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Two chefs and a farmer create a dining oasis in Saugatuck

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By Sophie Brochu
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Categories:Interview

Tucked away on a two-acre property off the side of Blue Star Highway in the charming town of Saugatuck, Michigan, you’ll find Pennyroyal Café and Provisions. This all-day eatery, surrounded by woods, is a collaborative effort from a trio of talented hospitality professionals: award-winning chef Melissa “Missy” Corey, pastry chef Bryan Kemp, and Ryan Beck, a farmer and garden designer, who specializes in native plants and sustainability. Together this team has created an oasis for old-fashioned farm-to-table fare. We caught up with chef Corey to talk about this unique dining destination.

Tock: Chicago is your hometown. How did you end up in Saugatuck?

Corey: Ryan and I were initially contracted by local Virtue Cider to design the farm and bottle shop expansion and event planning for their location in Fennville, Michigan. We split with them after they were purchased by Anheuser Busch in 2019. We loved the area and decided to stay and open our own farm to table location in Saugatuck.

“The three of us make a great team, a perfect combination of practical and artistic.”

Tock: Pennyroyal is a collaborative effort. What’s this dynamic like between you, Ryan, and Bryan?

Corey: Ryan and I are partners in life as well. We met in 2012 and always dreamed of owning our own farm and restaurant. We met Bryan and his partner Eric as they lived in Fennville and Bryan started working with us at Virtue. The three of us make a great team, a perfect combination of practical and artistic, and it has been a pleasure to have such strong partners around me as I run the day to day activities at the restaurant.

 

Tock: The restaurant gets its name from the historic mint plant. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

Corey: Both the farm and the restaurant are named after herbs. We like to plant perennial herbs and flowers and use them in many applications at the farm and restaurant. We wanted the name to reflect our love for botanicals.

Pennyroyal Café & Provisions opened in 2019.

 

Tock: You cite Rob Evans (Hugo’s/Duckfat) as a defining mentor. What’s the most valuable lesson he taught you?

Corey: Rob was a great mentor to me. Probably one of the things I loved about him was the frequency we changed the menu and the way he worked to develop a recipe. Testing it many times over until it was ‘perfect’ or menu-ready. Always pushing the envelope.

 

Tock: You also have experience with whole animal butchery. Do you think there are common misconceptions about this craft? Or what advice would you give young chefs learning butchery?

Corey: There are a lot of cool things and misconceptions about butchering. I learned how to butcher while in Maine but really honed in on the craft while at Publican Quality Meats as the head butcher and then eventually chef de cuisine under executive chef Paul Kahan. For young chefs interested in butchery, really the only way to learn well is with hands-on training. Set yourself up for a stage, get a good knife, and don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes. Training on small animals like chickens and rabbits is a good way to train your knife skills before working up to larger animals.

The menu feat. vibrant cocktails, campfire trout, & roasted chicken.

Tock: What dish or ingredient on your menu are you most excited about right now?

Corey: We change the menu very often so this is a difficult question. Ryan grows fifteen varieties of beautiful heirloom tomatoes so they get me really excited no matter what dish they are on. We also tried a dish last year based on a Vivian Howard technique of brining pork with watermelon. The watermelon takes on the texture of a roasted tomato, which is a surprise when you eat the dish.

“Get a good knife, and don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes.”

Tock: In what ways do you see the hospitality industry transforming? Or staying the same?

Corey: The hospitality industry has changed drastically because of the restrictions forced upon the industry during the pandemic. I think it will be irreparably changed. One change that we have noticed is that we are not able to accommodate everything for everyone at all times. We have had to choose things that we feel we can or cannot do in order to keep service running smoothly. Sometimes this means cutting off takeout options or reduced seating, whatever it may be. I hope diners appreciate that they are able to go out to eat and not focus on ‘what they used to get.’ Many of us are trying to do our best.

Visit Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions

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