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Discovering the Secrets of the Millennium Restaurant Group

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Millennium Restaurant Group

What do Prosciutto wrapped Pork, Coconut Shrimp with Jezebel sauce, Lobster Roll in a soft seared roll, and Morel Mushrooms with a Leek Cream sauce, have in common? They are just some of the delicious creations being served in the Millennium Restaurant Group's offerings of restaurants located in and around Kalamazoo.

The Millennium Group umbrella started with the Epic Bistro downtown in 2000, now includes: 3 Tap House locations (soon to be 4), Fieldstone Grill, Martell's, The Union, The Wine Loft, Idler Riverboat in South Haven, Kitty Hawk Café at the Air Zoo, the new Cove Lakeside Bistro and the newest addition to look forward to is 600 Kitchen and Bar at The Foundry opening by December of this year.

If you're like me, you may have dined at some of these restaurants not realizing that they are all part of the Millennium- but this is not surprising. Each brand definitely has a distinct identity, unique menu, and differs in décor and ambience.

In pursuit of their 'secret sauce,' I decided to eat my way through the Millennium's offerings, hoping to discover what makes each restaurant tick, and why they continue to be so successful in the notoriously tough restaurant business!

It wasn't until my last stop at the Centre Street Tap House while feasting on piping hot truffle fries that, a surprising word popped into my head. Each of the Millennium restaurants seems to have an identical rhythm, a balanced blend of professional service and attention to detail, combined with great food. Could I be on my way to discovering some ingredients in their secret sauce?

In my discovery process I called upon Shelly Pastor, Co-Founder/Operations Manager who is one of the four partners at Millennium Restaurant Group, alongside Ken Miller, Matthew Burian and Bob Lewis.

Pastor started her restaurant career in a little diner called The Goodie Shop on Portage Road Kalamazoo at age 15. She has now been in restaurant business for 34 years.

The core values of the restaurant group Pastor shares, "At Millennium, we really do care that consistency of quality is monitored. We always have room to improve our product. At the end of the day, we try to put people in place who care to follow our systems and uphold standards."

She continued, sharing a career changing secret, “I used to be surprised by how vested our customers become in our businesses. When I was younger, I didn’t equate patronage with investment. One of my best lessons came from a very regular customer who criticized us, every single time he patronized one of our restaurants, to the point that I became desensitized and a tad frustrated. I finally asked him why he continued to come back. He simply replied, ‘Because I like coming here, and I want you to succeed.’ That was such an "aha" moment for me, to the point that it changed my whole outlook on receiving feedback. Our customers do have a vested interest in our success. They choose to spend their dollars with us, and we need to honor that.”

Curious as to how this translates into great food, Pastor went on, “I truly feel that we put "Millennium" into all our menu items. We focus on making things from scratch whenever possible or we try to source unique ingredients which may set our dishes apart if we are not able to make them in house. Our food reaches across many genres and styles. The "essence" of Millennium lies with the ingredients and preparation. We sincerely try to make each dish a representation of us in that we care to put a quality product in front our guests - every single time.”

Pastor was kind to also share why the restaurants are largely focused in our community.

“We live here and care deeply about our community. Through Millennium Events (Cityscape & Catering), we have hosted dozens of successful fundraising events in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo has struck a wonderful balance between a "big city" and "small town". It is truly unique.”

She went on to emphasize, “We have an active philanthropic base, a vibrant arts and culture community, and education is at the forefront of community leaders' agendas. And, let’s not forget the restaurant scene! These details add to the core of what Kalamazoo is, and help to attract new business. Kalamazoo's aggressive tourism and economic development organizations recognize we must have some uniqueness, and the small businesses and restaurants are what make for a great environment.”

The Millennium secret sauce certainly turned out to be far more complex, multilayered and evolutionary than I could have ever imagined. It’s obvious that Millennium team is at the center of the mix and persists until each restaurant’s offering is finely tuned, constantly focusing on customers’ needs and palates. They also continuously improve the quality of their food, backed up by excellence in people and systems to create what is their secret recipe for success!

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