Sportsman’s Restaurant and Bar, a three generation business, up for sale.

November 28, 2020

Sportsman’s Restaurant and Bar, a three generation business, up for sale.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, MCP Staff Writer.

LUDINGTON – Sportsman’s Restaurant and Bar, 111 E. Ludington Ave., along with its companion businesses, The Mitten Bar and Barley & Rye, is for sale. The business has been in the Payment family for 65 years. Third generation owners Megan (Payment) and Brian Josefowicz have decided it’s time for a change in lifestyle and plan to moving to the Upper Peninsula for a new start. The three restaurant facility is listed for $1.4 million. 

“In 1955, my grandpa Hoyt and grandma Anne Payment purchased Smith’s Pool Hall and opened Sportsman’s,” Megan said. “This took help from the Reed family (owners of Ludington Beverage Company), without which we never would be open today. We are tremendously grateful for the relationship that evolved over the years. My grandparents owned and operated the restaurant until my grandpa had a massive heart attack. Following that event, my dad, Mike Payment, moved back home to help out and eventually took over in the late 70s, early 80s. In 2000, after 20 years, he and my mom, Julie Payment, sold the business by land contract. I was going into high school, my mom had a full-time job, and my dad was not only burnt out from the business but recovering from a hip replacement.

“In December 2003, my mom was notified that the owners were defaulting on the contract and the  business began transitioning back my parents. Realizing it needed a serious revamp, they decided to close to remodel before reopening the restaurant.

“At that time, my mom realized that I would be heading to college in the fall and that keeping the  restaurant would be a great distraction,” Josefowicz said. “So, they decided that she would take the lead, in addition to her role at the newspaper, and my dad would move on to other adventures.”

Reopening with a completely new look crafted and completed by Laurie Carey and Shirley Reeds, the Payments returned to life as restaurant owners, tackling everything and every idea that came with that title.

“Fast forward to November of 2010, my then-boyfriend, Brian Josefowicz, at the time, and I pitched the idea of the Mitten to my parents,” Josefowicz said. “While they thought we were completely crazy, they gave us the opportunity to create and open our own space. Brian and I wanted to open a space we liked to visit that wasn’t offered in Ludington at the time. It was extremely important for us to focus on Michigan-only products because that’s what we were interested in at the time.”

Opening in 2011, The Mitten Bar: A Michigan Ideology popped up in the building just to the east of Sportsman’s, riding the wave of booming Michigan breweries and bars serving “all things Michigan-made.” The bar became very successful, offering different beers, wine, and ciders, all produced in Michigan. They even offered only Michigan made soda, Detroit’s Faygo. Two years later, a new opportunity popped up.

“In March of 2013, we found out that the Purple Monkey, located at 107 W. Ludington Ave was moving to its other location,” Josefowicz said. “So, we jumped on the opportunity to purchase the building where Barley & Rye is now located. Together with my mom, Brian and I brainstormed what to do with space. We had zero plans leading up to it but we went back to the drawing board thinking of something we’d want to visit that we couldn’t already find in town. Eventually, we came up with Barley & Rye and it’s evolved into what it is now a unique blend of fresh foods with a Mexican inspired flair, including customizable rice bowls, burritos, tacos, and nachos. Also, a huge whiskey selection.”

In the spring of 2016, Julie Payment unexpectedly passed away. The entire Payment family was met at a crossroads of what to do with the businesses. Mike had no interest in taking the restaurants over, and Brian and Megan were committed to moving to Grand Rapids for Brian’s new position with Alliance Beverage.

“A week after my mom died in 2016, Brian started with Alliance Beverage as a craft beer consultant,” Josefowicz said. “They were terrific to our family and while we enjoyed Grand Rapids, we were still grieving from losing both our moms. Brian also was missing the day to day of the bars. He was able to experience it from the vendor side, so we came back and in all honesty, that time away gave us a new perspective and advantage. So, in the March/April of 2017, we moved back from Grand Rapids. Brian and I have been operating all three bars since.”

In 2018, they took on a large construction project, the Josefowicz’s combined the two kitchens, losing the side dining area in Sportsman’s, but adding a larger kitchen and new seating upfront. The project took longer than expected and put added stress on the Josefowicz family.

“We only had our son, Mayer, when it started and felt so ambitious about taking it all on,” Josefowicz said. “We had an idea of how we wanted to run the businesses and what projects we should invest in to streamline the systems. The biggest was of course the kitchen renovation. We began planning for that in 2017 and didn’t conclude construction until late 2018. It all kind of is a blur. The period of building was beyond stressful managing customer and community expectations, our budget and cash flow, and also a complete code review. To say it was a lot is a huge understatement. Then as we transitioned to opening the new kitchen at the start of the summer busy season. There was a new set of challenges arose with combing two entirely different kitchen cultures and menus into one operation. Add in the arrival of our daughter, Annie, at nearly the same time and our stress level was through the roof. It was intense, high pressure and it burn us out.”

Already starting to feel worn down, fast forward to 2020, COVID-19 hits, and in March all three bars are closed, along with all other dine-in establishments across Michigan. Sportsman’s and Barley & Rye moved into take-out only.

“There were a lot of factors that range from cautiousness of a disease no one understands entirely even today, the balance of unemployment benefits that encourage people to hunker down, and the monster that is all three,” Josefowicz said. “We have five exterior entrances and five doorways between the three businesses. To count bodies and keep track of flow is complicated.”

Going back and forth about hanging their hats on owning and operating three successful bars, the Josefowicz’s finally decided to list the three businesses for sale in January 2020. COVID aside, Josefowicz said the family had been contemplating selling for a while now.

“This has been a very emotional and difficult decision for us,” she said. “This is the last living memory of both my grandparents and my mom. We began discussing it in late 2019, but to close this chapter is sentimental. The businesses hold so many fond memories. The staff has become family and we want nothing but the best for them because they have given us their best.”

With the businesses for sale, the Josefowicz family is starting to work out plans for the next chapter in their lives. Now, raising two young children, Josefowicz said she wants something different for her kids as they grow up and they feel they might have found the perfect place to do so.

“We have two little kids and want to provide them with a different childhood than what I was accustomed to growing up in the bar,” she said. ‘We want to offer them adventure and educational opportunities. We have found that in Marquette, Michigan.” 

“The friendships we’ve made are invaluable,” Josefowicz said. “The creative and ridiculous events we were able to dream up and hold will never be forgotten.” 

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