After 24 years in business on Union Street – the last 15 under the ownership of Patty Hickman and Randy Waclawski – The Dish Cafe is about to close its doors. The downtown restaurant is closed for Spring Break this week before reopening April 3-8 for a final week. The owners call the impending closure “bittersweet” but are excited to hand over to brothers Patrick and Michael Evans, Traverse City natives with Michelin-star experience, who will turn their Conifer pop-up into a brick-built restaurant and mortar in space. this summer.
Hickman says she and Waclawski started talking about selling The Dish a few years ago after a “pretty difficult and demanding summer.” The couple “just felt like we were ready for a change,” she says. “No concrete idea of what we wanted to do next, knowing that a restaurant sale is a tricky thing. We weren’t desperate, we didn’t want to put it on the market. We really thought we would talk about it casually , but quietly among friends, and maybe the right buyer would show up. We wanted to sell to someone who would really bring something to the space, do something cool, keep that family and community vibe. be well suited.”
But as Hickman and Waclawski put together a list of potential buyers — Hickman says the Evans brothers were “number one” on the list — COVID hit. “Randy and I were determined to do whatever it took to stay open during all shutdowns and make it work,” she says. “Actually, we had fun again. We were able to reinvent and get creative.” In late summer 2021, Waclawski began talking with Michael Evans about Conifer’s pop-ups — sold-out events that garnered rave reviews from places like The Cooks’ House and WaterFire Vineyards — and the siblings’ desire to find their own space. After a few more months of discussion, “it seemed right” for Hickman and Waclawski to hand over to the Evans brothers, Hickman says.
“They have everything they need to be amazing,” she says. “They have the talent and the creativity. They have a ton of family support behind them. They have a local customer following them. They have the energy for this new era of restoration. “to transfer our lease for the space, buy our liquor license, and our equipment and goodwill that we’ve built into the business over the past few years,” Hickman says.
For Patrick and Michael Evans, opening their own restaurant is a full-fledged moment in a journey that began in Traverse City — where the siblings were born and raised and attended the Great Lakes Culinary Institute — and lead to west to San Francisco, where they worked individually at Michelin-starred restaurants including Lord Stanley, Atelier Crenn and Commonwealth. After moving back to Traverse City a few years ago and starting families, the brothers began hosting pop-up diners under the name Conifer, hoping to build a local following that would eventually support a brick-and-mortar restaurant. mortar. The pop-ups have generally featured elegant dishes featuring local, foraged and/or seasonal ingredients, such as farmhouse cheese balls with wild mushrooms, hazelnuts, nettles and praline oil; smoked mussels with apple purée, sumac and beurre blanc; and roast chicken with mushrooms, chestnuts, apples and celeriac broth. “We focus on sourcing (ingredients) and technical cooking that really showcases the region,” says Michael Evans.
When the duo take over The Dish space in April, they will begin a few months of renovations before an opening in late June or early July. The brothers describe different moods and menus for the exterior and interior of the space. In the outdoor aisle patio, there will be approximately 25 seats, wine/beer/cocktails and a small menu designed around snacks and bites. “It will be first come, first served, where people can come after work and have snacks and drinks,” says Patrick Evans.
Inside, the brothers plan to make upgrades – including new paint, tiles, ventilation system, furniture, chandeliers and noise-cancelling upgrades – and gut the bar that currently occupies the large central area. of the restaurant, thus opening up the space. Conifer will have a mix of lounge, bar and table, with room for around 38-40 diners inside. The restaurant will offer both an à la carte menu with a selection of starters and main courses and a daily five-course tasting menu. Conifer will have a full bar inside, complete with wine and cocktail lists. It will be open for dinner only five days a week, with an expected staff of 10 to 12 employees.
Despite their foodie backgrounds, Patrick and Michael Evans are aware of the community vibe The Dish was known for. “We’re not trying to cater just to tourism,” says Michael Evans. “If we wanted to, we could put 50 seats inside and 50 seats outside. But we would like to be something like The Dish, which is a neighborhood place. You could come on a date and put on a suit and do a full tasting class and wine pairing, or you could come in after spending a day in the park with grass stains on your pants and it doesn’t. there is no judgement. Patrick Evans adds: “I feel like Patty and Randy have given us a gift, and what Mike and I have to offer is to open up that space and make sure it’s there to people all year round and they love being here.”
Hickman and Waclawski fans, meanwhile, will still be able to see them in town. “We still don’t have any specific plans for what we’ll do for our next venture,” Hickman says. “We considered buying a property rather than renting it. We’re not necessarily stuck on food service either. We will definitely be staying in Traverse City! It is our house.”
Pictured: left are Patty Hickman and Randy Waclawski; on the right, Michael and Patrick Evans