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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

The Mekas family had been in the restaurant business long before Phil Mekas was born. Last month, he became the new owner of the Beer Grotto in downtown Dexter.

An Ann Arbor native and Dexter resident for the past 18-years, Mekas is a financial advisor by trade. Stepping into the restaurant business was something that’s always been kicked around and talked about, but he was waiting for the right time and opportunity.

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“I was raised in the backroom of restaurants,” said Mekas. “The first one I remember was the Dunkin’ Donuts on Washtenaw between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I remember being in the backroom helping mom count money. Then the Coffee Break on South U, right across from old Bagel Factory. Even when we moved up north to Reed City, Michigan we opened Tall Moose Cafe. It’s what we’ve always known.”

Although the Beer Grotto has been for sale for a number of years, Mekas told The Sun Times he first heard about it more than a year ago. Around September or October of last year he said he began to look at it more seriously.

Owning the Beer Grotto for a little over a month now, sights are set on renovations. Mekas works in partnership with his mom, Cheryl Mekas.

“She helps around the place,” said Mekas. “We talk about ideas and come up with different things, so were definitely partners in it. My dad, Peter usually ran a legal practice, so my mom was the one who got her hands dirty in the restaurants so to speak. It’s helpful to have her experience.”

Mekas told The Sun Times he’s been going to the Beer Grotto since it opened. He said he’s always liked the place but thought if it was more open and inviting, people walking by might see and come by.

“It was a natural thing through talking with people that worked here and other customers before I decided we wanted to buy it,” said Mekas on where the ideas for improvements came from .”Everybody was like ‘yeah if this place was more open it would be better.’ It wasn’t something we had to figure out. It naturally begs to be opened up, it had to be done.”

Mekas wants to renovate the tap wall, keeping the same number of beers while expanding the liquor and wine selection a bit to make it more of a full-service bar.

In addition to that, they’re thinking about pushing the tap wall to the back of the building and building a new bar in front of that. There are plans to add a kitchen, eventually, but right now that’s where the equipment is to help cool the beer.

Nothing can be done with the kitchen until the space with the beer cooling equipment is reconfigured. Moving the bar is the first step but Mekas acknowledged it was a step at a time process.

Ideally, he said he wants to have the bar in place and the place re-opened by the beginning of September. A self-admitted aggressive timeline, Mekas knows the process of getting permits and meeting with the city and pertinent commissions will be necessary first.

“We can only go as fast as they’ll let us go,” said Mekas. “We aren’t going to do anything before Dexter Daze, the busiest weekend in town every year. We’re not going to close before that. We hope to make a few minor changes before that. We’ve added more TV’s, making it more friendly to watch sports and hang out with friends. A lot depends on permitting and when we can get that done for major changes.”

With his experience growing up in the restaurant business as well as the experience of Cheryl to lean on, Mekas knows the restaurant business is unique and it’s important to be reactive to what patrons would appreciate.

“There can be stuff I want to do that may not be what customers want,” said Mekas. “I’m trying not to come into it with a set-in-stone list of things I have to do. I’m going to try and figure out what the patrons want, what the area needs and accommodate that rather than do what I think is best. It has to be a combination of the two.”

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