MUSKEGON — As one of the only restaurants open in downtown Muskegon, Topshelf Liquor Bar & Pizza owner Jim Noel is sticking to a formula he knows well.
The restaurant’s pizza and sub sales are enough to maintain a profit while several craft beers on tap are available to-go in howlers and growlers.
“It’s what I have done for the last 30 years, so it was nothing new to me,” Noel said. “It was a no-brainer doing the carryout and delivery aspect of it because that is what my background is.”
His other Topshelf location at 2155 E. Apple Ave. also hasn’t missed a beat due to COVID-19, and continues to do steady carryout and delivery business.
“Business is very good on Apple,” he said. “Downtown is not as good because it’s mainly eat-in, but we have enough business to warrant staying open. You have certain ongoing expenses whether you are open or closed.”
Noel also owns two sit-down restaurants that are new to downtown Muskegon: Capone’s Speakeasy & Pizzeria and 794 Kitchen & Bar. Both have shut down since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order closed restaurants and bars on March 16.
Capone’s, a dimly lit yet elegant sit-down restaurant that evokes the Prohibition Era, opened in November. The 794 sports bar opened in July and serves mostly sandwiches, Tex-Mex, chicken and waffles, plus a wide variety of craft beer.
Noel said he may reopen 794 Kitchen & Bar for carryout service, depending on how long restaurants are ordered to remain closed for dine-in customers.
“Sure, I am concerned from the standpoint of when they are going to be open to full business,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the ongoing costs that trouble me. The loss of income is the biggest thing, the lost opportunities.”
Noel was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the first wave of applications, and noted his bank, Huntington Bank, was helpful through the process.
A restaurateur for 30 years, Noel has kept most of his kitchen staff and delivery drivers employed but laid off his bar and serving staff. Most of them have qualified for unemployment, he said. He also increased the pay for those who stayed on and worries it may be difficult to find employees with federal and state unemployment benefits that max out at $962 a week in Michigan.
Early on, employees tried delivery at the downtown store, but there wasn’t enough business to make it worthwhile. During the day shift, business at Topshelf has been “holding up,” and the city’s police and fire departments and other businesses have placed large orders, said Amber Crow, a cook who also helps out with social media.
“With takeout, we have been staying afloat fairly well,” Crow said. “We have a great loyal customer base.”
The pizza parlor has signs posted limiting the number of people in the store at one time. Other safety measures include available hand sanitizer for customers and gloves and masks for employees.
“We have gloves on all the time,” Crow said. “We’re trying to keep everyone safe with all the precautions we can.”
Also in downtown Muskegon, Nipote’s Italian Kitchen is another new restaurant that has stayed open for takeout. Owners Jeff and Shawn Church spent months readying the restaurant made from two shipping containers at 98 W. Clay Ave. It opened in July 2019, and chef Jeff Church is now manning the kitchen solo, offering online ordering and a variety of meals for pick-up and family-size “take and bake” dishes.
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