushed open,” he says of the steady stream of diners who have filled
the tables since their late November opening. “The average man can
afford to eat here,” he adds. Breakfast plates average $6.95, while
lunch features average $7.95.
As for the name, O’Keefe, a New Jersey native, says she knew she
wanted to include “olive.” She was trying out all combinations with
her sisters and, “One day my sister blurted out ‘Twisted Olive.’ We
kept coming back to it.”
O’Keefe, Sheets, and their staff have quickly transformed the former
kitchen store into one of the busiest new food destinations in
Petoskey. For O’Keefe, whose bright smile and enthusiastic demeanor
provide visitors with a quick welcome, the atmosphere is all
important. “It kind of feels like home,” she says.
In addition to their on-site dining and free downtown delivery,
Twisted Olive Café offers a full array of catering services.

Twisted Olive Café is located at 319 Bay Street in Petoskey. For more
information, call 231-487-1230 or visit their website at

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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