Deb Malewski
Contributing Writer

The cold of winter has joined us, in addition to the COVID-19 virus. The combination of the two, along with a ban on indoor dining, has put many bars and restaurants in cold water and worried for the future of their business. In November 2020, the Small Business Association of Michigan offered help in the form of Restaurant Winterization Grants to create temporary structures to cover outdoor seating, such as canopies, igloos, and tents, plus heaters for bars and restaurants. Nearly 3,000 requests were received, totaling $24 million, with only $3 million in available funds.
Charlotte businesses received $8,000 of those funds to help winterize six restaurant and bar businesses, said Charlotte Rising Executive Director Lisa Barna. Those businesses include Thirsty Bird Bar and Kitchen, The Eaton Pub and Grille, Mike’s Sports Page, J&J Eaton Place, Acapulco Mexican Grill Charlotte, and Evelyn Bay Coffee Shop.
“It’s been incredible to work with our local business owners through this hard time,” said Barna. “They’re always innovating and willing to adapt to continue serving Charlotte residents.”
“We’ve been inspired by their action and it motivates us to work every day to continue to help bring state and national funds into downtown to support our small businesses,” she added.
The public has enjoyed the dining alfresco, it appears, based on comments posted on Facebook.
“So fun! We ate (here) on Monday in an igloo,” said one comment.
The businesses differ in what they offer to the cold-weather diners. Many do require a reservation due to limited seating.
Acapulco, one of Charlotte’s newest restaurants, started placing individually heated igloos on their outdoor patio area in mid-December. To use one, reservations must be called in. There is a reservation fee, and Igloo seating is reserved for two hours. They also offer to-go orders and curbside pickup.
“The igloos are so warm that I took my jacket hat and gloves off and sat around in a t-shirt,” said an Acapulco diner on their Facebook page.
Thirsty Bird advertises that “The heaters are hot. So are the tacos.” In early November they started offering dining availability outside under a lattice-covered patio with heaters to warm the experience. The wind is blocked on four sides to shield diners from inclement weather, but the roof is open to comply with COVID-19 rules.
When dining in the Thirsty Bird “Ice Shanty,” as they are calling it, they suggest that you “bring mittens and a blanket to sit on. Tableside heaters will do the rest.”
A Facebook poster commented that she had dinner in the Ice Shanty, and that “The snow was coming down and it was pretty fun. We really enjoyed ourselves.”
At the Eaton Pub and Grill, “The igloos are up and warm” featuring clear-sided igloos placed over each table, plus colorful lights inside.  They have no-fee reservations with a two-hour time slot. They also offer growlers, howlers, six-packs of beer, cocktails, and wine to go.
A new Michigan law, House Bill 5811, allows bars to operate in a limited capacity for cocktails to-go in order to reduce contact with customers. This wasn’t possible previously unless the business had a kitchen and carry-out food menu. Another law, Senate Bill No. 939, went into effect that allows local municipalities to establish “social districts” where people could dine and drink from open containers outdoors. This is in effect through December 31, 2025.
When faced with unique challenges, we see our businesses spring into action, coming up with unique solutions. The ability to creatively adapt and make some necessary changes quickly will contribute to the survival of these family owned, local businesses. Coupled with the continued support of diners, both with alfresco and take out dining, Charlotte is destined to come through the pandemic with the survival of its local restaurants intact.