Bee Roll on wanting to grow Beezy’s and how you can help

Bee Roll opened Beezy’s, her “simple, honest” restaurant in downtown Ypsilanti, on November 8, 2008. Over the past six years, quite a bit has changed. Beezy’s has become a vital anchor in downtown Ypsilanti. Among other things, it’s a place for people to meet over great food, a safe environment for kids to study in the evenings, and a lab for budding local food entrepreneurs. It’s a shining little beacon of light right at the heart of downtown Ypsilanti. And, according to Bee, that warm, flickering light is about to start burning a little brighter. Beginning on the weekend of November 7, Beezy’s will begin extending their hours on Friday and Saturday nights… That’s right, Beezy’s will be serving dinner… The thing is, Bee and her team need our help to make it happen.

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MARK: So, I hear there’s big news afoot… something about an evening menu.

BEE: Well, a few things, yes! Starting November 7, Beezy’s will be open until 9:00 PM on Friday and Saturday nights.

MARK: Are we talking “breakfast for dinner” type stuff, or something more?

BEE: We’ll start with what we do best. Well have our signature soup and salad menu. We’ll have breakfast for dinner. And we’ll be rolling out some dinner friendly specials as well.

MARK: I’m curious as to what you have in mind when it comes to “dinner friendly” specials. Would I be right to picture 1950’s comfort food?

BEE: I’d say “70’s favorites,” but without the condensed soup as a base. Things like tuna casserole, meatloaf, goulash, and chicken pot pie to start. We’ll probably have two simple dinners in the beginning – one vegetarian-friendly, and one meaty. And a special outside of that. And we’ll have everything on our regular menu, which will include all of our breakfast items, until we close. Currently we serve breakfast until 2:00 PM every day – this facilitates staffing and clean-up more easily. Staying open later on Friday and Saturday means we’ll just keep the griddle fired-up through the afternoon.

oHopqMGEfskIC7xBcaAFRZwuCQ2uFUHTarnRHRZu1iMYJp7vMmvNzITtPLlTP0fKZ3SbAQ=w1176-h509MARK: And why’s this something you’re thinking about now, after almost 6 years in business? Are you seeing more hungry people stumbling down Washington Street at night than you have in years past?

BEE: We’re lucky in that almost all of our customer complaints have to do with how busy we are. People are always telling us that they’d like to eat at Beezy’s but can’t, because we’re packed during lunch, and they can’t get here before we close at 4:00. We hear the same things on weekends about brunch. So we thought that we’d try serving dinner a few days a week.

MARK: If I’m not mistaken, when you first started out, you were open later than 4:00, right?

BEE: Yeah. When we first opened, we didn’t close until 6:00 PM, and then we tried 7:00 for while. But there just wasn’t enough evening traffic to make it work. We shifted gears and put our energy into extending our breakfast hours. We started serving breakfast later through the week, and began opening on Sundays, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. And it worked fabulously. But it’s time to test the waters again, and I like trying out new things during “cozy time.” (Cozy time is my patented phrase for mid-autumn.)

MARK: If there wasn’t enough foot traffic to make evening hours viable 5 years ago, why do you think that it’ll work now? Is there more foot traffic? Or is it just that the Beezy’s brand is strong enough now to pull people from farther away?

BEE: I don’t think it’s that there’s more foot traffic necessarily, but there’s other good stuff going on downtown in the evening, more destination traffic for Red Rock, Bona Sera, and the Mix Studio Theater. And there’s certainly larger brand awareness for Beezy’s. I think we’ve also established ourselves as incredibly trustworthy in the consistency department – people trust we’ll be good and service will be good, and I think that’s an underrated aspect of going out to eat. I’m not reinventing the wheel with my menu, ever, but I’m constantly looking for ways to streamline service, while delivering a consistently amazing experience. I think providing the high level of engagement we do, and being a place to get a solid meal without booze, makes things move at a different pace. Relaxed and independent, but thoughtful and thorough. Not relying on folks getting inebriated means more pressure for us in many ways, but I’d rather be a meaningful stop for someone on their way to an event, or to pick up a nice 6-pack to enjoy on their stoop. There’s just not a lot of straightforward food available around town after we close. You can get upscale (Bona Sera) and bar food galore, but I think Beezy’s fills a gap for fast, fresh, fun food.

wOOKKULZ7S0tLeAl80XixXnaWfEd4gikLyFv-M8L_6Vrya4sqqh4fvrrONOY2MMWz2qblw=w1176-h510MARK: Why do you like rolling new things out during cozy time? Is it just because things are slower, and you have more time to work stuff out?

