For its next course, Vassar gets the Riverside Grill

(Photo by John Cook) The new home of Riverside Grill in Vassar.
(Photo by John Cook) The new home of Riverside Grill in Vassar.

VASSAR — Bart Long figures the Riverside Grill – formerly Betty Lou’s Restaurant – will make a splash with customers entering the new eatery when it opens in the coming weeks.

And so will its menu, predicts Long, who with his wife, Krystal, will operate the new business at 194 E. Huron Ave. inside a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The “boss hog,” a one-third pound custom blend patty topped with pulled pork and pepper bacon on a brioche bun, will be featured, Long said. So will beef-brisket nachos, added Long, 45, of Tuscola County’s Watertown Township.

“A lot of people loved Betty Lou’s breakfast, so the breakfast menu probably won’t change much,” Long said. “The lunch and dinner (entrees) will be much different.”

As will the restaurant’s ambience, said building owner Ron Anderson of Lapeer County’s Rich Township, who said he has overseen about $150,000 in renovations.

“People are going to be surprised when they walk in,” Anderson said. “It’s not the same building.”

Betty Lou’s Restaurant opened in 1996 but closed several years ago inside the building once housing the Columbia Hotel, a Vassar landmark. James P. Blackmore built the hotel in 1892.

“The kitchen is brand new,” Anderson said. “Your floors, walls, ceilings, fixtures and lights are all brand new.”

So are other details, such as copper backsplash behind the waitress station, recessed LED lights, booths and tables. Brian Piche and Mark Opperman, of J.T. Piche Co. of Mayville, were laying tile in the men’s restroom on Monday.

“We need another good restaurant,” Piche said. “There aren’t too many around here.”

“The ceiling is going to be absolutely gorgeous, with the small tiles and the recessed LED lighting,” Long said. “It’s not the bingo-hallish, 2-by-4 panels. You don’t have that buzz from the lights. We can dim down the lights a little bit, especially during the day because we have a lot of windows.”

The Longs hope to open the 120-seat restaurant in August, opening seven days a week starting at 6 a.m. but remaining open until 9 or 10 p.m., with a number of TV screens showing sporting events or other programs.

“We’ll sell burgers, wings, that type of stuff,” Bart Long said. “Kind of a mix between family style and that, but a little bit more of a burger and wings joint, I guess. Eventually we’ll have beer and wine, but starting out we don’t have our liquor license yet. We’re in the process.”

Bart Long said the eatery’s other entrees will include steaks and fried fish, noting the business will employ “probably 25 to 30 people.” Job applicants have been arriving at the building after the Longs started a “Riverside Grill” page on Facebook.

The Longs plan to have about five beers on tap. “The keg cooler will be across the back of the waitress station, along with a mug froster,” Bart Long said. “We’re trying to keep it all more of a family style place, so you won’t see beer bottles. The beer will be in glasses. It’ll be more discreet.”

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Bart Long preps the soda pop machine at the Riverside Grill in Vassar. (Photo by John Cook)

Long added “There will be speakers hooked up, and maybe some soft music playing in the background.”

Riverside Grill would become the fifth new business to open in a one-block stretch of downtown Vassar – a locale also housing the Vassar Theatre – this year. Sambuca Café, Candyland Ice Cream & Gifts, Sweetcakes Cakery, and Rebel Soul women’s clothes and accessories store, have opened within the last few months.

Another eatery, Sam & Ruby’s The Corner Café/Deli, is planned at the corner of North Main Street and East Huron Avenue in the same block.

“A lot of people are excited about the whole new downtown,” Long said. “It’s kind of exciting to be part of that. It’ll be nice if everybody finds their own little niche, and everybody can survive and do well.”

The Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. gave Anderson a $15,000 loan for purchase of restaurant equipment. Anderson said the city of Vassar also provided him with a low-interest loan for his renovation.

“I have invested a lot out of my own pocket, too, but that loan helps a lot,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. officials are helping him apply for a grant to improve the façade of the building.

“There’s going to be a lot of money spent on the outside of the building next year,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of preservation that needs to be done on the outside.”

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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