‘Eek’ Packs ’Em In

May 27, 2008
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When Betsy DeVos introduced her brother, “Eek,” to a sold-out Economic Club of Grand Rapids last week, she drew chuckles from the supportive audience when she mentioned ErikPrince chose service as a Navy Seal after considering an appointment to the Air Force academy by none other than now Democratic nemesis Sen. Carl Levin

Prince, founder of Blackwater Worldwide, outlined a litany of reasons critics such as Levin and others might want to acknowledge that the use of private security firms by the U.S. government amid military skirmishes has been a long-standing practice, going back to the founding of the country.

The controversial 38-year-old Holland native, son of the late industrialist and philanthropist Edgar Prince, is noted for his inherent disdain for the media spotlight. His father also was known by West Michigan journalists for his ability to shy away from direct contact with the Fourth Estate, and, as his sister noted regarding Erik’s business savvy and entrepreneurial drive, “those genes didn’t fall far from the tree.”

Prince, whose address was met with a standing ovation, didn’t venture far from a couple of hulking security guards who flanked the Amway Grand’s Ambassador Ballroom stage during his presentation, in a show of security that isn’t exactly common for Econ Club events. Club officials noted they could easily have drawn more than the 750 or so guests, which still put Prince at the top of audience-generators behind only visits by Alan Greenspan and Tom Izzo.

  • Rick Puthoff, well-known Muskegon restaurateur and the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year, denies that he is a "visionary," but he certainly is known for his determination. Politicians, take note.

"I am an entrepreneur. I'm not a visionary, by any stretch of the imagination," he said bluntly at the awards luncheon last week at Muskegon Country Club. Advance publicity about the event had urged the business community to come honor "Muskegon's elite visionaries!"

Puthoff, who first came to Muskegon in 1975 to manage a Lee's Famous Recipe fried chicken restaurant, gave a brief, to-the-point acceptance speech. He said some entrepreneurs succeed: others don't. But he mentioned that it is a great relief to him now to be in the restaurant business with his son, Chandler Puthoff, who previously worked in banking in Chicago for Credit Suisse.

"He can help me succeed. Or fail," he said. "I thank God for allowing me to be born in America," where entrepreneurs have a chance to succeed, he said.

It hasn't been easy, though. Puthoff owned Rax roast beef sandwich shops in North Carolina that went broke in the 1980s. He said he then "spent 10 years repaying that debt," which curtailed his other business ventures for a long time. “But I've never been a quitter. In fact, sometimes I have a tendency to fight for something too long."

"I've taken more risk than I should," he told the Business Journal.

People in Muskegon still remember Puthoff as the guy who moved his restaurant to a better location — more than 30 miles away. Years ago he had a Lee's in Fremont, where it didn't do well, so he had movers haul the entire building out of Fremont to

Maple Island Road
and then south to
Apple Avenue
, then west to Muskegon. They moved "slab and all. We didn't even take the furniture out of it," he said. That restaurant is now on
Apple Avenue
near U.S. 131 and still open for business.

Today Puthoff has three Lee's. In 2003, he bought a Golden Corral restaurant franchise — then it took him three years to find a location that Golden Corral corporate would agree to. After proposing more than 20 locations, he finally found a site at The Lakes Mall that corporate OK'd and the restaurant opened in October 2006.

Puthoff employs about 200 people between his restaurants and a retail store he owns: Lighthouse Liquor in Muskegon

Now he has his eye on a totally new career. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the District 8 seat on the MuskegonCounty board of commissioners.

"I've complained enough," he said. "I want to see what I can do on the other side of the fence."

Other nominees for Entrepreneur of the Year were Bob Brady of GMI Composites, Dan McKinnon of Graphics House Imaging and Graphics House Printing, and Dr. Mark Campbell, an oncologist who owns My Auto Import Center and the Hot Rod Harley-Davidson dealership in downtown Muskegon

  • Craig S. Datema, president of Triangle Associates Inc., and Mark Peters, president of Butterball Farms Inc., both of Grand Rapids, have been selected by an independent judging panel made up of regional business, academic and community leaders as finalists of Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Regional award winners will be eligible for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 national program. Winners in numerous national categories, as well as the overall national winner, will be announced at the annual awards gala in Palm Springs, Calif., on Nov.15. The awards are the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum, a gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.

The program celebrates its 22nd anniversary and has expanded to recognize business leaders in more than 135 cities in 50 countries throughout the world. Ernst & Young did not hold a West Michigan event in conjunction with the awards program this year.

  • he American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement has released a study revealing the nation’s 10 most and least heart-friendly cities for women.

The study examined the heart health of the 200 most populous U.S. metro areas, which were dividedinto three categories according to population. Regardless of metro size, all rankings were based onthe heart-friendly benefits each city had to offer and the personal lifestyle choices of its residents.

The cities of Grand Rapids and Wyoming were combined and ranked No. 22 out of 49 inthe mid-sized metro category. In the metro areas under 560,000 list, Kalamazoo-Portage ranked 48 out of 130 cities.

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