Saturday, December 1, 2012


Vision: It's like a landscape painting in process... oil... easel in the outdoors. As much as one attempts to maintain purity, stay on task, hold the picture together, consistent forces interact with its reality.  Wind, rain, birds overhead stir and contaminate the situation.  There's constant dabbling onto the pallet, running out of paint, running out of paint, passers-by criticizing the imperfection without understanding, without knowing.

Thank you to those few who have supported the vision, who have understood the struggle and sacrifice, who have been close enough to know.  Thank you to the many who have cheered us on, noticed the difference, and let us know they feel what we're doing is important.  Thank you to those few unwilling participants, patient, against their will. Farewell to those who have judged rather than helped.  We apologize to those we've stepped on, barged through, and didn't have the time or resources to sort out properly.

I have faith the pendulum has reached that distant stroke point, and is turning back again. We have all forgotten what we've lost, but looking out my front window in Munising, I'm keenly aware. My memory spans back forty years at this same view. Fries and gravy were served next door at the Munising Cafe' and around the block at the Three Sisters' Restaurant.  They weren't perfect, but they were home.  We shopped for Christmas here. Jewelry came from Lester's, radios and televisions from Hiawatha TV and Appliance. We'd order stuff through the local Montgomery Ward and Sears stores, and buy our jeans from Cowell's, People's and Denman's.  La Femme Dress Shop was always wonderful. I can't mention all of the stores that existed then. Tons.

We've made our choices, and the landscape reflects that.  We've been wooed from our community. As we looked to distant places, drawn by shiny things, our livelihoods followed our desires. We've been tricked out of our homes. What did we get?

We shop owners pretend to be relevant, turning on Christmas lights, celebrating the downtown.  Something in me says to continue this. Something in me says that the pendulum is looking back this way, drawn by the gravity of the situation.  Those communities still pretending, still playing the relevant role will be ready for the magic to come back.  Those communities who have completely forgotten may miss the sign.

Even if my canvas has been torn, I know how to darn. I'm a soldier, you see.  A cliff is not an end; it's an opportunity to climb up or repel down and proceed forward.

I believe in supporting our local economy. I believe in supporting our neighbors to succeed. I believe in towns and communities. And I believe in real food rather than engineered false satisfaction. I'm not perfect, but I won't give up till my canvas has come to fruition.  I ask you to join me in some small way.  And I ask you to understand the vision. It's more important than anything.  Please have faith in it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rock River Lunch Bag

We are currently working on a new, possibly short term project in Munising. The Rock River Lunch Bag will be the "Unplugged" version of Rock River Cafe. The location is light on kitchen equipment and we just intend to serve "Fast Fresh Local Cuisine".  We are trying to pull this project together quickly since there are only a few months left to our tourism season.

The Rock River Cafe' location in Chatham will proceed on, serving only breakfast and dinner while the Lunch Bag is operating in Munising. Our expected hours in Chatham where you can get our full menu are as follows:
Breakfast 9-1; Dinner 4-9. The Rock River Lunch Bag will be open 11-5 with a light, yet "Rock River style" menu. Looking for local lean ground beef burger with our homemade barbeque sauce or hickory smoked bacon bleu burger? You'll have to come after 4:00 to Chatham for that.  The menu will be lighter, quicker, and served like fast food in eco-friendly packaging ready to go out the door or to enjoy in the little dining room. There are 22 seats inside, and we'll scatter a few on the porch so you can people watch and wave to friends as they drive by.

Anyone interested in helping us launch this new location can contact Pat at 906.439.5509.  We are not too bashful to barter at this point, and believe in our product and service line. We have posted a deal on Facebook, encouraging people to come in for dinner this week, in return for FREE LUNCH at the Munising location in the future.

In the meantime, our menu has expanded again at Rock River Cafe', evoking our slogan of "A Fresh Expression of Local Cuisine".  We have moved our Finnish Pancake ~ PannuKakku into your own personal iron skillet, served hot to the table.  And there are a few more surprises to be found amongst the pages. Come on in for our Warm Blankets (gingerbread waffles served with whipped cream and fresh berries), or our Portabella Mushroom Cap Steak with seasonal fresh vegetables and quinoa pilaf for dinner.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Once the Fog Clears

We've been closed for our spring shut-down for over a week now. I noticed that even at the thought of closing, the mind got real active. I've spent more time in the last week planning for the reopen than I have doing anything else.

