CANNON TOWNSHIP — In 1987, Dean Juth moved from North Carolina to Grand Rapids to run a failing Z’s Bar and Restaurant on a one-month trial basis for Jacqueline Moorehead, then the sole owner of the downtown business.
In April, Juth bought Moorehead’s interest in Z’s and the Timbers Inn Restaurant, ending a successful partnership that lasted for a dozen years — a longevity not often achieved in local restaurant ownership. The parting was amiable and the timing was right.
“As anyone who has ever had a partner knows, having a partner is almost like having a roommate. And over the years our relationship was very good,” said Juth. “This was just a good time for me to buy her out.
“Like anything, you don’t sell when the price is too high because then you would pay too much. And you don’t sell it when it’s too low because then you don’t get enough,” he added. “It just made sense to do it now.”
Fourteen years after meeting Moorehead and 12 years after being her partner, Juth finds himself by himself, directing two of the area’s more popular locally-owned restaurants in a market filled with national chains that are heavily armed with a seemingly endless arsenal of ad dollars.
Besides that hurdle, Juth said the chain restaurants have made it harder for backyard entrepreneurs like himself to succeed in the small-margin world of food and beverage sales. Good employees are tough to find and tougher to keep, and salaries have jumped since the chains locked up much of the market share.
But Timbers is different. The restaurant, with an unusual flair toward wild game in a northern lodge atmosphere at 6555 Belding Road, is believed to be one of only four locally owned dining establishments that were prepared from scratch. Juth designed and built it, and when Timbers opened in 1994 it joined Duba’s, Noto’s and Brann’s in that select category.
“You don’t see that happen often. You’ll see a lot of chains pop up,” said Juth. “I did it because I wanted to get out of downtown and own some property rather than just rent. I wanted to do that to build up some equity in the business.
“When you lease, you have no equity if they just let your lease run out. What do you do then? All the goodwill and everything else, you’ve got to pick it up and move?”
Along with the traditional dishes, Timbers also features walleye, pork pot roast, venison chili, wild rice soup and planked whitefish. Juth said his customers are a good cross-section of urbanities, suburbanites and rural folks of all ages who return regularly because they like the big menu Timbers offers.
“We’ve just gotten better at what we’re doing. The staff has gotten to know our guests and that had made us more efficient and helped us learn what they want. That makes our job a lot simpler,” he remarked. “In the beginning, we were just guessing.”
Juth just opened a bricked and landscaped outdoor patio at Timbers where he barbecues a special item most nights. Past offerings have included his award-winning ribs, corn-on-the-cob, grilled chicken and grilled salmon.
So how’s business at Timbers?
“It’s good; not great. Not bad. It’s good,” said Juth, who seldom overstates anything. “I definitely knew going into it that we would be growing with the community.”
As for Z’s, Juth said business was good there, too. The sports-themed restaurant, almost an institution at 168 Louis Campau Promenade, has held its own ground over the past five years, surviving the explosion of downtown eating places that flared up following the 1996 opening of the arena.
“That changed the business, the whole complexion of downtown,” Juth said of the arena. “Sometimes I wish it was the way it was before. But it will be that again, I think, once the convention center opens.
“It’s not the competition. It’s just that with the arena, we, too, have become event-driven. People will come down for an event, they’ll eat and clear out for three hours and we’ll sit empty waiting for them to get out. Before, we were steady all the way through on a Friday or Saturday. The convention center may bring a more stable crowd.”
But Z’s was in financial trouble in 1987. Moorehead, who hadn’t been actively involved in the daily operation, inherited the restaurant that year following her husband’s sudden death. Advisors told Moorehead, who was facing a big loan payment then, to sell the business and take her losses. But she refused.
A friend, Milwaukee attorney Bob Sutton, put her in contact with Juth, and the 30-day trial run turned into a 14-year relationship, with their partnership forming in 1989.
In his typical low-key fashion, Juth recalled that day in 1987 when he started his lasting business bond with Moorhead.
“We kind of came to an agreement,” he said, “and I just stayed.”