No matter how much time she spends there, Stafford’s Pier Restaurant General Manager Jody Ewbank never grows tired of her “office.” It’s easy to understand why: her workspace is mostly the dining and kitchen areas of downtown Harbor Springs’ only waterfront dining destination, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Ewbank says she truly treasures mingling with patrons, hearing their feedback, and working with a dedicated staff she has chosen with care — all while taking in picturesque views of Little Traverse Bay.
“People say to me, ‘my gosh, you have to work so much, especially in summer,’ ” she says. “My response is to look out at the water and say, ‘but this is my office.’ I love interacting with customers and listening to how they appreciate our top-notch service, menu, and hospitality, and we have the best view in the world.”
One of seven Stafford’s Hospitality lodging and dining properties in northern Michigan, the building was constructed on original pilings over the harbor in 1935. Dudley’s Deck, named after retired Stafford’s Hospitality President Dudley Marvin, offers one of the state’s best outdoor waterfront dining experiences and puts guests close to the water and the boats in the harbor.
Inside are three dining areas with décor that reflects the area’s maritime heritage. The Pier’s Pointer Room overlooks Harbor Springs’ historic yacht basin and specializes in fine, yet relaxed, dining. Window walls that open completely, part of a major 2016 renovation, let patrons feel the bay breezes even though they’re dining inside.
The Chart Room and Wheelhouse Lounge offer more casual environments, and the Wheelhouse features a 12-tap system for both microbrews and wines.
“The different areas we have allow us to offer an ideal place for anyone wanting a traditional bar and grill dining experience, for people who want to grab a meal and take it home, and for those seeking upscale, but not formal, dining,” Ewbank says.
The Pointer Room was constructed soon after Stafford’s took over the property and is located in a part of the building that was once a boathouse for three water taxis.
While Stafford’s Pier has always been known for its fresh seafood offerings — among other dishes, drinks, and desserts — its menu began transitioning to its current seafood grill theme with the hiring of Executive Chef Rob Sargent in 2016.
The New England native grew up appreciating that area’s famous seafood and attended the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Sargent and his wife, Maria, moved to Petoskey in 2002 and he held positions at several northern Michigan restaurants, including stints as executive chef at Sage inside Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey and Barrel Back Restaurant in Walloon Lake, before joining Stafford’s.
“Rob is certainly a fish man and we’re fortunate to have him,” says Ewbank, a Macomb County native who joined Stafford’s in 1999 and has been GM since 2009. “There are so many seafood dishes we take pride in, such as walleye, that we serve on a regular basis, and freshly-shucked oysters from the eastern part of the country.”
Depending on the season, seafood lovers can also indulge in scallops, whitefish, salmon, fried perch, and fish and chips made with haddock. Shrimp, scallops, salmon, or calamari can be added to Stafford’s Mediterranean linguine, and fish sandwiches can be prepared with walleye or whitefish.
“Our diver scallops from the East Coast are phenomenal, with the difference being that they’re not caught in a net, but picked by divers from the coral,” Ewbank notes. “Our Lake Superior whitefish is especially popular.”
Among the non-seafood options are steaks as well as pork chops that come from Kurobuta pork, a more flavorful and tender cut of meat from Berkshire pigs. Also popular is the Pier burger on a baked brioche bun.
“There are menu items that remain all year, but in the fall we feature a variety of squashes, and we use different sauces, depending on the time of year,” Ewbank says. “In early spring, we’ll have freshly-harvested morel mushrooms.”
Ewbank, the wife of Stafford’s Hospitality President and CEO Brian Ewbank, began her tenure at the company as it was beginning to gradually relax some formal dining rules and turn Stafford’s Pier into a more casual, yet still classy, establishment.
“They had just dropped the requirement of men having to wear suit jackets in the dining room in 1997,” Ewbank recalls. “Now, when people ask about our dress code, I tell them all I ask is that you’re dressed.”
The year 2016 marked a watershed moment for one of the state’s most popular waterfront eateries.
Not only did the hiring of Sargent usher in a revamped menu, but a significant renovation project was completed. Doors were installed to provide a more direct path from the indoor dining area to Dudley’s Deck, and an exterior deck with a full bar was added to increase the amount of seating closer to the water.
Updates: A captain’s table accommodating parties of 12 to14 is available. Also, diners now have the option of receiving a text message when a table is available. Weekend brunch begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Stafford’s Pier Restaurant