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Podcast: Josh Schaeding, Chef of The Maple Grille shares what it's like to own a farm-to-table restaurant with multiple generations working together.


Freher, Local, Better. Farm-to-Table Restauranteur and Chef  Josh Schaeding shares what makes The Maple Grille a great dining experience, why giving back to the community is important to him, and the advantages of working in a family business. 

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Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Today's episode is brought to you by the Stevens Center for Family Business, whose mission is to support the success of family businesses through the generations with education, networking, and collaboration. 

Josh Schaeding: I guess we created a destination restaurant. As much as the local community supports us, quite a few people travel from across the state just to come here to eat and then turn around and drive home. So it's flattering that we've achieved that success over the years. 

Cliff Duvernois: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Total Michigan, where we interview ordinary Michiganders doing some pretty extraordinary things. I'm your host, Cliff DuVernois. So today, I am sitting in Hemlock, Michigan, just outside of Saginaw. And you've probably heard me say this about a thousand times, but some people in Saginaw are doing some amazing things.

And today's guest is no exception. I am at the Maple Grille in Hemlock. This has become a real staple and a really popular place with people throughout the area. So, with that being said, I am sitting with the owner, Josh Schaeding, today. Josh, how are you?

Josh Schaeding: Fantastic. 

Cliff Duvernois: Why don't you tell us what Maple Grille is?[00:01:00] 

Josh Schaeding: Well, we're a local restaurant serving local products. Buy from farmers, you know, locally, most of our stuff. Serving food grilled over a wood fire. 

We don't have a microwave. We don't have stoves in the back. So everything you see is an open kitchen out front. Cooked over wood, wood fire pizza oven. And, uh, we grow a lot of our produce here on site. 

Cliff Duvernois: So it's complete farm to table.

Josh Schaeding: Yep, it is. And, um, I've heard people refer to it as nose to tail. Cause we buy, we use the whole, we use a whole animal. We still don't just buy specific cuts. You know, we bring in a whole cow, whole lambs, and hogs. 

Cliff Duvernois: And we're definitely going to explore that. Before we jump in, Why don't you tell us a little bit about where you're from and where you grew up? 

Josh Schaeding: I grew up about, you know, 5 miles away right in Shields just west of Saginaw here. I attended Northern Michigan University's culinary arts program. And besides that, I have pretty much stayed in the area my whole life. 

Cliff Duvernois: Why did you decide to go into culinary arts?

Josh Schaeding: I enjoyed cooking when I was younger. You know, I was raised out in the garden. She was cooking with my mom. Just a lot of stuff I [00:02:00] really enjoyed cooking. My first job was at Burger King. My second job was at the Tony's in Shields.

And I grew to like the fast-pacedness of the restaurant industry. And you're always working hard and doing something and accomplishing something. 

Cliff Duvernois: Certainly. When you talked about cooking, Was the Food Channel ever a part of your life growing up? Did you have any chefs who were heroes of yours, or did you think, wow, if I could be like that guy or that gal?

Josh Schaeding: I guess I didn't pay attention to celebrity chefs. That started to become a thing when I was a teenager.

I guess I'd probably seen Julia Childs a few times on TV. I remember going out to eat. When we did go out to eat, when we traveled, you know, going out to eat and always remembering the restaurants we went to that I really enjoyed. 

Cliff Duvernois: So you went to college at Northern and got your degree in culinary arts. What made you decide to open your own place?

Josh Schaeding: Well, we started cooking maple syrup in our backyard as a hobby, probably for six or seven years before we started this. Uh, the property I hunted was my brother-in-law's parents at the time. They had asked [00:03:00] permission to tap more maple trees besides the one in my backyard.

So instead of doing, you know, 30, 40 taps, we jumped up to 250, I think the first year out there, we had to build an evaporator to handle all that. So, we built it out front of my family's construction company on Gratiot here out in the front yard. And, uh, I ended up drawing a lot of attention when we were cooking maple syrup out there.

Everybody thought we were cooking ribs. And so, at the end of maple syrup season, I lost my job and decided to start a restaurant here. 