Some hints about what we're thinking:

A faster menu~ There are some things on the menu that we love and have frankly had a hard time letting go of, but they are just not fast enough. Systems need to improve as well, to ensure the steps are fewer from order to table.

More retail~ We'd like you to pick some more stuff up and bring it home.  Three of our pancakes you can make at home in your pj's and bare feet with Rock River Gold maple syrup. We are thinking up Rock River pizza crusts using our Sir Galahad artisan flour, including one that will incorporate rye meal as well. We'll even sell you the red sauce and the Parmesan we shred off of the block.  We've decided to let you take the oatmeal home as well. If you haven't tried the oatmeal, well, OMGosh! And there's more... but wait for it.

A real website~ I know, it's only taken us a year. We hope to get that up and running as quickly as possible and to increase our retail sales through web purchases. We plan an outstanding presentation... wish us success!

Energy efficiency improvements~ This is critical going forward. We've identified several areas that we can improve by creating new procedures. This is important for the bottom line and for the world at large.

Please feel free to leave a comment on anything you'd like to see in the future of Rock River Cafe'.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pairing Down

Spring is in the air and we locals call it "mud season". It's a great time to get out and enjoy new sounds like Sandhill Cranes in the wetlands and Spring Peepers in the bogs. It's also a time when local businesses gather up last year's information and plan for a new cycle. It's a little slow right now. Many of our peers close for a bit.

For the next several weeks we'll be operating on a paired down menu to increase our efficiency and to decrease the enormous amount of prep we do to maintain our 'buy it local or make it here' attitude.  We are also contemplating a short shut down, and will get the word out as best as we can once we've made a decision.

We'll be in full swing for Memorial weekend at the end of May, and we'll keep enough signature items on the menu in the interim so we don't lose the essence of Rock River Cafe'. If you're out for a spring drive and would like to stop in, give us a ring to check our hours. 906-439-5509

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Burgers and Fries

Delux Burger with Steak Fries.

The bun is baked about 12 miles down the road at Trenary Toast, Inc..  Lean ground beef and potatoes are from Bahrman Farm in Rumely, just a handful of miles in the other direction. We hand cut the potatoes, season them, and grill them in olive oil and butter. And as seasons shift and change, the produce that lives in the bun with that marvelous burger evolves as well, coming from local farmers. I watched John put some fresh local spinach in sandwiches today that was delivered last night from Rock River Farm. The price for this wonderful little lunch is $7.75. Relax. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thanks for the Rosemary

Today one of our regular customers was in for the egg sandwich (a little one egg omelet encompassing freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese and Vollwerth's hickory smoked bacon from the Keewanau Peninsula, folded into Huron Mountain bread from Marquette). With her was some rosemary she is growing indoors right now. She offered some up, and we were grateful for it. We offer rosemary rub with bleu cheese on our steaks at night. It's wonderful to get some that's been picked today, rubbed on your steak tonight. When the first order came in for it, I admit that I quickly offered to dive into the fresh rosemary right away to help get the steak ready for the flame.

It's those wonderful little things that make our cafe' operation so pleasurable.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Meat and Potatoes

We are fortunate, oh so fortunate and grateful that there is a farmer just up the road who sells us ground beef and potatoes every week to cook and serve for you. We drive over to Bahrman Farm and pick up big bags of (un-sprayed) potatoes and their ground beef that's been processed at a USDA inspected facility in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and returned to Bahrman's for sale to us. It's beef from their cows; it's just that simple. And though we take for granted that concept of simplicity, what apparently lurks in the corporate food world  is not quite as simple. Do we really want our food so engineered? When I look at a plate of food in our restaurant, I realize that I can visually see almost all of our ingredients almost all of the time. That's because there aren't any packages lurking in the back, filled with numerous unrecognizable ingredients. 

We make most everything from recipe. Often we'll have a guest with a particular allergy or dietary restriction, and though almost always I feel sure about all of our ingredients, I'll still walk in the back, grab the recipe, and go over it with the customer.  If it does include a complex ingredient, such as ketchup, the jug comes with me so we can discuss all of the details.  Digestion has to be better if one's really sure about what one's eating. We read the ingredients on a well known national cheesecake in a store the other night. The list was as big as this paragraph. Really? We use six ingredients, and, OMG it's fantastic! Our caramel sauce? Two ingredients on the stove. That's it. No more. Your hot cocoa? Four ingredients. Simple stuff.

Two things have been true since we opened: 

"Simplicity" tastes so much better.

"Local" is consistently higher quality than the alternative.

Stop in. Relax.