It may seem hard to believe, but it’s been three years since the global COVID-19 pandemic began. One of the hardest-hit industries during the slew of shutdowns and restrictions that followed was also one of our area’s most beloved: restaurants. For many southwest Michigan residents, not to mention the tourists that flock to our towns, our region’s selection of restaurants is one of our biggest benefits. And for the many local residents who own or work in restaurants, it’s a livelihood. When those restaurants were shuttered, it impacted them each individually and the restaurant community as a whole.
Buy Local Berrien! began as an effort of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber, early in the pandemic, to help local businesses, especially restaurants, stay connected with customers. In those early days restaurants used the Buy Local Berrien Facebook group to share information about their specials, new hours, and pandemic-related information about changes to in-person dining. They also used it as a way to test and promote innovative new ideas like take-home family meals and improvised outdoor seating. Residents, eager to support local businesses while also continuing to enjoy meals from their favorite restaurants, enthusiastically used and promoted Buy Local Berrien. Today, the Facebook group is over 18,000 members strong, and the blog at BuyLocalBerrien.com helps to continue spreading the word about our region’s business community.
Why is March Restaurant Month?
In early 2021, almost a year after the start of the pandemic, restaurants were still struggling. The initial 75-day shutdown was followed by confusing capacity restrictions, which were often communicated at the last minute, leaving restaurant owners scrambling to accommodate changing rules but still keep their doors open. Restaurants struggled to find staff, and supply chain issues led to increased costs. The Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber knew that community support for restaurants would be essential, and launched Restaurant Month as a response.
In March of 2021, the Buy Local Berrien Facebook group was used as a way to spread the word about carry-out meal options and get locals excited about trying and sharing those experiences. In March 2022, with shutdowns finally in the rear-view mirror, Restaurant Month was once again recognized as a way to highlight and feature the restaurant community in our region, this time sharing content about the wealth of dining-related experiences that can be had in Berrien County, from coffee shops and cafes, to farm-to-table and fine dining.
Restaurant Month 2023
This year, Restaurant Month is back with a regional approach. We’ll be providing content that highlights restaurants in different areas of Berrien County, demonstrating the variety of culinary experiences that locals can enjoy by traveling just a short distance from home. Whether an elevated taco and torta counter like Anemel in Benton Harbor, a tea room like Apothica Teas in Niles, or a upscale-casual lounge like Gather in Harbert, traveling a little outside your usual stomping grounds can allow you to experience the unique flavor of one of Southwest Michigan’s communities through its people, its surroundings, and of course, its food. Check back weekly to read highlights of dining establishments organized by different areas of the county.
How You Can Participate In Restaurant Month 2023
It’s simple – and fun. First, go out to eat! Use the content at BuyLocalBerrien.com and the CHOW section in your weekly MailMax publication as inspiration to try a new-to-you dining experience, maybe one a bit further away from home or work than you usually travel. Then, find the Buy Local Berrien group on Facebook, and let us know where you ate, WHAT you ate, and what you loved about it. Share a photo, a review of your favorite menu item, or an observation about amazing service you received – the more details the better.
It’s a great month to go out to eat, as well as a great time to go out of your way to support the dining establishments that make our culinary scene possible.