Story courtesy of BizCon
John Farrand, owner of Boundary Waters Kitchen and Bar, first opened in Sturgis amid a down economy.
Despite challenges of the economy and the business, Farrand navigated Boundary Waters to success, making it one of the staples of downtown Sturgis. Farrand's business story starts the same as many entrepreneurs: He left a corporate job to try something new. Born and raised in the area, he went on to Michigan State University and then worked for Hyatt for eight years before coming back to Michigan. He worked in the restaurant industry in Ann Arbor for a few years, helping consult on the opening of new locations before deciding to strike out on his own.
The idea to start a business began when he attended a wedding with his family; commenting that the quality of the food wasn't quite up to par, "everybody was like, 'Oh you think you could do it better, why don't you put your money where your mouth is.'" Farrand said. "And so I said, you know what, I think I just might do that; that was a little push."
The "push" led him to open a coffee house and catering business in downtown Vicksburg, where despite being new to the community, he was able to find success. After being in operation in Vicksburg for a few years, some of his customers suggested Sturgis to him as a place for a new location. People from Sturgis stopped at the store in Vicksburg and told him there was a soup-and-sandwich shop for sale there, that it had been closed for a few years, and Farrand should consider it.
After looking at the site in downtown Sturgis, Farrand opened Boundary Waters in fall 2007, just as the economy took a downturn.
"It was a struggle at first ... it was a slow start. Vicksburg was keeping [the Sturgis store] afloat." Over time business improved, but around 2010 it was time for a change.With corporate chains leading the way, the coffee house market was changing, focusing on drive-thru business and other areas. Farrand decided to move Boundary Waters' format from a coffee house and cafe to a full-service restaurant. As part of that effort, Farrand sought one of two available liquor licenses from the city of Sturgis and the request was granted, assisting the transition.
While a necessary step, according to Farrand, the transition was a struggle, too. "Like anything else, it didn't go over great (at first)," he said. "We had to change our menu ,I think in 2010-2011, like five or six times, kept changing it, trying to figure out what people wanted." After the early challenge, Boundary Waters settled on a menu offering fresh seafood, pasta, steak and other quality staples that found a solid following.
Today, Boundary Waters is successful, employing 22 people and relying on a strong clientele base that is now familiar with John and the business.
"We have a really good clientele here" says Farrand; "I can't thank them enough. We have locals and people from Chicago that have houses on Klinger Lake, Lake Templene or the Shipshewana area. They come here and it's fun to see them every year, every summer." For John, one of the important things about his businesses has been its location downtown.
"I was always a downtown person," Farrand said. "I remember growing up, shopping in downtown... the epicenter was downtown."
For a time in 2010, Boundary Waters was the only full-service restaurant downtown, something Farrand is glad to see is changing.
"If another place opens up right next to me — I hope they do, because (a person) is not going to eat there seven days a week. It is only going to enhance my business. They are going to draw people I didn't draw and next time, let's try that restaurant next door." For Farrand, there's a synergy to having a downtown with a strong compliment of restaurants. "We could use three more," he said.
While many things have changed, what has stayed the same is a solid approach to customers and community. From buying local supplies to chatting with regular customers, from non- corporate approach to service to a comfortable place to have a meal. With a solid foundation, John Farrand and Boundary Waters will continue to look for new ventures and new possibilities.