By Sheryl Oswalt
Nothing makes a month go by quicker than knowing I have all month to do one food visit, one interview and write one story. Sounds pretty easy but somehow every month I’m finding myself straddling the deadline rope! Restaurant owners are one busy group of people and like my farmer husband; every day is a work day. This month’s featured establishment is MarJo’s West in Schoolcraft and owner Rob Swarts was no exception.
Getting familiar with the establishment wasn’t an issue this month. I might not have sold a lot of farm equipment in my time working in Schoolcraft but I was able to have some good meals with my co-workers. MarJo’s meant all you can eat pancakes for Rob, a French dip for Anthony, and Alan and I were likely to have seafood or a burger. Sandy and Stan were happy to stay back and mind the store as long as we brought Stan back a hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes. For my official visit, I went with the Philly cheese steak sandwich with fries and slaw, my husband had the famous hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and my step-son went with the meatloaf. The menu at MarJo’s is extensive and, if you were lucky enough to grow up like I did, full of the kind of things Grandma used to make. Not one of those menus where you can’t pronounce the entrees or have to ask what’s in them! Good old-fashioned home cooking kind of food. The service was fast and friendly. The atmosphere was very family friendly with several large tables enjoying the four generation type of meals; bringing in diners from 9 months of age to 90.
With the deadline looming, I caught up with owner Rob Swarts for a quick phone interview. After 20 years in the Rainsoft water treatment business, Swarts retired but was soon bored. So when his golfing buddy, Ken Fowler, decided to sell out and move to Florida, Rob found himself in the restaurant business. The location in Schoolcraft – MarJo’s West – has been known by several names including the Cottage Lunch in the 1940s and Molnar’s in the 50s and 60s. The 70s brought the Village Inn followed by Bell’s and eventually it became MarJo’s West with the purchase by the Fowlers in 1995. Rob Swarts and family purchased it in 2004. Today what was MarJo’s East is now the home of the Rise N Dine in Vicksburg.
Swarts credits the success of MarJo’s West to the long-time staff and the philosophy that the customer pays the bills. Rather than depend on daily specials, Swarts believes in giving the customer what they want, when they want it and lots of it. He brags that they go through more “to go” boxes than any other establishment – not because they do the most take-out business in the area but because their portions are so generous that there’s always left-overs. I can attest to that! With most meals averaging under $9 and enough food for two meals, it’s a very good value. They’ve been doing what McDonald’s just figured out – they serve breakfast all day, every day. He feels that ability for people to order whatever they want regardless of the time of day has allowed him to double his business.
Their menu features family style offerings with the highest quality ingredients. Their beef sandwiches are made with slow-cooked cuts that take 7 hours. I have thoroughly enjoyed their French dip sandwich myself but my former co-worker Anthony goes as far as saying their French dip is the best; and he’s lived in several states from Michigan to California and several in between Another key to their success is consistency. You will always find the staff friendly and efficient; some of them have been there longer than Swarts himself. The menu, food quality and quantity are consistent. Many of the regular patrons sit at the same table and order the same thing every day.
I think I’ll ask my husband take me back for breakfast. I think Marjo’s is the type of place which will offer a terrific biscuit and gravy. In case you were wondering, one public shaming was enough… My left-overs were safe this month!