BEE: Yeah, it’s a good time to practice and gain insight. I also think the food I’m attracted to lends itself well to fall and winter.

MARK: And what happens when winter ends?

BEE: We start hosting the 826michigan Washington Street Tutoring Lab again in October, and that takes over our space Monday through Thursday evenings for the duration of the school year. But, after that, depending on how things go on Friday and Saturday evenings, we could open up more nights with a new spring/summer menu.

MARK: So, any other thoughts as to why this is a good time to explore growth?

BEE: Yeah. I have a magnificent staff that wants to make beautiful, messy food for people. It’s a sort of like therapy, making food for people. And making food for people in the winter is particularly uplifting. It brings people together in a way that they just can’t in warmer seasons. I mean, there’s a special survival quality about Michigan winter. And we love the idea of people intentionally bundling up and trekking down Washington Street to Beezy’s. We want to be a destination for ridiculously delicious, hearty winter foodstuffs. And, then, maybe we’d inspire some sledding in Riverside Park with a warm, full bellies and hearts. We’ve all been talking about building snow forts, and snowcoming (like a homecoming dance in high school but during the snowy times… not sports related, at least not in my mind!), and snowball fights, and making winter not suck this year, so, that’s probably why more than anything else!

MARK: Anything else you’d like for folks to know?

BEE: Well, I’ve also been giving some thought to hosting a pop-up dinners. Like a tap takeover, but for our tiny kitchen, with different cooks coming in and showing us what they can do.

MARK: Assuming there’s anyone in the audience right now that loves Beezy’s, and wants to make this happen, is there some way that they can help? I know, for instance, a couple of years ago, when you were trying to recover after having money stolen from your safe, you pre-sold Beezy’s cards as a way of raising capital. Might you explore doing something like that again, to help you through this “cozy time” launch?

BEE: We’ve had a couple of giftcard fundraising campaigns in the past, and they’ve proven to be very successful. People essentially pre-bought their meals, by purchasing giftcards, and we took that money and put it toward immediately improving some aspect of Beezy’s. Our customers eventually got all of their money back, in the form of food, and we were able to ensure a long lasting, more sustainable Beezy’s.

MARK: It’s kind of a difficult balancing act, isn’t it? I mean, when you go that route, you want to bring in as much money as you can, but, at the same time, you have to be remember that eventually people are going to be coming in with those cards, wanting that food that they pre-purchased, and you don’t want to be hit with that all at once.

BEE: We’ve always been conservative about it. We’ve capped the amounts, and made sure that we’d be able to honor everything. Which we have. As of right now, I believe that all of those earlier cards have been depleted. So, yes, we’re thinking that now might be a good time to do it again. Expanding dinner service is going to take some investment on our part, and we think that this would be good way to do it. The bank is a slow moving beast for me and my tiny operation and because I’m not wildly profitable, or operating with conventional credit, I’m not an attractive risk for the bank. The gift card premise is a winning model for smaller scale investments. There’s always only so much that can get done, but the whole “it takes money to make money” adage is true…

qJ1xom6wxsjuzYw30fSnnMn5F2lPCqlwBtnXkJyHoAmqyCCUlw2qhBmj6za4f-e4HLKXKg=w1176-h509MARK: So, how would you structure it this time?

BEE: We’ve been talking about changing things up a bit. The basic idea would be the same – people would be pre-buying the food they love at Beezy’s – but we want to change things up a bit. Most recently, we’ve been talking about setting up a “Beezy’s Plate Club,” where Beezy’s would have a plate in your name that would stay here in a Hoosier style cabinet.

MARK: So, if you were to invest in, say, $1,000 worth of Beezy’s cards, you’d get to eat from your own special plate whenever you came to Beezy’s?

