Opening a restaurant is a challenge in and of itself. Opening in the middle of the second wave of a global pandemic is an entirely different endeavor.
However, that’s exactly what Brittney Doehrer and Paige Belanger have done.
The pair opened The Local in downtown Baroda on Nov. 20, 2020, a week before Thanksgiving amid the COVID-19 pandemic and just as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put further restrictions on restaurants in Michigan.
“With the new regulations too, that came up [as] bad timing,” Brittney says. “Like we’re finally ready to open, and then it’s like, we’re shut down. And [now] we have to figure out our whole carryout and curbside plans. We were planning to do dine in originally, but we’re making it work.”
Paige says that turnout on the first weekend was much higher than they anticipated and they ended up selling out of a few items — a good problem to have.
“Feedback has been great. Excitement has been high,” Brittney says. “It’s been making us really happy.”
The business partners were planning to hire additional staff, but with the shutdown in November, they decided to open with just a small staff: Brittney and Paige in the front of the house and a cook and a few others to help in the back.
Brittney, 26, and Paige, 27, have been friends since going to Bridgman High School. They knew they wanted to start a business together, but a café wasn’t first on the list.
“At first we were going to save all the dogs,” Paige says.
Without missing a beat, Brittney chimes in.
“We were gonna do an adoption boarding facility daycare,” Brittney adds. “But then as we got, like, further along in both of our careers we’re both like: ‘OK, this is what we’re good at. This is what we know. Let’s do that.’ ”
In fact, the two are often finishing one another’s sentences and saying a nearly identical answer at the same time as one another. The bond and synchronicity has been a boon for them.
“I think the thing that helped us was that when we got into this we just sat down, and we agreed, like, ‘we’re not going to let our business relationship affect our personal friendship,’” Paige says. “And so we were like: ‘we need to talk about whatever. There’s no holding back, we’re just gonna get it out there.’ That’s worked well.”
The duo went their separate ways after high school — Brittney continued to work in the restaurant industry while pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition and Paige has been working as a clinical dietitian for Spectrum Health Lakeland — but found themselves drawn to the restaurant industry by their experiences and passions.
They decided they wanted to start a café so they partnered with Cornerstone Alliance, which they say has a whole center dedicated to helping women start new businesses. Their consultant helped the ladies create a business plan, got them in touch with banks, and helped them create a checklist so they crossed every T and dotted every I.
The dream was becoming real, but they didn’t have a location yet, just an idea.
“We were leaning more towards a gym, smoothies, like a health café for a while,” Paige says. “When this place opened up because of being shut because of COVID, and so when we saw that it was open we were like, ‘oh my gosh, that could be what we’ve been waiting for.’ So we jumped on it and the rest is history.”
They started to think about what was missing in Baroda food-wise, and that’s when the idea for The Local struck them.
“This is what the area needed,” Brittney says. “We love breakfast, and we always have to go out of town to get it. So we’re like, ‘let’s give the people what they want.’”
Despite Brittney and Paige being incredibly health conscious, there is plenty of comfort food like biscuits and gravy on the menu.
“We really tried to keep in mind our local community, and what they would want,” Paige says. “Like our farmers and the factory workers here, but also our out-of-town friends in the summer … so we tried to have an all-inclusive menu.”
The menu has standard breakfast and lunch fare such as omelets your way, a house scramble, a take on a two-egg dish, French toast, soups, salads, wraps, and a club sandwich. But they also have a little fun with some standard dishes, such as the avocado toast (with eggs), shareable pancakes, strawberry crostinis, and a grilled cheese flight (with a variety of American, American and Swiss, pepper jack, and mozzarella cheeses). On top of that, they offer smoothies and a full coffee bar.
They work with Artesian Farms for their greens and they also work with a local farm for jelly. Their coffee is sourced locally from Infusco Coffee Roasters and Black Dane Coffee. They also make their own dressing, coleslaw dressing and gravy.
“That’s something that we’re really proud of,” Brittney says. “I mean, it’s in our name. So it’s something that we want to keep highlighting as we grow and expand.”
The Local is only open until 2 p.m. on most days, but Brittney and Paige have opened up the building as an event space in the afternoons for baby showers, birthday parties and bridal showers.
“It’s kind of a-la-carte how we’re doing it,” Paige says. “You can get just the space or you can do full service where we plan your menu, decor, cater the whole thing.”
The pair hopes to continue to grow once they get through the pandemic including adding some outdoor seating.
“We’d like to be able to be open seven days a week,” Brittney says. “We’re really hoping that we can get a liquor license so that we can do our Bloody Marys and mimosas for brunch on the weekends.”
Despite the challenges of a global pandemic the ladies have faced in opening their restaurant, they remain optimistic.
“It’s been exciting,” Paige says. “There has been a little bit of intimidation, but more just the feeling that we needed to prove ourselves because people didn’t take us seriously.”
Brittney chimes in immediately.
“I feel like people have been excited, like more excited almost, and just impressed that we are doing it at such a young age,” she says. “A lot of people our age don’t take the risk, and we’re like, ‘let’s do it!’” χ