Goodbye Tapawingo

Michael Patrick Shiels, the award-winning morning show host on WJML AM, recently interviewed Michigan’s House Republican Leader, State Representative Kevin Elsenheimer, of Bellaire; with Sally Zarafonetis, President of

The interview was transcribed by “MPS in the Morning” Chief of Staff Amanda K. Wall. 

MPS – “The news to somebody like you who has a website like, and who obviously has a great interest in the culinary arts, must be desperately disappointed to hear that Tapawingo will not open this summer.”
SZ- “Well I would say disappointed, not desperately, though, because there are some fabulous restaurants in Michigan. One thing I would like to point out is that Tapawingo led the way in the kind of food they offered in Northern Michigan.  They were especially interesting because they were in a small town – Ellsworth – and it became a destination restaurant, which is kind of unprecedented. They were covered in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and many, many other publications during their time.
I feel very good that they are leaving on a high note and the fact that they have decided they do not want to compromise what they are doing, which is providing the best in food and fresh quality.  But they see a trend that is changing and I have heard that from other restaurants around the state who say that just because of the economy people are going more casual and not spending as much money. They still want to go out and they still want to have a good time, but they are cutting back a little bit.  Restaurants are going to have to adjust if they want to stay in business at least in the short term.”

MPS – “Representative Elsenheimer, you live in that area, have you spent much time at Tapawingo?”
KE – “I’ve been there. I am, perhaps, a little more desperately disappointed as it is a cultural touchstone in northern lower Michigan. It really was the advent of the whole new food movement in Northern Michigan and the whole high-end cuisine movement. It is one of those places where, no matter where you are in the United States if you run into people who enjoy food, they know Tapawingo and they know the little town of Ellsworth, Michigan with a population of 200 or 300 people because that fantastic restaurant is located there. To lose it is not only a sign of the economic times but a real loss of one of the gems of Michigan, so it’s a disappointing day.”

MPS – “You have sophisticated people who come either live in your area or come from places like Chicago and Detroit and this restaurant was known all over the nation. In fact it drew people like Mario Batali and Emeril Lagassi to sing its praises.”
KE- ‘It was and we do certainly have wonderful restaurant options in Northern Michigan – many whose names may be as well known as Tapawingo someday – but there was something about that place. It was the kind of place, as you say, that was a destination. People came there, they planned vacations to come there, if they were within 75 miles of the little town of Ellsworth they found a way to get there and it’s unfortunate that this year they won’t be opening. Now let’s hope that someone decides to take up the banner and run with it and keep the place going. I think that your discussion this morning is correct the economic times have made it difficult to go to a high end restaurant where you are going to be spending some money for a dinner.  And let’s also hope that you are correct that we will be having more casual dining out there.”

MPS – “We will look for more new restaurant options at great Sally Zarafonetis thank you very much. Your website just started what’s it all about?”
SZ -“Well it’s the best of food and travel along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, from Mackinac Island down to the southern border. On it you will find the best restaurants, the best places to stay – one of a kind – many farm-to-table restaurants that people don’t know about. That is why I was saying I wasn’t entirely disappointed because there are fabulous restaurants still available. I want to promote that.  Also there are videos of different places; wineries, microbreweries, which are some of the best in the country that really have a long way to travel as far as understanding from the rest of the nation. There is also a blog. I am hoping people will get on and check it out. It is organized regionally so you can pick your place and touch a button and these things will come up.”

April 12, 2009
“Goodbye Tapawingo”

Originally printed in the Talk of the North

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