Guests line up during a vegan menu preview night at Cherie Inn that helped convince owner Michael Kulczyk nutritious offerings would be healthy for his bottom line, too. Courtesy Cherie Inn
Last week, Michael Kulczyk stepped on the scale revealing he had lost 100 pounds since March 1.
The simple change of eating a healthier diet inspired Kulczyk to adjust the menu at the Cherie Inn, 969 Cherry St. SE, the restaurant he’s owned for nearly 20 years. With the changes, Kulczyk said he expects the breakfast and lunch restaurant to see an increase in sales from $667,000 to more than $1 million.
At 54, Kulczyk said he wants to keep the restaurant in his name another 10-12 years, but his energy had waned because of his weight.
“I had no energy, and I’d sit here while I was getting overflow from neighboring restaurants, saying, ‘I don’t care how we get it, as long as it’s coming in,’” he said. “But then I thought, ‘Bullcrap, I want to be the restaurant of choice.’”
To do so, he needed more energy, so he cleaned up his diet and realized health and nutrition is often a second thought in restaurants. He reached out to the vegan community in Grand Rapids to help fill a void left when Gaia Café closed.
“I don’t know what they wanted, and I didn’t want to just throw a few things on the menu that they didn’t want,” he said.
He worked with new executive chef Alexander Schulte to develop a vegan, oil-free and gluten-free menu to include items such as avocado benedict and sweet potato hash. The restaurant also hosts health and nutrition discussions on the nights of the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
The restaurant bought new serviceware and cookware to assure customers the foods were appropriately prepared and cared for, he said.
With health at his core, Kulczyk cleaned up the main menu as well, including sourcing more local, GMO-free and organic foods. He also is sourcing 90 percent of his meats from Louise Earl Butcher, 1106 Wealthy St. SE.
“Next year will be my first million dollar year, just by cleaning the menu up and increasing our service and presentation,” he said.
Established in 1924, Cherie Inn is one of the oldest restaurants in Grand Rapids, but its age doesn’t exclude it from being an innovator in vegan menus, Kulczyk said. Prior to buying Cherie Inn, Kulczyk opened 15 T.G.I. Friday’s and eight On the Borders, then managed Charley’s Crab, where he grew bored with how well it ran.
A business broker brought him several restaurants to buy, with Kulczyk continually saying no until a portfolio one day revealed his favorite restaurant: Cherie Inn.
“They wanted twice as much as I had to offer, but they took my offer,” he said. “We hit a couple other walls, and each time, they just crumbled. It was meant to be.”
When he took over the restaurant, it had sales of approximately $160,000 annually, but Kulczyk said sales have risen every year. He said no matter how the economy is doing, people still will treat themselves to a meal out.
“We’ve never had a slump, but some years are bigger jumps than others,” he said. “After 20 years, I still love it, and now, I have the energy to keep it going.”