The recession has been rough on the foodservice industry in Michigan, but Ron Stewart sees reason for optimism.
“We had places closing right and left a few years ago,” said Stewart, president and owner of Detroit-based Simon & Leeman Corp.
“Now there is new development. I see restaurant business has picked up. The auto companies are getting stronger. They’ve hired people in the plants. They’ve given out bonuses, and that helps our economy.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, Michigan has more than 16,000 restaurants with projected sales of $12.1 billion this year.
According to a recent survey by Zagat, the average American eats out three times a week.
“That’s one thing you’re never going to take away from people,” said Jim Heeren, president of Heeren Bros. Inc., Grand Rapids. “Even during a recession, people are still going to eat out.”
Rick Robinson, vice president of White Brokerage Co., Detroit, said consumers might have cut back some, but they continue to eat at restaurants.
“Our customers are doing OK,” said Robinson, whose business serves customers in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
Heeren said how busy a restaurant is depends somewhat on what category it’s in.
“I think fast-food operators are doing fine,” he said. “People want a bargain. You look at a place like Subway, and you can get a $5 sandwich. That’s a pretty good deal for people during tough times. The high-end restaurants have a certain clientele that are going to continue to eat out. I think it’s the in-between restaurants that are struggling the most.”
Nate Stone, chief operating officer for Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, Inc., said foodservice business remains strong on the Detroit Produce Terminal.
“The customers we’re working with we’re seeing their volume increasing,” he said. “They’re doing great.”
Stewart said that while restaurant business is on an upswing, hotels continue to struggle.
“They overbuilt hotels here,” he said. “We have too many. It used to be that the auto companies brought in press and engineers. They had people coming in all the time.”
“As much as Michigan has tried to diversify from the auto industry and not be a one-horse state, we still — unfortunately — are dictated by the auto companies,” he said.