BEE: Yeah, that’s what we’re thinking. We’re also thinking that, as someone who invested in Beezy’s, you’d also get first dibs on any special dinner events, and things like that.

MARK: By “special events” are you talking about the Kitchen Takeover nights that you mentioned earlier, or do you have something else in mind… like maybe the occasional big, family style dinner on a Sunday night, where you just sit a limited number of people, serve everything family style, and let people bring their own wine in?

BEE: Yeah- stuff like that. With the tutoring lab on a school year schedule, I can see holiday dinners happening, or self-serve family style community dining. I’m not a fancy events kind of gal, but some good mingling in a cozy space with hearty, unpretentious food is no less something fun to do.

MARK: Assuming there are folks out there who would want to help out, but don’t have the money on hand to purchase $1,000 in gift cards, is there something else that they can do? Will there be different levels of support?

BEE: Yes – well, first, there’s always giftcards for sale. These are always a great way to support a business. To simplify the process, I want to promote the $1,000 gift card package for now, though. I’ve set a cap of 25 for the initial push. If people wanted to pool their resources, though, and go in on one plate-share, I’m all for it.

MARK: So your intention isn’t to offer lesser levels of support, at least at this time?

BEE: I haven’t put much energy into thinking about different investment levels, but I’m open to it. I’m not great at “prizes,” though. I think we all have enough t-shirts and trinkets. Instead, I want to put the money into making Beezy’s work better. And I think people will be OK with that. People, I think, see Beezy’s as a hub for positive activity in Ypsilanti, and I think they’d like to know that their money is going toward that. But, yeah, for the time being, I’d like to focus on finding 25 supporters who are willing to pre-buy $1,000 worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. With that said, though, we’d love to sell people giftcards of any denomination… They make great holiday presents, rewards for staff, for yourself!

AivGa4YQKkYj5CoNVN3IgCiXZm8IrDfvLgit061cAhbK1rTzAtm1AqVMZZigaB1tdXu5Rg=w1176-h509MARK: So, if people should want to help make this happen, and want to get a gift card, what should they do?

BEE: Just send an email to beezy@beezyscafe.com, I’ll prepare a card, and we can arrange to make a transfer… I’’l also ask you to sign a giftcard agreement with some basic rules, like “you agree not to spend this all in one day” and “it never expires as long as Beezy’s is in operation.” If you come in and see me at the right alignment of the stars, I may pick you up and spin you around. Sort of depends on how many babies I’m carrying at the time and your size. I don’t think I can spin over 200#. But jazz hands, there’s always jazz hands.

MARK: Anything else?

BEE: I don’t know. Lots? I want to rail about how the world works, and how I grew up poor, and that affects every aspect of my thinking. Asking for help is hard. People with money get money. Beezy’s bootstraps. We’re not fancy. We focus on doing a great job, making simple, honest food. I employ 14 people that live locally. I believe I make a difference in their lives. And, in turn, they make a difference in our community. Making dinners for people is gonna be great. It gives us another few hours to help change the world.

BeeBee2

[All photos, except for the very last one, were taken by Alex Mandrila… And, if you’d like to know more about Bee and Beezy’s, check out our interviews with her on her first anniversary, and on her fifth.]

This entry was posted in Art and Culture, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

17 Comments

  1. Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Someone on this site once commented that the only goal of business is to make money (while saintly non-profits do nothing but help people).

    Assuming that Bee doesn’t have some nefarious plan to drain the bank accounts of every Ypsilantian, I hope that Beezy’s can help show how wrong that assertion is.

  2. megan
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    What can someone get for $250 or $500?

  3. Bee Roll
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    thanks, Peter. My nefarious plots are only for good and not evil.

    Megan- what do you want for that level of support? Without getting into trinkets and baubles territory? A kickback (like an additional gift card at 10%?) or a fork or side plate or something similar in keeping with the cabinet theme? I’m open to ideas!!

  4. Mr. Y
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    As much as I like the idea of chicken pot pie, I think I’m more excited at the prospect of post snowball fight biscuits and gravy.

