‘Take it to the next level’
Anne Bridenstine’s favorite dish cooked up at The Ample Pantry is a toss-up between the chicken divan and chicken piccata, though it’s hard for her to choose. For Melissa Shufelt it’s the hot chicken salad and beef kabobs.
They’ve been eating there for years. Bridenstine, whose mother started the business in 1982, worked there in high school. Shufelt’s first memory from the restaurant is in high school.
“I grew up here,” says Shufelt.
As of late last week, she owns the take-out and delivery service just off Western Michigan University’s campus that packages complete meals in hallmark cardboard baskets with wooden handles.
“I wanted to make sure it stays the same,” Shufelt says.
It will, and it won’t.
The Ample Pantry will still serve staples including veggie lasagna and filet of beef and two features each day that rotate from a chef’s choice menu of more than two dozen options.
Shufelt wants to expand upon what Bridenstine and her mother began nearly 40 years ago. Patrons can expect more options, not fewer, catering to ever-expanding dietary preferences, like vegan and gluten-free meals.
Gift certificates will be honored still too.
The update to The Ample Pantry will include incorporating more technology, so people can order online instead of calling in or, at the risk of a sell-out of one’s top choice, walking in to order.
The new website will provide more about their menu as well, including details about the area ranchers and farmers where The Ample Pantry currently sources much of its meats and produce, Shufelt says.
All of this places them to expand their market with newer generations. One prime target: parents of area college students who want to make sure their kids are eating well.
Pandemic pending, Shufelt also wants to see crowds sitting in their nooks of dining tables during lunchtime again.
But it wasn’t COVID that led Bridenstine to sell.
The Ample Pantry is as pandemic-proof as a restaurant can be: limited concerns about causing outbreaks because it’s dine out and delivery only. No staffing issues, because their workers have been with them for years; retirees mostly drive the delivery vehicles with The Ample Pantry logos on the sides.
Business has been pretty good, six days a week filled with a steady rotation of orders from regulars.
“To take it to the next level,” like upgrading the point-of-sale system and bringing new business perspectives to meet the restaurant customer where they will be at over the next 40 years, it needed “new energy,” Bridenstine says. “It seemed like the right time.”
It’s not her first big move with The Ample Pantry that has paid off. She and her brother Bill Farrell took over from their mother Phyllis Farrell in 1998.
They stopped doing private receptions, sold the property at Stadium and 11th Street where a Bronson Healthcare Group facility now stands, and moved the house from there where The Ample Pantry first operated to another location where Bridenstine and her husband now live.
It has been in a stand-alone location on West Michigan Avenue near Drake Road ever since. The kitchen may have changed, but the meals coming out of it hasn’t really.
“We tweaked things, added things, mildly, from day one,” Bridenstine says. She points to the lemon bars, red wine vinaigrette dressing, and other items that are so synonymous with The Ample Pantry meal orders that they aren’t even listed on the menu. They just come in the box – and there would be an outcry if that changed. “If it works, it works,” she says.
Shufelt says her “heart kind of sank” when she read a social media post earlier this year by Bridenstine that she was going to sell. There had been too many local restaurants that closed recently, she thought, “we can’t lose The Ample Pantry.”
So she and her husband Dave, who also co-own the Kalamazoo Football Club, began talks with Bridenstine. They have known each other since their kids were in elementary school together 15 years ago.
On Tuesday evening, the two families had a ceremonial hand-over. Phyllis Farrell, Bridenstine’s mother, was on hand as well.
“I feel responsible to keep things, her traditions,” Shufelt says. “It’s a legacy for her.”
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