Cliff Duvernois: Running a restaurant is tough. And especially when you're starting one, and you take your location, you're located, you're in Hemlock, but you're out kind of like in the middle of nowhere. So, it seems like all these things would be working against you. But you still decided to do it anyway.

Josh Schaeding: I guess the Field of Dreams thing worked. If you build it, they will come. 

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, I guess we created a destination restaurant. You know, as much as the local community supports us, we have quite a few people that travel from across the state just to come here to eat and turn around and drive home. So it’s really flattering that we've achieved that success over the years. 

Cliff Duvernois: When you put the restaurant together, one of the main considerations is, of course, what food we're going to serve? What is, I guess, the overall vibe that we want people to have when they come here? And you opted to do a farm-to-table restaurant. Why go that route versus opening up a greasy spoon or someplace like that?

Josh Schaeding: Uh, the food is much better. It’s fresher and local. We support the local economy, and keeping the food miles down is important. Our food's not traveling across the country. 

Cliff Duvernois: How did you get the idea to start this particular restaurant? 

Josh Schaeding: I was [00:05:00] fortunate, like I said, that my family owned the building. So, I didn't have to jump into a big lease agreement or try to raise capital to buy a building before we even opened. The first thing was to get the half-acre garden in the back. So, I had to clear all the trees because it was a wooded lot. I had to break ground back there to get the garden in and the high fence up to keep the deer out. Cause, as you said, we are in the middle of nowhere. There are deer everywhere and raccoons.

Then, we got a flock of chickens before we opened so we could get our eggs. All that being said, and not having the capital to put in a real commercial kitchen, we opted to do some wood-fired grills outside. We only cooked outside the first two years, you know, because we didn't have anything inside.

We did have a small seating area in front of the building and a small prep kitchen. After the second year of being outside, we were able to move inside and start building the indoor grill, getting all the construction equipment out here, and converting the whole building over.

Cliff Duvernois: It's interesting when you say that. I was thinking about this saying I heard many moons ago: when you don't have money, you have ideas. So, it's very clever [00:06:00] that you didn't get hung up on the fact that you had to have a professional kitchen. And we have to spend 100 grand getting all this equipment here. You were like, well, what do we have? We've got a wood fire. So, let's go that route. Is this something you've been cooking over a fire all your life?

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, I guess, especially now that I've become an adult and bought a house, our grill has always been just a regular charcoal grill, and I never owned a propane grill. So, I was always too cheap to buy charcoal. And we got a small woodpile in our backyard.

So, I was always picking up sticks and cooking over wood, which is how it transitioned into what we do right now. 

Cliff Duvernois: Your restaurant opens. One of the things I want to do is get people to come here. And there seem to be two groups of people that would come. You got those that find you. And, then, others have heard about you or seen you online. How did you start going about marketing your restaurant to get people to set up, to come out

Josh Schaeding: well, just word of mouth. I said. We were on the side of the road. So, you know, we had a lot of traffic driving by. But really, it's just word of mouth. I was against Facebook [00:07:00] out of the gate. So, I had difficulty jumping into Facebook to push the restaurant.

I guess Facebook's

been the biggest influencer in getting the word out. Um, Free advertising. We've minimally advertised, you know, we got a church bulletin ad we do every year. I've only done one billboard, just for fun. Cause one of the local sales reps for the billboard company eats here regularly.

That's been it: taking care of the people who have cared for us and giving back to the community. It's just been a ton of fun. 

Cliff Duvernois: When I was here having dinner the other night, I sat next to this couple, Jeff and Lisa, and they were saying that they found this place because they drove by and saw you out there cooking. And they were like, we should stop in there and see what it is that they're doing. When you talked about a lot of that drive-by traffic, did you find many people who have come here who have seen you and said, hey, let's turn around and check this out?

Josh Schaeding: I talk weekly to people that have been like, you know, I've been driving by here for years, and I finally came in. I don't know if we just put a trailer out [00:08:00] in front of where we store our potatoes. And we had that trailer wrapped with the logo on it.

And it's our cold storage trailer right now. It has helped us out quite a bit in the past few months. Cause we've never had a sign out front. It's always just been a building with a grill out front. And we finally got a real sign on the front of the building that is illuminated just a few months ago.