  5. John
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I’d be happy to purchase a $250 gift card (I don’t think I could stretch beyond that). I do not expect/require anything in return, except the food! I agree re. trinkets being a waste of money and resources. My wife and eat in Beezy’s most weeks, often multiple times. It would be wonderful if the hours could be extended somewhat without compromising the over all success of the place. Beezy’s has created something that many ‘chains’ pay millions to create: a wonderful, thriving place with delicious food made by people who care. In short, it has that ‘authenticity’ that money cannot buy.

  6. facebook stalker
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Say what you will about Stewart Beal, he posted the following to Facebook last night:

    “Beal Properties will buy the first $1,000 gift card. Who will join us?”

  7. Alison
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I like the cabinet theme and breaking down your table setting with incremented $ amounts of support, Bee. What about a coffee mug?

  8. megan
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I dont want anything special. I was thinking i cant afford $1000 but still want to help. But i agree, no trinkets or shirts. Theyd just end up in a landfill long before theyd biodegrade. Would a $250 gift card help or are you really just focusing on the $1000 for now?

  9. anonymous
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Perhaps EMU departments could be persuaded to buy these $1,000 cards.

  10. beer oll
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    thanks for the ideas! someone on facebook mentioned doing a punchcard- where you’d purchase gift card amounts up to the 1k and then get your plate- which I think is manageable from our end. The bigger issue for us with the smaller investments is keeping track to not overextend the % of gift card redemption potential versus cash revenues.

    Another thing I should mention… and not just for me, but lots of small businesses- is that whenever you can pay by cash or check [no swiping check/debit/credit cards] it saves us a ton of money. Not only that, the people who get the around 2% swipe fee are NOBODY good. It’s such a racket. In the last several years, while my check averages have gone up [and I see where places that have a much higher average ticket or booze to boost their sales, it makes sense because consumers tend to spend more when they use a card vs cash…] at a steady rate, almost all of that has translated into higher costs associated with credit card processing. Whereas 4 years ago, about 50% of my transactions were credit cards, now they’re around 75-80%. That also means, I don’t get that money for days. You buy brunch on Friday or Saturday? It’s Tuesday or Wednesday before that’s deposited, usable money for beezy’s. :/ Kind of a pisser how much that changes cash flow dynamics, so, something to consider all you caring souls out there that want us to succeed!

    and yeah- thanks Stewart for being the first [!!] to put this out there.

  11. Cheryl
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I will buy gift cards. ‘Not sure how much yet,,This is not a condition to participate in your request for support. Would you try doing a Tuna Pot Pie? I love them. No one makes them any more. My family would come in for Friday supper. I am so glad to see you reconsider an opportunity for us. I am Also a big fan of breakfast anytime.

  12. Posted October 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    For a $250 or $500 gift card, maybe you could think about a free coffee/beverage/cookie with every meal you purchase with that gift card?
    Or maybe a partnership with another store? So if you get a $250 or $500 gift card, you get 10-15% off every purchase at the Rocket, Ypsi Bicycles, etc. for six months or a year?

  13. bee roll
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    yes, I’d test a tuna pot pie! I make a kick ass tuna casserole and I see no reason that couldn’t get cooked into a crust with a few tweaks!

    for smaller gift cards, an add on like that might cost more than a plate after few visits- but a kickback thank you card to use after the initial investment card was used up could make fiscal sense!

    thanks so much for all the feedback and support so far! It’s very exciting!

  14. Jessi Carrothers
    Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Love Bee and Beezy’s! As an 826michigan volunteer, I appreciate everything Bee does for the community, and as an (at the moment) hungry grad student I love that the food is incredibly delicious.

  15. site admin
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    The story made it to the Ann Arbor News.

    http://www.mlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2014/10/report_beezys_to_begin_serving.html

  16. bee roll
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    thanks to the ann arbor news for picking up the report! We still have about 15 available- I’m so grateful for an enthusiastic community of supporters..

    http://www.mlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2014/10/report_beezys_to_begin_serving.html#incart_story_package

  17. facebook stalker
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Have you seen this?

    http://beta.zipcap.com/beezys

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  1. […] albeit slightly. And I’ve interviewed quite a few of these new folks here… people like Bee Roll, who made life in Ypsi exponentially better by opening Beezy’s, or Lee Azus, who chose to […]

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