There is an intoxicating energy emanating from the streets of Downtown Saginaw that is comprised of equal elements of encouragement, hopefulness, and affirmation as the ongoing renaissance of the city’s historically core business district continues to evolve, most recently with the long-anticipated opening of the Bancroft Wine & Martini Bar along with it’s neighboring compliment, the Bancroft Coffee & Tea Café, located at 101 S. Washington in the heart of downtown Saginaw.
Upon entering the doorway of the Cafe, the meticulously crafted renovation of this architectural jewel literally takes one’s breath away; and the early morning collection of people eating pastry and sipping an aromatic array of freshly brewed coffees is symbolic of a fresh new wave of commerce and interaction permeating the community.
Decades ago the Bancroft was Saginaw’s largest and most prestigious hotel – it’s Crystal Ballroom serving as the region’s premier site for hosting an event. And today – thanks to the visionary efforts of Lakeshore Management - the Bancroft is back to serve as a multi-faceted hub for housing, business, leisure, and commerce – and a linchpin to the on-going evolution of the Downtown area that includes the Dow Event Center, Temple Theatre, Castle Museum, Hoyt Library, First Merit Event Park, and CMU Medical School, with more new entities looming on the near horizon.
According to Executive Director Levi Hatter, the pivotal goal of both the Café & Martini Bar is to “earn our place in the fabric of this community. Instead of simply being a business seeking black ink, we want to find a chord and strike it within the community. Our goal is bring an affordable product served professionally to our customer’s plate; and it isn’t a question of whether we are busy or slow, we will always strive to bring extra effort to the plate and the people we serve.”
Since opening only a few weeks ago, both the Café & Martini Bar have enjoyed an incredible response from the public, with some customers remembering the grandeur of the past heyday of this storied structure, and others eager to embrace it’s meticulous restoration.
“The renovation has been going on for two years,” reflects Hatter, “and we were held strictly to the preservation of the original structure. Lots of effort went into this in terms of fitting square pegs into round holes, but whatever we could leave intact we did. The Terrazzo floors from 1916 are still original, which is somewhat of a misnomer, seeing as the floor came in after the hotel experienced a fire at the turn of the century – and all the tables and chairs are customized to suit the ambiance of the restored décor.”
According to Chris Taylor, the carpenter hired to hand craft and stain a mixture of woods and chase down a color scheme to compliment the natural woodwork, “I was able to take the raw materials and work from there. Some spots needed special attention and took more time to properly render than others.” And gauging by his work, if society still lasts his work could well be around for another hundred years.
As for the menu, the Café is open for breakfast & lunch and serves a traditional breakfast sandwich of seasoned egg, ham, bacon and Colby jack cheese; a Mediterranean breakfast sandwich with baby spinach, kalamata olives, feta crumble and Colby jack cheese at a reasonable price point of $4.00. Gourmet yogurt parfaits and steel-cut oatmeal are also available; while lunch items vary from Tuscan Chicken and Fajita Beef, to feisty fetal chicken.
“We started with a limited menu and it will be expanding,” explains Levi. “When we opened we wanted to make certain items that we knew we could promptly execute and turnaround, as we know people have a limited time at lunch before they need to return to work. For the dinner menu in the Martini Bar, that’s an entirely different process. We reset the kitchen and cook a menu meant for people to slow down with and enjoy. This presented a challenge, but we have an excellent Chef named Alan Lane who is a ‘lifer’. The restaurant business is in his blood and this is one of his first platforms carrying the title of ‘Chef’; and he is one of the few people in this world that earned that title a long time ago.”
According to Levi, thus far the most popular items are the Breakfast Sandwiches along with fresh salads featuring either a fresh spring mix or baby spinach. “We won’t serve iceberg lettuce and our hopes are to utilize as much local product as possible. We aren’t going to be a farm to table restaurant, because there is an excellent one getting ready to open across the street that will do that very thing; but our goal is offer a selection of menu items that people find engaging.”
