Above, owner Jared Polonowski poses last week outside his restaurant on Farmer Street in Otsego; he hopes to finish renovations this spring. (Photo by Ryan Lewis) Below, he poses inside soon after the property was acquired. (Photo by Bud Kibby)

Dougie’s owner is optimistic for spring opening

By: 
Ryan Lewis (Editor)
About that name: “We named it for my wife’s dad who died in 2003. He was a Vietnam veteran who adopted my wife and her sister. He was a fun guy and everyone liked him; people always wanted him around. Since the bar had always had someone’s name on it—Skip’s, Jim’s, Sandra’s, McGonigle’s—we came up with Dougie’s as a way to honor him.”

Dougie’s Family Bar and Grill owner Jared Polonowski hears the question “When are you going to open?” a lot.

And while “soon” has been the answer for about a year for the Otsego restaurant, he expects it will take on a much more concrete meaning this spring.

“I have a band booked in May that tours,” Polonowski said. “So that is definitely happening.”

The journey to now for the 32-year-old who grew up in Otsego has been filled with the tribulations of an ever-evolving project. His family purchased the building in January 2016, and Polonowski leases it from them. The former J.R. McGonigle’s is on the west side of Farmer Street just north of M-89 and was part archeological dig and part renovator’s nightmare.

What he initially estimated would be $80,000 in work has blossomed to a project five times bigger. Major work is needed at the rear to make an entrance meet code. He’s poured concrete floors in the basement. He’s redesigned the interior layout. Every major system such as electrical and plumbing has needed to be redone; he even needed Consumers Energy to install a new transformer, per code, to meet the energy requirements of an establishment this size—an amount of energy he does not think he will come close to needing due to the LED lighting and other efficiencies he’s installing. The exterior will also get new siding. The roof will get a new membrane. The work so far has filled ten 30-yard dumpsters.

“On the structural end, we’ve had to have the plans redrawn. And things like that weren’t planned.”

As he peeled back the layers of various interior walls, he said he’s found evidence of at least three fires.

Some of the artifacts he’s found in the process of all of that renovation will also find their way into the finished restaurant: glass pharmaceutical bottles, a cologne bottle with an Otsego label and his favorite, a metal Gargoyle “Mobiloil” sign about the size of a license plate.

Polonowski has posted tons of pictures of his finds as well as the progress of the renovation on the Dougie’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/dougiesotsego.

Overall, he said he’s hoping to really transport people when they come in.

The restaurant’s tag line “Taste the Revolution” will be the theme as well as a motto. Along those lines, menu items will take their inspiration from notable individuals from revolutions in workers’ rights. Along with salads and appetizers, there’s the Lucy Mason, a grilled chicken sandwich for $7; the Samuel Gompers, a chili-topped hotdog for $6; the Joe Hill, a burger topped with bacon, deep fried onion rings and jalapeños for $10; and entrees such as the Walter Reuther, a 16-ounce, hand-cut, certified Angus rib eye, bone in for $17.

And, of course, the Jimmy Hoffa is a seafood dish, grilled salmon.

Entrees range in price from the $8 homemade pound of kielbasa to the 20-ounce porterhouse for $28. In all, there are seven steak dishes; Polonowski wanted to give the area a place to get a good steak without breaking the bank or the hassle of preparing it at home. Each is certified Angus beef and he expects 90 percent will be Michigan-raised.

“We really wanted a selection that would set us apart,” he said.

He also intends to have his servers provide a more friendly experience. Where other restaurants keep severs busy with some of the simpler food preparation, he intends to keep his servers out of the kitchen and available to interact with customers.

“Service is a big thing with me,” he said. “I want our servers to be able to come over and sit down with tables and chat. They’ll be taking orders on iPads, sending them wirelessly to the kitchen.”

He doesn’t want customers waiting around, looking for their server.

And while the bar will have extensive choices, he wants the focus to be on the food.

“I want to make it a place that is understanding to families with children,” he said. With young children of his own, he said he has had disappointing experiences with some establishments that expressly did not want children.

Those types of experiences drive the revolution in the dining experience he hopes to create.

“I’ve worked a lot of jobs, from restaurants to bars to factories,” he said. “A lot of the ideas I had for Dougie’s are because of frustrations I’ve had working at other places and going to other restaurants.

To add to that, he’s creating an art deco theme for the interior of Dougie’s.

“We’re trying to do an early 30s look,” he said. “Less steel and aluminum and more geometric shapes and porcelain tiles. I want for people to walk in and be transported to something completely different and be able to come in and have a great time with family and friends.”

While it’s not his focus, he definitely wants to make the bar a regional attraction. After researching establishments across the United States, he found a bar on the East Coast with the largest offering of craft beer totaling 555 beers.

He said, “So, I thought, ‘We’ll do 560.’”

He won’t be able to open the doors with that many, but he intends to build to that. The bar will have 18 taps.

The ones behind the bar will rotate and he hopes to coordinate with breweries to have their representatives on hand while a series of their brews are on tap. Akin to how a brewery or winery would work, customers can order a flight of the beers to taste test and then he wants to sell the bottles if customers want to bring their favorites home. (A flight is a set of four to six 2-ounce glasses of different beers.)

“That way, if they find something they like, they know where to get it,” he said.

And, after seeing most places offer a handful of ciders or mead, he said his selection will be roughly 40 percent ciders and meads.

“And because of that kind of huge selection, you’ll never find that at a chain. I’m going to have a couple who only self-distribute,” Polonowski said.

He said he’s excited for customers to see his vision come to life. There is a lot of construction between there and now. Currently, a variety of electrical work, HVAC and other details are awaiting approval from an engineer and the city’s code enforcement firm, PCI.

Once the plans are approved, contractors will get to work on those, followed by the rest of the work inside and out.

“I’m very excited; this has taken a long time,” he said. “It’s been mentally exhausting to make all the alterations, but we’ve adapted throughout the process. At least we’re making changes and addressing things now.”

He said the finished project will be worth the wait. He hopes to be open in March or April.

“Everything we’ve done specifically for a reason, from how we want to operate, to the servers to the flow of the restaurant—all of it is in play to make a new experience you won’t get anywhere else.”

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

Editor's note: The article above has been corrected to include the proper hometown for Mr. Polonowski. A reference to the business's Facebook page has been added as well as clarifications on the steak menu (they are all certified Angus beef) and the number of glasses in a flight of beer (four to six).

 

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