And um, I guess the local sign guy that owns the company, we got it from years ago. He said, you know, I'll never sell you a sign. He's like, you don't need it. 

And, um, he's like, your stuff's good. You're going to do well by word of mouth. My thought has always been to grow really slowly through progression. I never wanted to grow too fast. 

Cliff Duvernois: And it says something too that you create this restaurant, it's farm to table. And you've just been so successful. I mean, you've been here longer than a decade. What are some of the things that you would attribute that success to?

Josh Schaeding: I guess it's just hard work. The more you give, the more you get. We try to give back as much as we can. You know, that and just working hard. Stay debt-free on the whole thing. You know, not taking out loans to move forward. 

Yeah, just picking away at it. You know, put the money back into it when we can. And we've gotten to a point where we're pretty good now. 

Cliff Duvernois: We're going to take a quick break and thank our sponsors. When we come back, we'll talk to Josh a lot more about the Maple Grille, the menu, and what you can expect. We'll see you after the break.

The Stevens Center for Family Business supports the success of family businesses throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan. It provides a wealth of resources that family-owned businesses can access to leverage the unique strengths that are inherent to family enterprises. 

The Center provides educational opportunities for managing the often-complicated combination of family and business. Members attend networking events where family business leaders can [00:10:00] share their experiences and learn from one another, drawing on experts from around the country. 

The Center focuses on topics and issues that are unique to family-owned businesses. They emphasize optimal business results, including family harmony, succession planning, preparing the next generation, conflict resolution governance, family dynamics, policy development, company culture, and so much more.

Regardless of the size of your family business or the number of years that you have in your history, the Stevens Center for Family Business is a valuable resource for helping to secure the ongoing legacy of a multi-generational family business. The Stevens Center for Family Business, where networking and knowledge meet to support the success of family-owned companies, both in business pursuits and in family relationships.

For more information, go to or contact Casey Stevens at 989-964- 2776.

 Hello everyone, welcome back to Total Michigan, where we interview ordinary Michiganders doing some pretty extraordinary things. I'm your host, Cliff DuVernois. Today, we're talking with Josh Schaeding from the Maple Grille, And, uh, Josh, before the break, we were talking. And you shared that for the longest time, you didn't even pay yourself.

Why don't you talk to us about why you made that decision? But how do you keep putting in all this effort when you're not getting any reward? It seems like you're not getting any kind of real reward for it. 

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, Yeah, it's hard to describe, I guess. The reward of doing a good job, making everybody happy, and enjoying the food they're eating here—that's what really kept us going. You know, just a good work ethic. There are only two teams. Uh, the only two things you can control—I read this not too long ago—are your work ethic and your attitude.

You know, Everything else in life is out of your control.

You know, so just work hard, have a good attitude, smile, and make money. Yeah, so we just picked away at it. And, you know, it wasn't that I didn't pay myself; we still afforded our groceries and stuff [00:12:00] cuz we just ate here.

You know, so, so, I mean our basic but on the hog No, yeah. Our basic living expenses were met, um, you know, with no putting money into your 401k or anything for years. You know, just to build the restaurant up to where it is. Um, And it all paid off. 

Cliff Duvernois: Cool. And I also know, too, and You've mentioned this a couple of times now. This really is a family affair. You know, your family owns this building. I know that you had, uh, mentioned before when we were talking about how you actually get meat and vegetables from a lot of people in your family.

Talk to us about having that component and support system in place.

Josh Schaeding: You know, where sweat equity is, you know, like, like I said, my mom and dad. My mom essentially retired a few years after we started it from her teaching job. My dad retired from construction to do this. And my wife quit her daytime job once we started getting busy and jumped on board.

So, um, yeah, all four of us work here. You know, we weren't paying ourselves for years. So I could be going [00:13:00] back into it and making it work.

And it was interesting having dinner here the other night cause your dad still works here. 

My dad, mom, wife, and I all work here all day. Now, is there any cause of stress or anything cause you are working with your family, and it’s like you don’t get that break? You go home and you still see them. 