In terms of coffees, the Bancroft Blend is the Café’s signature coffee. “It comes from Metropolis out of Chicago and the YPN group helped us develop it,” explains Levi. “They don’t roast the beans until we place the order and none of our beans last longer than a 2-week expiration date. Plus we offer fair trade and single origin coffees from countries like Kenya and El Salvador. But if the product is not on our shelf it’s because the crop is gone. We focus upon quality.”
As for the Martini Bar, the nighttime menu is mainly tapas oriented and focused upon small plates. “You won’t come here to get a steak, potato, or salad,” reflects Levi, “but we excel at a lot of smaller plate items that you can order and split between a party. We have a vast array of mixed drinks, wine, and craft beers, so we wanted to have food that reached out to compliment the drinks. We don’t pair food to wine per se, but our staff will make suggestions if people want. For example, we have an assortment of 10 cheeses and suggest a wine that might compliment it, such as a Riesling to go with one of our Fontana or Applewood Blue cheeses.”
According to Levi, price points are competitive and comparable to Applebee’s or Chili’s. “We offer prohibition hand crafted drinks for $9.00 or you can pay $4.00 for specials or Happy Hour prices on certain wines. Not that we can’t do math, but we didn’t want to bait and switch people and start with low price points and then raise them. We want a hometown bar with a fair price to engage people.”
“But in terms of our dinner menu, we tell people that the best thing on the menu doesn’t exist yet,” smiles Levi. “The question is what do people want? We have no rules or restraints upon us, so if we can perform it we will. We won’t do eggs over easy with toasted bacon, because 50 restaurants in town already do that well. But for something a little different we are the place to go.”
Presently the staff consists of 15 people, but when all is said and done there will be jobs enjoyed by 30 new people in rotation as the two establishments evolve. “I believe we are attracting the best people in the industry,” reflects Levi,” and are taking a selective and metered approach to our hiring. We want the right people to compliment the chemistry that we are pulling together.”
As for entertainment, Levi says that while their top goal is weaving themselves into the public fabric, his number two goal is to offer live acoustic music at the Martini Bar. “Obviously, we can’t put a band in here because it would be too loud, but I would like to feature acoustic or solo singer/songwriters and acoustic jazz for certain. I think we’re about a month away from addressing that specifically. Live music will be one of the cruses of our business.”
Regarding the historic ‘Crystal Ballroom’, it will be open and available for rental and use by the public towards the end of October, as it is still under construction. “Response to that is literally overwhelming, but we’ll be ready by October 10th for the grand opening of the entire building by then.”
Thus far feedback from the public-at-large has exceeded expectations three-fold. “The response from the public has been overwhelming and 90 percent positive,” notes Levi, who is currently immersing himself within the local culture and climate of the region. With experience that dates back to his early youth, Hatter has been in the restaurant business all his adult life.
“I’ve owned restaurants and consulted with restaurants and spent a vast majority of my time in the Southern part of the United States in the Deep South,” he relates. “This is my first time north and this is home for me now. I’ve spent time in Arizona and Texas and it has been a challenge learning this new climate. Most of my attention has been absorbed behind these walls, but my primary focus is going to outside of these walls and involving myself within the community very soon.”
“Honestly, the most challenging component thus far has been finding our feet and getting to a point where we can do things quickly and efficiently without thinking about them, but the only thing that cures a learning curve is time, and I feel now that we are finally open and our reception from the public has been so strong, there are not a lot of challenges we face going forward – only good, positive, and strong improvements for and with the public as we move together into the future.”
The Bancroft Coffee & Tea Café is open from 7 AM – 3 PM six days per week and 8 AM to 3 PM on Sunday. The Bancroft Wine & Martini Bar is open every day at 4 PM seven days a week until 11 PM; Saturdays & Sundays until 2 AM. For more information phone 989-799-0011.