Traverse City Record-Eagle

Well-Being

October 7, 2010

Senior Focus: Restauranteurs pay back

Every year businesses extend their generosity into their communities through charitable giving. But what's behind this giving?

For the Drossart family, putting on a dinner to raise funds for a new Traverse City Senior Center was a way to repay their senior clientele for their patronage.

Stanley and Connie Drossart's Cottage Cafe, 420 Munson Ave. in Traverse City, will host its sixth annual Chicken Dinner from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. All proceeds will benefit the Traverse City Senior Center building fund.

Advance tickets for the chicken dinner are $8, available at the Senior Center and at the Cottage Café. Tickets at the door will be $10.

"Being in business, you are always being approached for some donation …," Connie Drossart said. "But you are approached so much that you can't do it all. We had more interest in helping the Senior Center, because most of our local clientele are seniors. We wanted to give back to them. They come in and keep us alive, giving to us, and it was our gift to give back to them."

Stanley Drossart started his restaurant career in a Clock restaurant in the Detroit area. As he moved his way up in the restaurant, the Clock restaurants were being franchised, so he bought into one. Then, 34 years ago, he had a chance to buy a Clock franchise in Traverse City.

"The restaurant business is all we know — it's all Stan knows," Connie said. "It's all he has done all of this life, starting off as a dishwasher when he was 15 years old."

Eighteen years ago the Drossarts opened the doors of the Cottage Café, taking over the lease of the Harvest Table on the grounds of the Days Inn. They ran both restaurants for a time, then decided to concentrate on the Cottage Café. Today, all four family members — Stanley, Connie, Eric and Scott — help run the restaurant.

"We are always looking for ways to help the community because without the community we would not be here for all of these years," Eric Drossart said.

When they were asked to donate some money to the Senior Center, Eric began thinking of a different way to help with the fundraising. The dinner — run entirely by volunteers from the Cottage Café staff and local "celebrities" — was the result.

The seed may have been planted as early as 1997.

"A meeting was held ... for the Citizen's Participation Project," said Lori Wells, director of the Senior Center. The meeting, organized by the city's leadership, discussed the future of the Senior Center.

Input from that meeting pinpointed the need for a senior center — the reality was the building was old, requiring a multitude of repairs. A new building was recommended.

"When I returned in 1998, I instigated a programmatic study," Wells said. It was finished in 1999 and donated by retired architect Norm Kline.

Kline used the Citizen's Participation Project results and interviews to plan what a senior center should look like, Wells said, including how much space was needed for each program the center runs.

The study was translated by the Christman Co., a construction management firm, into dollar figures; construction would cost $4 million.

Local fundraising started, committees were formed and awareness created, Wells said.

Knorr Marketing donated services and came up with a name and slogan — "Bayside Center, Building for Our Futures."' The Intelligence Agency donated its service to do focus groups, zeroing in on some of the public input. All businesses donated their time.

During that time, the Drossarts' Cottage Café chicken dinner was set in motion, feeding into the effort to create more awareness of the need for a new Senior Center.

A new group, The Friends of the Senior Center, has formed; Kim Schmitz is the chairman. A communitywide assessment has been completed, the prelude to a feasibility study, and a fund at the local community foundation is planned to raise the rest of the money.

As a side note, the upcoming millage Nov. 2 is for operational money only — not to raise money to build a new Senior Center.

For more information, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail lwells@tcseniorcenter.com.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.

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