By Sue Moore
Vicksburg area residents greeted the newest EMA Enterprises restaurant in town with great enthusiasm, according to its president Mike Leeuw. The company’s newest Michelle’s Restaurant opened its doors to the public in the newly renovated R & R building at 343 W. Prairie Street in May.
“We are very happy with our attendance over the month we have been open in Vicksburg,” said Leeuw, the owner of all eight restaurants in the company. “We went into it completely dark and find the community has been really nice to us. We have noticed that Vicksburg loves its bacon as that’s been a hit on our breakfast menu. I really like small towns and this is no exception,” he said.
Leeuw’s restaurant holdings include five venues named Michelle’s in Portage, Mattawan and Kalamazoo. EMA Enterprises also own Liz’s Parkview Café in Richland, Andrea’s Café in Galesburg, Treat Street in Oakwood Plaza, Capital Region International Airport, a large catering operation along with concessions at Entergy-Palisades in South Haven and all the athletic concessions at Western Michigan University (WMU).
“We have been growing steadily but conservatively every year since we started in Gobles 14 years ago,” Leeuw noted. “We would love to keep growing in the right market. This is not an easy business but it’s a very gratifying and rewarding to the customers and staff.
The concession division, particularly the business at WMU, helps to keeps EMA diversified, Leeuw said. “We do all the University’s sporting events in partnership with civic groups at WMU including over 100 volunteers who are involved. It can be very hectic but I like this part of the business and sports in general. It keeps changing. It takes more than just a hot dog and popcorn these days. We offer many different options now and are providing food on a much bigger scale than when we started. Beginning in mid-August, EMA will be providing the food service for American Axle in Three Rivers for 1,300 people in the plant.”
“The body of our menu is the same as when we started, but we do change items twice a year for breakfast and lunch. We only do dinner at our Gull Road facility which also houses our central kitchen where all of our catering is managed. We have seven menus that are different but similar. We seek input from our staff, the line cooks, managers and then our core leaders create the food for the newest menu. We have 155 employees; 30 of them have been with us for five years or more. We offer paid vacations, health care that is affordable, which some of our people have never had before.”
Leeuw got his start at Kalamazoo College as food service director. Before that he was with the Marriott, chain for 10 years. He moved to Damon’s for 10 years in food service before buying out Chicken Charlies and opening in Gobles. When Mikes’ dad passed away, he decided to go out on his own. He graduated from Ohio Dominican University with a business degree. There, he met his wife, Jane, who handles all the paperwork for the restaurants and the human resources area of the business. “I fell in love with all of this line of work. It is the gratification of a job well-done that keeps me going at the age of 54. I like making lives happier [through the serving of good food].”
“We have found the right kind of landlords in every place we have opened,” Leeuw said. “Dan and Kelly Oswalt are great to work with here in Vicksburg. “Our lunches have been shockingly busy with unique items on the Vicksburg menu. We have also been welcomed in Oswalt’s banquet facility with the opportunity to provide catering services. It’s just a great match all the way around.”