Since 2010, owners Mike and Stephanie Karas have welcomed guests to the Salt & Pepper Savory Grill and Pub in Holland, Michigan. We had the chance to speak with Mike about what drives the restaurant’s continuing popularity.
If you had to describe the restaurant in a few words, what would they be?
I would call it “upscale casual.” The decor is a little nicer than your average pub, but it’s still very comfortable. It’s the kind of place where a truck driver is sitting next to a CEO and everybody feels comfortable. One guy is having a business meeting, and one guy is eating between shifts—that was what we were shooting for.
The restaurant seems to have a strong emphasis on hospitality. Where does that come from?
I was in the hotel business for many years. I had a mentor who taught me early on that you can have a place with the best food in town, but if you don’t offer hospitality—if you don’t make people feel welcome—they will not come. People want to have their soul fed. We ask every employee we interview, “What’s the difference between service and hospitality?” There’s no wrong answer, but what we tell them is, “You can get service from a vending machine, but you get hospitality from human beings who like to serve people and make them feel comfortable.”
How would you describe your menu?
It’s an adventurous American pub menu—a little bit out of the box, but nothing that’s going to scare people. From the bar, we served 6,500 bottles of wine last year. These are not pretentious bottles, but mainly value-driven. We also have 24 different beers on draft, mostly from local Michigan microbreweries.
What are your most popular dishes?
We only make our prime rib four nights a week, but people tell us it is the best in town. We also make a great burger. We cook them a little differently: flame-kissed on the grill and then infrared-finished, which locks in the juices. And we make them from Certified Angus Beef® chuck burger meat from Sysco.
What are some of your own favorites on the menu?
We make a pretzel-crusted chicken breast, which is hand-breaded and served with a Dijon-cheddar cheese sauce. It’s one of our best-selling entrées. We also have a hand-breaded chicken breast sandwich with applewood smoked bacon and pepper jack cheese on a pretzel bun that is just delicious. That is our second-most-popular sandwich; the biggest seller is the shaved prime rib (a French dip, really) with brandy-caramelized onions and melted brick cheese.
What items do you typically source from Sysco?
We buy about 95 percent of our inventory from Sysco. I’ve been a Sysco customer for 25 years, starting when I was in the hotel business; they have consistently offered good products and fair pricing. I had the same sales rep for 23 years, and this is a smaller market, so it becomes very relational. I know everyone from the president to the truck drivers. Our current Sales Consultant is also great; we feel like he is on our side and there to help.
In terms of the product, we buy great quality Certified Angus Beef, minimum-aged 30 days, spec’d just for us, and I think we have some of the best beef in town. We buy all-natural, never-frozen chicken, and that has been a terrific product for a long time. Their produce, dairy—it’s all been exceptional.