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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Bottrall

Chippewa Hotel on Mackinac Island

Most of us know the Chippewa Hotel as that place with the pink benches when you first get off the Mackinac Island ferry. Pink umbrellas on the back patio, live music all night long, and of course, exceptional service and food, make this one of the more popular places on Mackinac Island. Serving almost 2,500 meals and over 75 gallons of Rum Runners a day, the Chippewa and the Pink Pony attract a hefty portion of the Mackinac Island tourists. Beneath the iconic hotel and bar there's a lot that happens that guests never see. Ten thousand square feet of prep, storage and recycling space are bustling with over 200 employees working hard to make it seem as if your vacation meal, drinks and place to lay your head are effortless.

General Manager Brian Bailey, who runs the Chippewa Hotel, the Pink Pony and the Lilac Tree Inn for the Benser/Nephew families, took me on an underground tour that blew my mind. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the basement is bigger than the footprint of the hotel itself, actually running under the sidewalk where more than a million walk every year.

Without that expanded infrastructure or understructure, they would never be able to service guests like they do.

Built in 1902 the basement of the Chippewa hasn't always been there. Well, it was, but it certainly wasn't useable. The basement was a traditional "Michigan basement" with rock walls and filled with dirt and rubble almost to the height of your chest. It wasn't until the 1980's and under the supervision of Bailey that the basement was dug out, cement pillars were added to reinforce the structure overhead, and cement walls and floors were installed. Then in 2008 they expanded further, actually digging under the sidewalks of downtown Mackinac and adding steel and extra supports to bolster the now century old building. All in all, digging out the basement added approximately 10,000 extra square feet to the building of which every inch is being used today; for storage, for recycling, office space, laundry, additional kitchens and even a staff dining room.

Recycling is a large part of the Chippewa Hotel daily budget. As a business owner on Mackinac Island, recycling is not optional. You must recycle to do business there. Local resident Jamie Bynoe is the head of all the recycling that goes through the Chippewa. Every bottle of beer that we drink and every stray wrapper and napkin is handled by Jamie as he sorts, packages and labels everything that goes through the hotel. As you can see by the pictures below, this is a ginormous job. One day of boxes equals bundles and bundles of cardboard that must be tied together. These line the hallway in the picture below ready for the dray to take them away. Bottles must be separated and packaged back into boxes from their individual distributors. Garbage is separated into bags designated as landfill, compost and recyclables. Even used oil from the fryers must be labeled and set aside. To me, the job isn't just overwhelming but confusing too. I don't know how Jamie can keep it all straight but he does it with a glad smile on his face. Brian affectionately pats him on the back as we walk by and you can clearly see the bond between these two after five years of working in the trenches.

Bailey estimates that the Chippewa and Pink Pony make up about 35% of the total commercial recycling on Mackinac Island and that comprises about 6% of their total yearly budget. And don't be thinking that just because they do so much recycling that they get any kind of break from the city on pricing. Just like Island residents, they pay $4.50 for every garbage bag that they use, plus stickers for the used oil and paying the Service Company for the dray to come twice daily and pick everything up.

I tried hard, but couldn't talk Brian Bailey into giving up the recipe for the famous Pink Pony Rum Runners. He says there are eight ingredients and my copy cat recipe below only has seven. If you figure out the eighth, make sure and let me know.

If you indulge in a copy cat Pink Pony Rum Runner or maybe the next time you visit, give a thought or two to what is going on beneath you and remember to raise a glass to Jamie and all employees of the Chippewa and Pink Pony for their hard but happy work.

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