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Rewriting the Menu

Jackie Corser Helps Open Farm-to-Table Restaurant in Monroe

After owning two Big Boy restaurants in the Monroe, Mich., area for many years, Jackie Corser ’14 and her husband, Fred, decided it was time to “rewrite the menu” of their business.

“We knew two years before (making a change) that we were going to change the concept into a more personalized owner-
ship without a franchise,” Corser said.

Before that change happened, however, she went back to school. She completed her associate’s degree from the culinary program at Monroe County Community College, then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Siena Heights University’s MCCC campus. The Corsers sold one Big Boy franchise, remodeled the other, and partnered with George and Maria Darany to open the Public House Food & Drink in downtown Monroe. The revamped Big Boy is now a farm-to-table restaurant and bar that serves locally grown and sourced food.

“The concept was well-accepted by our community, as well as the outside community,” said Corser, who serves as chef as well as co-owner of Public House. “It was something in our hearts that we wanted to do, and so we were going to try it. … Because of all our experiences, we have the ability and all the restaurant experience to do something cool and creative. That’s how Public House was conceived.”

Borrowing from the British concept of a “public house” where people gather and socialize, the restaurant that opened in July 2014 features made-from-scratch dishes that have “a Southern flair” with an American comfort food focus, Corser said.

The farm-to-table approach reflects Corser’s focus on the environment, which she said is very important to her.

“I’m really in touch with the earth,” she said. “I think it’s really important we keep it safe. We try to buy local and try to keep everything in the community as much as we can.”

However, melding that philosophy with a business concept presents some potential concerns.

“One of the challenges you are up against is finding the right purveyors to supply food that you know is local,” Corser said. “We have to know that it gets passed on as we eat it.”

Corser said she used her culinary education to help shape the menu. However, she said the operation of the restaurant is a “team effort.” She said each co-owner can step in and help in almost any area of the restaurant when needed. That cross-training approach is ingrained in their employees as well.

“If you know how to do everything, you can jump in,” she said.

Community involvement is another ingredient to the restaurant’s success. Being able to seat up to 100 or so people, Public House hosts many community events and groups, including the popular Thursday night jazz series.

“We try to draw to community,” Corser said. “That’s been real good for us. … Being involved in groups helps generate business.”

She said education is the key to being successful in business. In fact, Corser credited the business and leadership courses she took at Siena Heights as helping her become a better manager.

“When you’re here, you have to know what to do,” Corser said. “It has to have a system. Although I had that, (my Siena education) just strengthened what I had.”

Corser said she is also using her education to teach at the Toledo Restaurant Training Center to help future culinarians achieve their goals.

What’s her advice to others looking to get into the restaurant industry?

“Do a lot of research,” Corser said. “Get knowledge from an educational institute that is going to help you be successful. … Talk to other people and ask them what the roadblocks were, what were the positives? Work hard. You’re going to work 80 hours a week. You are going to cry, and you’re going to be happy, and you’re going to struggle until you get the right people who understand you and what you are looking to achieve. And have a unique concept.”

What is her favorite item on the menu?

“(I like) the salmon. The chicken avocado sandwich. The eggplant. I like all of our stuff because we wrote the menu,”
she said, laughing.

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