Last Thursday, restaurants throughout the area were alive with entertainment. There was a reason for that.
Countless restaurants donated 15 percent of total sales on June 10 to the communities hit by the tornados on June 5. Others held their own fundraisers.
Some of the local restaurants participating in the June 10 list provided by Millbury resident Ronda Friesel of SSOE Group were Luckies Barn and Grill in Oregon, JoJo’s Pizza in Walbridge, Moodies Coney Island in Northwood, Burnsey’s in Oregon, and Sonic in Oregon. Yeeha’s in Oregon also planned a similar fundraiser on June 17.
Luckies Barn and Grill raised $3,500 of about $22,000 raised by the restaurants on Friesel’s list. Besides the 15 percent donation, owners Geoff and Melissa Kies entertained guests with two magicians, a dunk tank, and the restaurant held raffles.
Singers Chris Shutters, father and son Frankie and Bobbie May, and John Borile all entertained with live patio jams for free. The affair lasted all day and all night, and the owners said they and employees rarely had a chance to stop and rest.
“I was running around like a crazy person. It was amazing how many people came out,” Melissa Fries said. “People were waiting two hours for a table, and they didn’t care. They were not angry. I don’t even have words. It was just amazing. At 11:01 a.m., people were in the door and we had a couple hours where it was kind of steady and at five o’clock, it was like, ‘Boom.’ It was crazy. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is so great.’
“Everyone was out of here by 12:30 that night. It just cleared out and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what just happened here?’ It was fun. There were families, kids watching the magician, listening to the music, and doing the dunk tank. It was great.”
In attendance throughout the day were victim’s families, including Michael Granata, the step-father of 20-year-old Bailey Bowman. After driving State Route 795 on June 5, a Category EF4 tornado swept up both Bowman and her boyfriend Gerald Lathrop as they tried to get into the Lake Township administration building. Bowman did not survive.
Granata gave a speech inside the restaurant and outside on the patio to guests to show his appreciation.
Also in attendance were Ted Kranz’s family members. Kranz was outside his Millbury residence starting the generator for his sump-pump and retrieving the family dog when he was killed. According to news reports, his family was in the basement of his home as the tornado struck.
It didn’t take long for the Kies to determine they were doing a fundraiser.
“Initially, Monday morning early, my husband is saying, ‘We’re doing a fundraiser. We’re e-mailing all the TV stations, all the radio stations,’ and like literally it was on the scroll Monday morning that Luckies is doing this,” Melissa said. “Then, TV stations we contacted had contacted other restaurants and said we have two restaurants that want to do it, and then other restaurants wanted to do it. It was so great. I’m so glad that we got it together and did it so quick. It was amazing.
“I know other restaurants like Mancy’s did this, but we’re out where everybody lives and this happened to our customers.”
Luckies employee Casey Parker, who was caught in the tornado visiting friends in Millbury, said she could not believe the response.
“I was working that night. It was amazing how many people were there,” Parker said. “What is good about it, it’s just amazing how the other restaurants came through, too. Geoff and Melissa are good people. They are. I’ve worked there five and a half years on and off at different places, and they are good people.”
Friesel said Burnsey’s donated 15 percent of its sales directly to Mainstreet Church, Walbridge, which is doing tornado relief, helping organize volunteers, providing food, shelter, and clothing for anyone who may need it.
Ray’z Café, Mel-O-Crème
Ray’z Café raised $15,000 on June 12 with a chicken dinner, silent auctions, and side raffles. Bands Buddy Luv and the Pit Bulls and Red Bones entertained at no cost.
The chicken dinners, which were donated, started at noon and were sold out by 3 p.m. But the fundraiser continued.
“The people that had come for chicken dinners, they just donated money anyways,” said manager Loretta Paul. “It was very much giving. People were walking in, people driving up and handing money to the girls out front. They just wanted to help, and I’ll tell you what, they came together and helped.”
Paul said guests included tornado victims and their families. Funds raised went to the Ottawa County Relief Fund set up at GenoaBank. The café wasted no time in finding out who needed the funds.
“We’re going through Genoa Merchants and Clay Township trustees and insurance agencies. We’re getting a list of all the people that were affected and we’re going from there to get the money to them,” Paul said.
Bob and Pat Reino, the owners of Mel-O-Crème at Woodville Road, Millbury, were approached by their own employees, 14 young women, who wanted to donate their tips.
“The girls have their little tip jars there, and the girls said that instead of giving the tips we’re going to save it all and give it to those that need it to benefit the victims of the tornado We’re going to disperse that according to the needs. They saved it all for the community,” Bob Reino said.
Over a six-day period, the girls raised $4,000. The Reinos matched that with $4,000 of their own money, and then they gave another $1,000 each to the Lake Township Fire Police, Lake Township Police, and Lake Schools.
“People were extremely generous. They (employees) all gave up their tips and people put in more than normal for the tip jar. They were dropping the large bills in and it accumulated rather quickly. I mean, we’re talking five’s, ten’s, lots of $20 bills, many fifties, and we had some $100 bills go in there,” Reino said.
Bob Reino says all donations will stay within Wood and Ottawa County.
“They are going to divide it up because one of the girls lives in Ottawa County, and we get a lot of customers from Wood County and Ottawa County, too. They wanted to divide it up between the two communities,” Reino said.
“That’s what the girls wanted. They wanted to make sure it stayed here. They didn’t want it to go to an organization that may ship it wherever. That’s why they are doing it to benefit directly local residents. I’m proud, and I have told them that.”