PORTAGE, MI – Brann’s Steakhouse and Grille in Portage has struggled in recent years but the coronavirus crisis, which led to a ban on dine-in service at bars and restaurants, is the last straw.
The restaurant, near The Crossroads mall, opened over 20 years ago. It closed for good on Monday, March 23.
The Brann family’s other eight restaurants in Michigan are on solid financial footing and expect to survive emergency action by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to temporarily close many businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Over 1,300 in Michigan have tested positive for the coronavirus with 15 dead.
Tommy Brann said he understood the reasons for the closings but said many other restaurants and workers will be hurting in coming days and weeks. He has seen a lot of tears.
“That’s what hurts,” Brann said.
“I feel very sad for letting my employees down but we just couldn’t afford to keep (the Portage restaurant) open – this was the final blow,” he said.
About 35 workers lost jobs in Portage.
Many others have been laid off at other Brann’s restaurants – most are in the Grand Rapids area – but will get their jobs back when the restaurants re-open.
His workers include a woman who has worked at his South Division Avenue business for 43 years – she volunteered to come in and help with take-out orders – and young mothers with young children.
The take-out orders help a little but sit-down restaurants can’t compete with businesses like Culver’s Restaurant that are set up with drive-through windows.
These are difficult times for all, Brann said.
“This is uncharted territory for all restaurant owners and employees. I never would have thought about this in a million years.”
He said that he and generations of family in the business are confident things will get turned around. His brother, Johnny Brann, has invested in a massive renovation of his restaurant on Leonard Street NW.
“Today, (closing the Portage business) is sad. We hate to do it but it’ll make our company stronger,” he said.
He said it was difficult to go into the restaurants and see only a couple of workers, no customers. But they will be back, he said.
Here’s why he’s confident: “We’re not letting my dad down.”
His father, John Brann, started the Stag Bar in 1941 at Oakes Street and South Division Avenue.
A draft beer was a nickel. A dime bought a shot of whiskey. The elder Brann and his boys worked long, hard hours. Every day. He opened Brann’s Steakhouse in 1960.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Tommy Brann said.
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