February 19, 2020
Ten years ago, Traverse City started Restaurant Week with 18 restaurants offering special menus.
Fifteen years ago, NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute moved to brand-new bayfront facilities, including Lobdell’s Teaching Restaurant.
Ten years before that, in the mid-1990s, NMC’s culinary program made a distinct shift to focus on the art and craft of cooking.
Those culinary ripple effects will crest next week, when Traverse City’s tenth annual Restaurant Week takes place with more than doubled restaurant participation. Fully one-quarter of those 40 restaurants count GLCI alumni as owners or in kitchen leadership roles. At other restaurants, current GLCI students and other alumni can be found as line cooks, sous chefs and managers, all collectively contributing to Traverse City’s stellar reputation as a food and wine destination
“Just the fact that we have so many incredible restaurants, (GLCI) is one of the sources behind it,” said Colleen Paveglio, marketing director at the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.
The DDA originally organized Restaurant Week to be a shot in the arm to business during the lull of midwinter. To say it worked is an understatement, said 2014 Culinary Institute graduate Fletcher Gross (above), a chef partner in HM Group. Their five restaurants — Slate, Sorellina, McGee’s 72, McGee’s 31 and Harrington’s by the Bay — all participate.
“Restaurant Week is literally like pulling a week out of the middle of July and putting it in February,” Gross said. “It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year, because we can showcase what we do best.”
Gross credits GLCI for giving him the skills not only to become a chef, but to build a career in the restaurant industry. He joined HM Group in 2011 and bought into the ownership group in 2018.
“I learned how to be a better manager,” said Gross, 26, who handles all the purchasing for the five restaurants and trains the head chef for each kitchen. Between them, the five restaurants employ around 100 people this time of year, a figure that will double in the summer.
“I’m very grateful for my restaurant career,” Gross said.
He also pitches into whichever kitchen is expecting the highest volume in a given week.
Next week, that may be a tough call, as reservations pour in.
“People look forward to it,” Paveglio said.
Besides the HM Group restaurants, the others participating in Restaurant Week with GLCI alumni connections are Minervas, PepeNero, Smoke & Porter, The Good Bowl and Towne Plaza.