Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub is Among Local Businesses that Aided in Cleanup Efforts by Serving Onsite Meals to Crews
Five years ago this month (Monday, July 25, 2010), an underground oil pipeline burst near Marshall, sending 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and its Tallmadge Creek tributary. The largest inland oil spill in U.S. history resulted from a six-foot break in the Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Line 6B, which runs 1,900 miles from Griffith, Indiana to Sarnia, Ontario, through southwest Michigan.
More than 38 miles of the river and 4,435 acres of adjacent shoreline habitat were impacted by the spill, which remains under watch as clean-up efforts continue with a growing price tag of more than $1.21 billion.
While the long-term effects of the spill remain to be determined, the cleanup initiatives did provide a financial effect on some areas of the local economy. During the late summer and fall of 2010, as well as into the spring through fall of 2011, crews of clean-up workers were sent to Calhoun County, and nearby Kalamazoo County. They stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants, bought gas and spent their out-of-town dollars in countless local businesses. Both Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties reported hotel occupancy up by more than 40 percent in August and September, 2010 over August and September, 2009
For Schuler’s Restaurant, the initial 3-month cleanup period became one of the company’s largest, long-term catering jobs.
“Two days after the spill was identified, we received a call from our banquet staff requesting 100 hamburgers for crews assessing the situation,” says Sue Damron, President and Managing Partner for Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub. “When I called back to confirm the order, we were asked if someone wanted to come down to the Command Center to talk about how we could help feed the crews over the next several months. We began providing services immediately.”
What started as 100 hamburgers grew to over 2500 complete meals a day—breakfast, lunch and dinner, for months.
“We were catering for 200 to 300 people at the Command Center three times a day—at 7 am, noon and 6 pm,” Damron says. “Deliveries were also made to 10-12 different field sites throughout Calhoun County—in Marshall, Ceresco and Battle Creek at noon, 6 pm and midnight.”
Residents staying at hotels were even given coupons to come into the restaurant to eat while they were misplaced from their homes.
“Eventually, the hotels were a stop on our route and we were delivering to three different hotels in Battle Creek as well,” Damron says.
During the clean-up efforts, the Schuler’s management team wore many hats, from boxing up meals to delivering them off site for workers day in and day out. In order to keep up with the steady flow of meals, Schuler’s had to hire additional staff.
“Anyone on staff who had friends and family who wanted to pick up additional work joined us on a contractual basis to assist with operations. The Marshall Community rallied to join in the overall clean-up operation and many worked with Schuler’s,” says Damron.
The restaurant set up an assembly operation in its Heritage Room and Damron recalls at one point they had a wedding reception booked for that room, so they set up a tent out back of the restaurant so box assembly could continue.
Michigan-based Gordon Food Service lent a hand, providing Schuler’s with a truck for extra cooler and storage space. GFS also installed a coffee system that allowed the catering crew to brew 10 gallons of coffee at a time which was vital since they were taking 40 gallons of coffee to the Command Center, for every meal.
“Our GFS Rep, Tim Frisoskey, was on site daily at our 2pm management meeting to help us with food supplies. We also used Louie’s Bakery and Pastrami Joe’s locally to source additional items for us to help with variety of meals we were providing.”
Even with the volume of meals going out of the kitchen each day, while still running its regular restaurant operations, Schuler’s was able to maintain a high level of quality and variety for the clean-up workers they were serving. Not only were the crews receiving breakfast, lunch and main course dinners, they were also served side dishes, fresh fruit, desserts and beverages. Schuler’s also provided all the service ware—disposable plates, napkins, silverware, condiments.
“As we got into the operation, we prepared menus by the week so we could ensure variety of products and food choices—prime rib and pot roast were big hits; hamburgers were requested occasionally,” recalls Damron, who says they had to train their team to think about big appetites. “Jim Lough, our facilities manager, was very helpful with suggestions for the type of appetite the workers had.”
Susie Deback, currently Sales & Marketing manager for Schuler’s, was lead server at the command center. She was there every day with breakfast and lunch, for up to 300 people. She also worked with students who had been bussers with the restaurant prior to the oil spill and taught them the role of catering server.
“There’s no question that this oil spill was a natural tragedy for our area and one of the worst I have experienced in my years here in Marshall,” says third generation owner Hans Schuler. “I’m proud not only of our team, but the entire extended community that came together in a time of need and really showcased the hospitality that our industry is founded on.”
Damron says even the staff at Schuler’s was also taken care of during the clean-up phases. Many recall Nancy Schuler, Hans’ wife, rewarding them for a job well done by bringing treats like ice cream cones or arranging for a portable station to provide massage therapy for the team members who worked tirelessly during the clean-up period. Hospitality at work—even for the staff.