Dino's: Feeding Fans And School Kids Alike
Dino's restaurant has been a beloved Ferndale fixture for over a decade. When the recession hit, owner Dean 'Dino' Bach started catering to keep his employees working and, unexpectedly, discovered a whole new business opportunity: providing healthy lunches to school kids.
Dino's Lounge is a Ferndale staple. Opened in September 2002, Dino's is the kind of place that has gained a loyal local following not for its gimmicky appeal or trendiness, but just for being a friendly neighborhood place offering good food and fun times, the kind of place that gained popularity not through vigorous advertising but by word of mouth. Owner Dean ("Dino") Bach is well-known as much for his involvement in the community as for his jovial sense of humor
Dino's regularly hosts various fundraisers and community events, while Bach himself has been involved with the Michigan AIDS Coalition, Ferndale Youth Assistance, and currently serves on the boards of the Ferndale DDA and the Ace Academy Charter School in Highland Park, a strict discipline academy for incarcerated males ages 12-20.
His latest venture is something of an outgrowth of all of the work he has been doing through Dino's over the past decade. Bach recently purchased the old VFW Hall next to the Valentine distillery on Vester Street in Ferndale which he is converting to a large-scale three-shift catering kitchen and banquet facility through which they will cater healthy lunches for several area schools as well as expand their highly in-demand catering services. All of which came about by accident and circumstance.
"We've always been a foodie type of place," Bach says. "We're a from-scratch kitchen. For many years we surprised people with our food and how good it is."
About a year ago Bach spoke with someone from the Kidspace Montessori School in Detroit's New Center neighborhood who was very complimentary about the food at Dino's. She asked if he would be interested in developing a daily healthy organic lunch program at her school. Bach jokes, "I've never said ‘no' to business," so he set out to do his homework on meeting the school's specific guidelines and daily nutrition requirements. "I came up with a menu that would feed these kids better food than what I eat!"
Within weeks of launching the healthy new lunches, the school was receiving glowing feedback from parents. Kids were coming home happy, not crashing from a sugar rush, and were even performing better in school. Almost immediately other schools started coming to Bach asking if he could do the same thing for them.
Not long before this, Dino's had started offering catering and event services. "I started offering catering during the recession just to keep people working," Bach explains. It started out with just an event or two here and there, and has now exploded into a full-blown catering and event planning company regularly booking events for over 100 people. The only downside is that Dino's is only so big, and renting out the whole restaurant for a private party simply isn't an option all the time. It became obvious to Bach that they needed to expand both their dining room and kitchen space, and with the growing demand for his healthy school lunches it seemed like it was finally time to take the leap. Bach made a phone call on a "For Sale" sign on the VFW Hall, bought it, and began renovating it.
"It's a little bit overwhelming to think about," Bach says. "We've been so small for 10 years. Building a restaurant from the ground up, from dirt and sky, is frustrating, and I'm doing it again!" The Hall has been totally gutted and right now Bach is in the process of dealing with banks and contractors and getting all the necessary permits. "It's hard, but if it were easy everyone would do it."
The VFW Hall looks small from the outside, but inside there is 7,000 square feet of empty space, not even half of which will be utilized by the commercial kitchen. "We still have 4,000 square feet to play with," which Bach plans on turning into a combination retail and restaurant space - though he's staying mum on the specifics of the concept for now. He is also looking to build up this quadrant of downtown Ferndale that hasn't yet been built up but exists just on the outskirts of the downtown core. With Valentine next door and the DDA targeting Vester Street for development next, Bach says, "We'll have a little party block!"
Bach is also excited to have a 100-125-person banquet facility that can handle private party overflow, particularly during the busy holiday season. He thinks this will appeal to people because they can host their large parties while still being in downtown Ferndale with all of its walkability to stores and bars that guests can visit before and after.
By fall of 2013 Bach hopes to add 6-10 new schools to his healthy lunch program, which will mean three kitchen shifts working around the clock. Much like at the kitchen at Dino's, everything for the schools is made fresh from scratch with no preservatives. "We try to make it as healthy as possible," he says. While going 100% organic proved to be too cost-prohibitive, he tries to stay as close to organic as possible and continues to serve high-quality, high-nutrition items. Six charter schools in Dearborn want to be part of the pilot program as well as another charter school in Ferndale, the new Naval Academy at St. James Church opening next spring, and possibly also the Ace Academy in Highland Park. And, much like with Dino's, all of this happened by word of mouth.
"My parents tell me, ‘I just can't believe what you're doing in spite of the economy and how bad it has been,'" Bach shares. "[The business is] growing. It's been nice. It has been a vehicle for a lot of people to keep working."