Edwards Earns Applause

October 11, 2002
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NORTON SHORES — Shellie Edwards came back to her employer last August with a slightly more significant role. Edwards, who once ran Applause of Norton Shores for River City Food Co., is president of Lake Michigan Hospitality LLC, the new owners of Applause of Norton Shores.

The Owosso native and graduate of Michigan State University came to Grand Rapids-based Applause Banquets and Catering in 1994 after a few years of staying home with her small children. Previously, she had run Daniel's, a small chain of restaurants in Chicago, as well as holding a variety of restaurant, catering and even food product sales positions.

In October 1995, Grossnickels Inc. approached River City Food about the possibility of subcontracting its banquet operation at Oak Ridge Golf Course. The facility is owned by Elks Lodge No. 274, which contracted Grossnickels to run its golf course and food service operation.

"I guess it didn't work out too well," Edwards said. "It was kind of like what would happen if I tried to run a golf course. People would be crashing their carts into each other, hitting each other with golf balls. I wouldn't know the first thing about it."

Grossnickels leased the facility to River City, turning over food service and creating a partnership out of Oak Ridge. Applause's Norton Shores branch soon was established at Oak Ridge, and Edwards was picked to run the fledgling operation. Grossnickels still operates the golf course.

Last January, only a short time after Edwards left River City to pursue her dreams of running her own business, she received a call from River City about just that.

"They had decided that they wanted to go in another direction," Edwards said. "I believe that they knew I was looking, and my old boss approached me to see if I had an interest."

By March, Edwards had taken on two silent partners and formed Lake Michigan Hospitality LLC, and all the purchasing agreements had been finalized with her old employer. Edwards could not take over the business, however, until months later, when the liquor license had finally transferred into her ownership.

River City, which owns the Pietro's and BD's Mongolian Barbecue chains of restaurants, still operates the Grand Rapids Applause. Edwards has the rights to keep the "Applause" name until February; a new name has yet to be determined for the company. There is not a no-compete clause in River City's agreement with Edwards, so although each company will keep an emphasis on their established territory, expect to see both businesses operating in the Grand Rapids area and along the Lakeshore.

From their base within Oak Ridge, Applause of Norton Shores caters events large and small there, as well as at Grand Haven Golf Club, the Legacy banquet facility, the Harbor Team Yacht Club, Egypt Valley and nearly any location that clients desire. Along with Oak Ridge, Applause Norton Shores also is contracted to exclusively handle the food service and catering at Grand Haven Golf Club's banquet facility.

"Some people say that that brings us into direct competition with ourselves," Edwards said. "Both courses are good courses and offer different challenges. Both offer different things to different golfers. The banquet facilities are like that. Having more facilities allows us to offer (more options to) different clientele with different needs.

"We have a big, beautiful white tent that we can put up on the lawn at Oak Ridge," she explained. "That doesn't take away business from the banquet hall, it just gives our guests more options."

The Grand Haven Golf Club is now completely public, which was a surprise to Edwards, who said she assumed such a course would have to be private. The Applause-run restaurant at the club also will be open to the public for dinner.

Edwards is launching a full remodeling of the Oak Ridge facility in the coming month. Restrooms, furnishings and paint will be part of a complete overhaul in time for the holiday rush.

"We needed to remodel to stay competitive," Edwards said. "There are just too many nice banquet facilities out there right now."

Also in the works is a similar overhaul of Applause Norton Shores' menu, which can range from barbecued chicken for 5,000 to an upscale dinner for a few dozen people.

"We're trying to add more variety without trying to be all things to all people," she said. "Make it more upscale with a major push on food quality and service."

Handling as many as 10 to 12 events on a given day during the peak summer season and the holidays, Edwards knows all about the importance of communication and coordination. Countless hours are put into planning prior to each event, taking into consideration a variety of factors including cooking, storing, transport and service.

For a person planning a big event such as a wedding reception, the process can be extremely complicated: finding a florist, photographer, cake, caterer, disc jockey and banquet hall — at the very least. For someone already bogged down with ordering invitations, finding a church and planning the wedding itself, taking on the entire event can become a full-time job.

"I was at a site check for an event recently where a planner had to talk to 50 different people," she explained. "We're offering entire packages for events in addition to our catering service. We'll bring everyone into the same room for one meeting, one location, for planning everything from ice sculptures on down."

Aside from the convenience for the client, the joining of all the client's needs into one package should also assure a smoother process, as each provider will be aware of the capabilities of the other providers and become practiced in working with one another, Edwards said.

The packages are not concrete; a client may choose as many or as few options as desired.

Applause of Norton Shores underwent no staff changes during the sale, Edwards said. The firm employs 10 full-time people and as many as 50 part-timers during peak times.  

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