Yeah, it took a few years to really accept it. A lot of people come through here, and they're like, I don't know how you guys do it. We kill each other. And I guess that's how you see many businesses fail or restaurants, um, you know, where the family's working together. And some people need that separation, but we seem to, I guess, have excelled over the years by doing it. Not that there haven't been any fights, but yeah, they've gotten a lot less frequent. 

Cliff Duvernois: Sure. And then you talked about—you mentioned this at the very beginning of the interview, and I'm going to explore this a little bit more. So, when you're talking about, let's say, meat, for example, you were talking about how you buy the whole cow versus just buying steaks.

So talk to us about why you would go that route, nose to tail, all right? I think it's a term you said, nose to tail. Why would you go that route versus just saying, [00:14:00] Okay, we're going to need, you know, 14 prime rib steaks. We're going to need 12 ribeye steaks, and we're going to need to get them plastic-wrapped or something.

Josh Schaeding: I, I don't know. Just it was fresh and local. It's just better quality. I mean, somebody last night walked out. They're like, how was this burger that good? I was like, well, we just ground it four hours ago. You know, so just for me, like it's just eating the best food I can get my hands on, you know, like eating food.

That's why I do this. If you get the best food, it's hard to mess it up. When you start with bad food, you're not going to have a chance of making it taste good. It just goes downhill. 

Cliff Duvernois: When I was having dinner here, I saw you talk about hands-on, which is literally you making the hamburger patties. It wasn't like you pulled it out of a box.

Josh Schaeding: Yes, I guess it creates a lot more transparency. So you can stand there and watch me do it. You know, it wasn't coming out of the box when you walked in. 

Cliff Duvernois: And what about the decision to cause? I know you said you do everything on the grill. Your kitchen is an open grill concept, meaning everybody can see [00:15:00] what you're doing versus having it in a kitchen area. Why go the route to have an open kitchen? 

Josh Scheduling: One of the things I guess I've learned to do in this is a lot of people are picky about their food and where they eat. So, some people come in here, and they eat here. And don't really eat anywhere else because of the transparency. You can walk in and see what's going on. They know if something gets dropped on the floor, it's not getting put on a plate, and they can see, you know, the cleanliness of the kitchen, you know, when we're, everything's kind of neat and clean, even when we're busy. So I guess, you know, just being out in the open, I think, makes people feel more comfortable about dining here. 

Cliff Duvernois: Now your menu is on a chalkboard. Why not print out a menu? Why go the chalkboard route?

Josh Schaeding: we are a counter-service restaurant. And it just, out of the gate, made staffing easier, needing fewer people to get started. And, you know, I guess because of how we run out of menu items, you know, today I just cut 14 filet mignons and 16 ribeye steaks. If we had multiple servers out waiting on tables, you know, especially with, before the handheld, computers that they take to the tables in most restaurants now. You could. Easy to oversell stuff. So, our concept out of the gate was to be a counter-service restaurant with a chalkboard. So that when we run out of those 16 steaks, we can erase it right away. 

Once we upgraded to the, you know, point of sale system, it kind of even made it easier because then we could put the quantity in for the day, which makes it easier for somebody ordering online. So, if we wanted to go on this route now, we could have servers walking around taking orders. But we just decided to stay counter service. It's been our thing from the beginning. And we'll continue to do it.

Cliff Duvernois: And I noticed too, when you've got your steaks up there, you actually have it numbered as to how many steaks you have left. And when they're gone, they're gone.

Josh Schaeding: Yep. Exactly. 

Cliff Duvernois: Now, what about the pricing for this? Another thing that made a huge impression on me. Being farm to table being this fresh, you know, practically having the cow out back while you're cutting up these steaks. 

A lot of love and care goes into this. Your staff is passionate about what they do. Your prices are reasonable. Looking at the board, I thought the family of four could quickly come in here, have a nice meal, and not go broke while doing [00:17:00] it. You could charge a lot more, but you don't.

Why not?

Josh Schaeding: The area we're in.

To outprice myself. But from the beginning, it was about making it affordable for a family of four to come out. Um, I feel like, you know, we're pretty close to competing with even a lot of fast-food places. You know, When you get, you know, a little burger and fries, if you went by weight and came here and weighed the same amount of food, you're getting twice as much food for not a whole much more at this point, you know, in our recent economy.

