Starters is one of several restaurants to receive aid from Oakland County and the city of Southfield.

Starters is one of several restaurants to receive aid from Oakland County and the city of Southfield.

Photo by Jacob Herbert

Southfield, county to provide aid to struggling restaurants

By: Jacob Herbert | C&G Newspapers | Published January 30, 2021


OAKLAND COUNTY — The bar and restaurant industries have been some of the hardest hit in the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurant owners have had to adjust hours and switch solely to carryout in order to keep business afloat.

Officials in the city of Southfield and Oakland County said they have stepped in to help by sending supplies to be used for a more comfortable outdoor dining experience in the middle of winter. Items such as outdoor heaters and propane tanks to fuel them, sanitary supplies, and tables and chairs to help create that environment.

It’s important for the city to provide aid to restaurants, bars and cafes because when those places thrive, the city thrives, officials said.

“The city relies a lot on our daytime population,” Southfield Business and Economic Development Director Rochelle Katz-Freeman said. “A lot of these restaurants enjoyed a really good relationship with the businesses and their tenants. Working remotely has been a big strain on a lot of the restaurants. They haven’t seen the volume of traffic that they normally see, but we’re starting to see more people come back. As people are looking to go back and go to some of their favorite restaurants, the outside dining options give them different places to visit.”

Among the Southfield restaurants to be helped out so far are Starters, Fuddruckers, Bacco Ristorante and the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.

Bob Saad founded Starters in 1977 and took it from a small hole-in-the-wall bar to a multilocation establishment with restaurants in Detroit, Southfield and Harper Woods.

Saad’s son, Ali, has helped his father run the restaurants since he graduated from high school.

“I’ve been working in the restaurant business for 25 years, and I can honestly say that I have never worked harder in my life than 2020,” Ali Saad said. “The inability to keep staff members because of fears of coronavirus or the pandemic pay they were getting from the federal government; the inability to serve dine-in food took a big toll on our business.”

Saad said Southfield approved a permit for an outdoor tent, but that was quickly taken down due to fire safety concerns. Oakland County provided the landlord of the strip mall where Starters sits 10 propane heaters, which kept the patio warm.

With the tent and heaters up, Saad basked in what he described as two-hour waits every night. He hopes business will continue to boom until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reopens indoor dining Feb. 1.

“It was a blessing,” Saad said. “Those heaters are not cheap. They’re $500 apiece. To give us $5,000 worth of equipment to help our business was a huge uptick for us. It gave me a chance to organically work out the kinks at our Southfield location so that when we’re able to open fully, we’ll be ready.”

In the meantime, any restaurant in Southfield that has not yet received aid and has questions can email Katz-Freeman at