After a little more than two years of offering delicious eats from an unusual menu, Bobby J's Downtown closed its doors on July 3. But fans of the Heritage Hill/Heartside eatery aren't raising a fuss. They know that the goodies live on in West Michigan Caterer, the original business started by Bob Johnson.
"We've always used Bobby J's kitchen for the catering and for the restaurant," Johnson says. "But the catering operation has grown so rapidly, that, for us to be able to put out the lunch menu and still do five to eight catering events for a Saturday night and serve 800 to 2,000 people at off-site locations just didn't work."
Johnson would have to lay out about $300,000 to build a second catering kitchen at another location in order to keep the restaurant open. Instead, he turned the restaurant, 15 Jefferson SE, into a leasable downtown venue for meetings, conferences, rehearsal dinners and the like for 10 to 150 people. Johnson replaced the tables and booths with portable tables and chairs that can be configured to fit the needs of the event. Rental includes wireless Internet access and audio/visual technology. Food and beverages are available through West Michigan Caterer.
Johnson offered all of Bobby J's employees jobs with the catering business, and all but a couple of them stayed on, bringing the employee rolls to 42. Another 40 are on call for serving catered events when needed.
"We'll be able to increase jobs because we'll be able to book more daytime and other catering events plus lease the restaurant space," Johnson says. "We're refocusing the business and have developed daytime delivery for groups of 10 or more."
Source: Bob Johnson, West Michigan Caterer
Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at [email protected].