So yeah, like you said, you could; these same steaks are entirely a bit more money in a big city. But the cost of living is higher there, the cost of rent, everything's a little higher in the city, I guess. And that and the fact that I don't get an overly large staff. So, I don't have all the servers, And bussers are walking around.

Cliff Duvernois: around. So, you have slightly less overhead. 

Josh Schaeding: I do have a little less overhead, to an extent, because I make up for it by having a paid gardener, so we have a gardener employed. We're hands-on with many things we [00:18:00] do. I don't necessarily have to pay for a lot of extra stuff that we take care of ourselves instead of paying somebody else to do it behind the scenes.

So, for the most part, we keep our overheads low in certain aspects but a little higher on the other end. So, there are many vegetables I could buy cheaper than we grow them, and that's just due to labor dollars. 

Cliff Duvernois: And why is it important for you to have most, if not all, of your ingredients, food, meats, whatever it is, come from Michigan, you know, versus maybe saving a buck or two and getting something delivered from California? 

Josh Schaeding: It's always right back to the freshness of it. To keep the food miles down, which is a cost thing. So, you know, if you fill semi-loads of food and drive it across the country, it adds to the cost of it.

We do all of our own hauling of the animals and stuff, moving stuff around, and, you know, bringing the vegetables in and washing them. The price probably equals about out, as far as dollars go, but overall, it's better for the environment, keeping the food miles down. 

Cliff Duvernois: Certainly. And then how do you decide who to buy produce from and who to buy meat from? Does the process work?

Josh Schaeding: The process just really comes down to whoever has stuff ready and available. Um, you know, we just jumped off my Uncle Matt's farm and on to another local farmer with his beef because he had nothing ready to go.

So, you know, I'd cycle through a handful of different suppliers in the area just based on what they have available. 

Cliff Duvernois: This is interesting because you said Uncle Matt's farm. Is that another aspect of your business that your family contributes to, that they're farmers in the area, whether it's beef or vegetables?

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, that's a big part of it. Like I said, that's how I was raised. Not that I grew up on a farm, but my family had a farm. My mom's side of the family. They're heavily involved in the 4 H. My whole life, I've always been eating local beef and pigs and stuff, and that's just what I was raised on. I noticed a difference in the quality of some of the stuff when I go out to eat. 

Cliff Duvernois: Before, you made a comment about community and the importance of investing in it. Why is that important?

Josh Schaeding: I guess it just shows you care. They support you. You have to support them back. You know, we do a lot of fundraisers for local Hemlock events, 4-H events, and clubs. And a lot of gift certificates for silent auctions and fundraisers.

Once you start being approached for gift certificates, you'd be surprised at how many fundraisers are held every week. 

Cliff Duvernois: Well, I could imagine!

Josh Schaeding: On the flip side, if somebody gets a gift certificate from you for their silent auction, they'll tell their friends.

Cliff Duvernois: Yeah. Oh, I love The Maple Grille. You got a gift certificate from them. So you're probably getting hit up quite a bit. 

Josh Schaeding: Yep. Quite a bit.

Cliff Duvernois: And then what one aspect of this, and as a business owner, you've got to love this. You've had people coming here for over a decade. I referenced the couple I talked to the other night, who had been coming here since 2011. How does that make you feel knowing that these people love what you're doing so much that they're willing to come back sometimes, week after week, at least once a month for decades?

Josh Schaeding: I guess that's why we keep doing it—because they just keep coming back. Over the years, I've done a lot of wedding showers and baby showers for the same families. At this point, I've watched many people grow up; many kids grow up into adults. And now I'm starting to employ some of them, which is fun. They've been coming here to eat for years and are currently working at their high school job. 

Cliff Duvernois: If somebody is coming here for the first time, what can they expect when they walk through those doors of The Maple Grille?

Josh Schaeding: First, you get hit with the smell. Um, the smoke, the smoke in the air, the smell of the meat cooking. It brings back memories for people.  I think we touched on it before; it’s a primal thing. Even a vegetarian will say, "Oh man, this smells great. And all they smell is meat cooking and a woodfire. And you know, they don't eat meat, cause it's something, you know, ingrained in us as humans that when you smell the fire, from way back thousands and thousands of years ago, the fire was associated with food and warmth.

