It’s been very difficult, financially, for food establishments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amy and Martin Ramos, of Charlotte, know that all too well. They own two food businesses, the Thirsty Bird Bar and Kitchen in Charlotte and Amy’s Catering in Lansing.
“It’s been a balancing act, for sure,” said Amy Ramos, recollecting how they got started. For several years, the couple had thought about opening a bar. The original plan was to wait until both of their kids were out of high school, but in 2017 the opportunity popped up to start their business and they went for it.
“I was worried initially, as we were the kind of parents who were very active in our kid’s activities, and we didn’t want to miss out on anything,” Ramos said. But with the help of a wonderful staff, that was never a problem, she stated.
They developed a traditional American bar food menu. They offer beef, chicken, and pork tacos, along with several unique hamburgers, like the “Cam” Burger, named after their son who created it. The Cam Burger has bacon and eggs on top of the burger. The “Ugly Jerry” burger is another popular selection, named after the customer who ordered it, and includes bacon, ham, and Thousand Island dressing. Sandwiches, salads, wraps, and fried fish are also menu favorites.
Formerly the home of the Rubber Biscuit Bar and Grill, the Thirsty Bird is in a long, narrow building, and was built sometime between 1895 and 1904. It housed a harness shop in 1914 that sold horse goods, carriages, robes, and blankets, according to local historian Pat Campion. It later became a laundry and clothing repair establishment in the early 1920s, a shoe repair store, and a multitude of bars after that, including Boornes Bar, Sweet Water Saloon, Players Sports Bar, and most recently the Rubber Biscuit.
While being closed to the public due to COVID-19 they took on some renovation to the interior of the building. The drop ceiling which covered embossed tin ceiling tiles was removed, and the original tin ceiling was restored. Three inches of sheetrock, plywood, and paneling were removed from the walls, exposing the original brick. Evenly spaced holes and pegs were in the bricks, they noticed, probably an indication of shelving from the harness shop.
“We were thrilled that both the ceiling and the bricks were in good shape,” Ramos said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we just got lucky.” They painted the tin ceiling to protect it and applied polyurethane to the bricks for the same reason.
A large hand-painted mural featuring turn of the century type characters was found on part of the sheetrock. Someone had glued furring strips directly onto the mural, however, which destroyed the mural when they were pulled off. No historical treasures were found in their renovations, however.
The Thirsty Bird was a recipient of a State of Michigan grant through Charlotte Rising for winterization of their building. With the grant money, they created an “Ice Shanty,” or an outside dining patio, behind their building. The shanty has lattice walls and heaters at each table.
“There just wasn’t enough room for igloos,” explained Ramos.
“It depends on the weather, of course, but we do encourage people to dress warmly to sit out there, even with the heaters at each table,” Ramos said. “But it’s a fun place to hang out.”
As of February 1, diners are able to sit inside, with a limit of 25% capacity. They have been doing take out orders and will continue offering it, but it’s not enough for the business to survive, Ramos said. They also offer delivery to downtown businesses.
“We are so grateful to the community for supporting us during this rough time,” Ramos said. “We just have to do what we have to do.”
One of their main goals was to keep their employees employed during the shutdown, which they were able to do, explained Ramos, even if it meant paying them out of their own pocket. They are now hiring extra staff; an additional bartender and a cook are needed.
“It’s hard to find employees now; unemployment is too lucrative,” Ramos pointed out.
“The Thirsty Bird is a great example of the determination of our downtown business owners,” said Lisa Barna, Executive Director of Charlotte Rising. “Even during the worst financial times for small businesses, they continue to make improvements and are hopeful for the future. It’s business owners like Martin and Amy Ramos that give local entrepreneurs hope when starting their own ventures in downtown Charlotte.”
The Thirsty Bird is open 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Sundays. You can find them on Facebook. They are located at 208 S. Cochran, Charlotte.