J. Baldwin’s celebrates rebirth of its own brand

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 26, 2014

 Chef and owner Jeff Baldwin poses in front of a mural that depicts his family history. Baldwin’s restaurant, J. Baldwin’s, just reopened after an electrical fire closed the building down in mid-2013.

Chef and owner Jeff Baldwin poses in front of a mural that depicts his family history. Baldwin’s restaurant, J. Baldwin’s, just reopened after an electrical fire closed the building down in mid-2013.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — J. Baldwin’s is back, like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes.

About nine months removed from an electrical fire that ravaged the Clinton Township restaurant’s dining room and attic, renovations have been made and business reopened with a bang on Feb. 12.

But the journey was one with many sleepless nights as owner Jeff Baldwin and his wife, Rosemarie, had to figure out how to not only bring the restaurant back to its roots but also figure out how to reinvent it.

From new décor to a bar that is now twice the size of its former, J. Baldwin’s is a new destination with the same old appeal.

“Our world really changed on May 28 and we had 50 employees who didn’t know how long we were going to be down for, and the process was not something I wanted to go through again,” said Jeff Baldwin, who is also the master chef. “We were really concerned with the employees, and the community helped place employees in jobs (during reconstruction), and we got 80 percent of our staff back.”

Baldwin said that the renovation period also gave him and his wife an opportunity to re-evaluate the restaurant and make changes as needed.

He pretty much kept the same menu that contained everyone’s favorites. He said the people came in for a reason and enjoyed everything, so he didn’t need to change pricing and the menu all that much. He said probably 20 percent of the menu was reconfigured in some way, and he added healthier alternatives like kale salad with farro, Brussels sprouts and spinach salad. Baldwin basically took what was running for specials and added them to the menu.

“We had complaints from some guests about the size of the bar and the noise level and the waiting area, (which was) not really a waiting area,” he said. “We were really busy on the weekends, and people were shoved into one area. We took a wall and a half down. The bar went from 10 feet to 20 feet.

Everything in the dining room is aesthetically different, as well. Baldwin said his wife had great input in the entire process, and the goal was to take the wall down, make the bar bigger and make the guests happier.

Baldwin has two sons, one who is studying at the Culinary Institute in New York and another who is in Pittsburgh. Both grew up in the restaurant with their dad.

“(It was) originally a Tuscan design, very nice but always wanted it to be a chef’s design,” he said. “Now, there’s a mural of two boys and their grandfather. They always worked in the restaurant business, and now it’s a family operation and not a chain.”

And the grand reopening of the restaurant made things feel like the place was never closed in the first place.

“It went really well,” Baldwin said. “We had two VIP parties with city officials and a few firefighters. (Macomb County Executive) Mark Hackel was there, local celebrities. … I passed around small portions of my menu.

“Monday was friends and family, Wednesday was the opening and Friday was Valentine’s Day. It was a pretty busy opening week; it was supposed to be a soft opening.”

Baldwin referred to the time the restaurant was closed as simply “an experience.”

“I became a contractor for nine months,” he said. “It was devastating, but a blessing in disguise because now we have a beautiful restaurant and it took us eight years to get out of debt and now we’re back in it. It’s what life is all about. You make strides and make some changes and, hopefully, we’ll get it back.”