It just brings back, you know, just something inside you that you can't describe. Then, after that, you walk in and through our doors. It's a counter-service restaurant. Order at the counter; the chalkboard menu is there. Grab a drink, have a seat, and sit down. We bring your food to you. When people go out to eat, especially, they want to be served and waited on, and we're not that type of restaurant.

If you have a problem with your food, you often have to walk back up to the counter. If you need another beer, you have to walk back up to the counter. We keep the to-go boxes out here so people can grab them if we're running short-staffed or just really busy. So those are the few things you come in and expect that you might want to look at the menu before you arrive.

So you got, you know, one or two, three choices that you want to eat. Because you might get here, and something might be gone by the time you get here. Yep, and I know. You know, if you start really following us, [00:23:00] you'll see a two-week cycle of everything. Most of our purchasing decisions, especially on the protein, run on a two-week cycle. So this is this week's start of the cycle, and by the 17th, Saturday 17th will be a sellout Saturday. And we'll pretty much basically run out of food on that day. 

Cliff Duvernois: And for a place that's farm-to-table, how do you handle it when you run out of food? Do you just tell everybody we're out of food? 

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, it’s a rarity that we actually run completely out. We typically still have pizza left, and we almost always have a few burgers left. This past Saturday was the closest I've been in a while to running out of everything except pizzas. You know, if ten more people had walked in the door Saturday night, all that would have been left would be pizzas. 

Cliff Duvernois: It really does boil down.

Josh Schaeding: The menu really does whittle down, you know, every other Saturday to nothing.

Cliff Duvernois: And then I guess my next question would be, keeping in mind that your menu is constantly changing, and if you're out of something, it gets crossed off the menu. What should someone be thinking about when they're coming here and looking at the menu?

Josh Schaeding: Well, a lot of people find jokes about it. They'll come out their first time here, and both will order the same thing. I’d try to order something different, maybe. I don't know why people do that. Um, cause I always, when we go out to eat, I would never even think about ordering the same thing as I want to try as many things as possible.

You can't come here and get a sampler platter. A lot of people come in and think we're a barbecue place because of the way it smells. But we're quite the opposite of it, you know? Because we don't do. You know, mass quantity of ribs and brisket and stuff like that.


Cliff Duvernois: The one thing I was fortunate enough to try here when it was on your menu was the fire-roasted chestnut bisque. That was super good.

Josh Schaeding: Yeah, we run that pretty much from the middle of October until January or February, when we run out of chestnuts. 

Cliff Duvernois: Your same philosophy applies to meat and fish. 

Josh Schaeding: Yeah. So we, all our fish, come out of Lake Huron, from the Straits area. A majority of it sometimes comes out of Lake Superior, depending on where they're [00:25:00] chasing whitefish. Um, but yeah, it's just a local commercial fishery. And you know, the family's all interconnected with them, you know, and they bring the fish down to me every week. 

Cliff Duvernois: Josh, if somebody is listening to this and wants to come and check out the Maple Grille, what are you doing? Where can they find you?

Josh Schaeding: Facebook. I think that's our number one thing. We're always updating our hours on there. We're open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 8. We don't take reservations.

Um, So I think the best thing is Facebook. You can get on there, see our menu, or get on our website as well. It's just a picture of our chalkboard menu right on the website, which is updated daily. Yup. And I think we have what is one of the other social media ones? Something's linked up to Facebook.

I don't pay attention, but it shoots to that Instagram. I believe we get our menu to hit Instagram when you put it on Facebook so that you can find us there as well. But we don't check Instagram at all. We just link together somehow. 

Cliff Duvernois: Yeah. Yeah. I'll let your social media manager take care of that. Josh, thank you so much for talking with us today. We really do appreciate it. 

And for our audience, you can always roll on over to TotalMichigan. com, click on Josh's interview, and get the links that he mentioned above. We'll see you next time when we talk to another Michigander doing some pretty extraordinary things.

We'll see you [00:26:00] then.



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