DOUGLAS — About 15 people were hard at work on Aug. 7 hammering, sanding and painting away to construct what will become Isabel’s Market + Eatery — a specialty market, street food eatery and event space in Douglas.
The pandemic delayed the construction schedule of Isabel’s by about five weeks, said co-owner Elizabeth Estes, but they are pushing along with the project and hope to open at the end of August. The primary partners of the business are Estes and Mary Fechtig — who together also own Coast 236 Restaurant & Bar — as well as retired chemist Vicky Cobb and Saugatuck City Council member Garnet Lewis.
Despite COVID-19 slowing down construction, Estes said the team hasn’t cut corners. They have likely invested a little more than the $1.5 million they originally budgeted — which includes the $480,000 spent to buy the property and building — because of added costs such as purchasing plexiglass shields.
The European market concept is located at 310 Blue Star Highway, which formerly housed Zing Eat/Drink and Blue Moon Bar & Grille.
The new market has generated buzz and positive feedback, Estes said: Nearly 700 people completed an online survey about what food options they want to see at the market.
“My biggest fear of opening is managing people from a COVID-19 perspective,” Estes said. “You can only have so many people inside and it’s generated a lot of interest.”
Having a multi-use space makes following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders a little complicated, Estes said, but the owners are going to err on the side of caution.
“We’re grateful for the rules and we understand them, and will abide by them without question,” Estes said. “It’s just one more level of (uncertainty).”
The facility will host a year-round market with fresh seafood, meat and produce, as well as a bakery, full bar and international street food grill. Because of the pandemic, a bigger focus will be on takeaway meals that can be cooked at home, Estes said. Isabel’s Market has hired Mike Borraccio as its executive chef, who was previously the head chef at the former Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids.
The pandemic and related gathering restrictions have made plans for the 1,400-square-foot event space that was constructed onto the existing building a little up in the air, Estes said. The company had planned to host events and cooking classes with about 75 people in the new space pre-Covid-19.
“The business model has multiple revenue streams and two apartments above that will be rented out,” Estes said.
If Isabel’s was just an event space or just a restaurant, it might be an issue, Estes said, but it helps that the space also will include a market and bakery that are considered essential businesses. The owners also invested in high-definition camera equipment so people can hold small cooking classes and limited events including weddings that can be broadcasted to a broader audience to limit in-person gatherings.
Isabel’s has an on- and off-site liquor license and has booked a catering job for the fall, Estes said. The company plans to hire 20-25 employees to work catering events and at the market, which is planned to be open every day year-round.
“The hardest part is the unknown from the event space and how that will play out,” Estes said. “We made a decision and investment and we’ll see it through to the end, but I think people are going to appreciate what this is because it’s all about fresh food. This town has been so supportive of all business owners.”
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