Building community

Married couple Joe and Shelley Hart are the new owners of the old Gracie’s restaurant, now called the NL Hornets Nest, 9483 Genesee St. in New Lothrop.

NEW LOTHROP — In January, married couple Joe and Shelley Hart purchased the one-time Gracie’s restaurant in the heart of New Lothrop — an iconic business housed inside a landmark building — and renamed it the NL Hornets Nest after the high school sports team.

Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t so great. Just after the Harts put together their first order to purchase food and beverages, COVID-19 hit and the state-ordered lockdown happened. They were unable to open their bar/restaurant, 9483 Genesee St.

“We just wanted to do something different and fun for our community,” Joe Hart said. “We wanted to give them a place to to to eat, drink and have some fun. (The shutdown) was devastating.”

The couple put the Hornets Nest on hold for months, until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed indoor bars to open June 22. The Hornets Nest was instantly swamped with business, the Harts said. In addition to homemade dishes, the eatery was planning to offer unique forms of entertainment such as comedians, murder mysteries, poker nights and Bingo.

But only days later a spike in coronavirus cases prompted a second shutdown of indoor bars.

The Harts said they don’t want to give up on their dream, but business is currently “very slow,” employees are hard to come by, supplies can be difficult to purchase amid the pandemic and some folks are still nervous about dining indoors.

“We are asking for people’s help and support during this unprecedented time,” Joe Hart said. “We’re here for the community and we want to do what’s best for them and what they want.”

Customers can rest easy that at the Hornets Nest, the Harts, manager Michele Bullard and server Kathy Hart are following CDC guidelines, including spacing between tables and employee masks.

Want local sports? The Harts are working with New Lothrop Area Public Schools to live-stream or play tapes of local high school sports games at the Hornets Nest; it’s in keeping with a longtime tradition of Hornets fans going to the old Gracie’s before and after games.

The Harts know all about that tradition because they were both born and raised in New Lothrop, and reside there now. Years ago, Shelley Hart worked as a waitress at Gracie’s. Joe Hart’s mother managed the second Gracie’s on M-13 for 20 years, and also worked at the New Lothrop location.

Watershed Creek, the restaurant that took over Gracie’s in early 2018, lasted only about a year. Joe Hart, working as a safety manager for a trucking company out of an office across the street, said he’d look over at the now-closed eatery every day and longed to make it his own.

“They’re just hometown people who know what local people want and need,” Kathy Hart said. “They’re not some corporate restaurant; they’re rotating homemade specials on a daily basis.”

Until business picks up, lunch is out and the dinner menu is limited to wraps, salads, chicken dinners, fish, shrimp and pizza. A game room featuring a shuffleboard, pool table, dart boards and cornhole will be opened as soon as state restrictions are lifted, the Harts said. A banquet room is available for larger parties.

Joe Hart, a retired UPS driver, said with the community’s support the Hornets Nest is bound to become as busy as, well, a hornet’s nest.

“The community is behind us 100 percent. The townfolks want it,” he said. “We believe we’re going to make it.”

“Dueling Pianos,” an interactive evening featuring musician George Winters, is set for Thursday. For more information, call (810) 638-2009.

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