Restaurants welcomes students during hectic “swell week”
While sitting at a small table between walls of chattering patrons at the Italian Oven, Jordan Adesi was stunned to find that the spaghetti sauce tasted remarkably similar to his grandparents’ family recipe from Italy.
“It tastes almost exactly the same,” Adesi said.
Adesi and his father Joe, who both live in Toledo, stopped at the Italian Oven, 2336 S. Mission St., to get something to eat after a two-day baseball camp at Central Michigan University to see if Adesi wants to play for CMU once he graduates from high school.
“If he decides to go to [CMU], I’ll have to bring my wife here,” Joe said.
The Adesis’ were amongst the hordes of people coming into town on Friday as a part of what man local businesses refer to as “swell week,” when Mount Pleasant “swells” with people as students come back to school and businesses become crammed with patrons.
Italian Oven considers their busiest time to be from Thursday to Sunday. General Manager Una Ebert said swell week is crucial for the restaurant.
“It’s our busiest week of the whole year,” she said. “We’re making a lot of news friends, because we’ve got a lot of parents that are bringing freshmen students up, and they have never been here before and so they give us a try. Then we make friends for the next four years.”
Ebert said the eatery also receives many returning visitors in addition to new ones.
“It’s an important week for us because we are seeing a lot of new faces and we get a lot of returning students,” she said. “It’s like, ‘We got to go to the Italian Oven again, that’s where we always go when we come back,’” Ebert said.
Mallory Goldner, a manager at the Italian Oven said they have so many customers during swell any returning staff is expected to come back a little early to beat the rush.
“Any of the staff members who were gone for the summer and come back for school, we have come back for swell week,” Goldner said.
Former CMU student Mike Miller, an assistant general manager for Buffalo Wild Wings, 1904 S. Mission St., said all staff members – many of them CMU students – have reported for duty.
Miller believes the Mount Pleasant store’s weekly sales record will be broken by the end of Sunday, August 24.
“There’s no way we won’t break it,” Miller said.
Steve Sura, general manager of Mexican restaurant La Senorita, 1516 S. Mission St., said they have hired “about 20 to 25” students over the last couple weeks.
Sura said though the last few days have been busy, it’s been worth it.
“It’s a lot of work and it’s challenging, but it has worked out well for us,” Sura said.
Shelby Township senior Mary Kate Zinn, who was having dinner with her parents, Phil and Mary Beth, before the school year starts said she often stops at Italian Oven during the rush.
“I come here a lot during the school year,” Zinn said.
Zinn said the restaurant gives her a chance to just sit down and talk to people, including her friends and her parents.
“And they put down the phones [here],” Mary Beth said, referring to the cell phone sitting untouched on the table by her daughter’s hand.
Ionia senior Kendra Peabody, a server and crew trainer, said while swell week can get extremely busy, crew members try to help each other when things become too much for one to handle.
“It’s stressful and it’s hectic, but we’re always staffed for it and we always make light of the fact that we’re so busy, so everybody tries to have a good time,” Peabody said.
Peabody recalled being assisted around this time last year.
“I started in May last year, so it was my first swell week,” Peabody said. “Everybody was so helpful towards me, like if I had a big section or not, and that’s usually how everybody is here. Everybody does their part.”
Kayla Crawford, an employee for two years, agrees.
“We’re a cohesive team,” she said. “We all know that we’re in it together and that once you get to a certain point you just have to laugh. We really are one big family.”
Over a plate of Pizza Fritta, a chocolate-covered pizza dough desert, Lisa Batawi, who lives in Raleigh, NC, said she was surprised to find a place like the Italian Oven. She had just helped move her daughter, Alina, to Alma College.
The two, along with her son Luc, were looking for a nice restaurant to relax and enjoy.
“It’s a little gem hidden in a strip mall,” Batawi said.