By her own admission, Cher Bell simply can’t sit still.
Like her signature dishes overflowing with lobster, Bell’s brain is always overflowing with ideas to improve her beach-themed
restaurant in New Baltimore – On The Bay Bistro Bar & Boutique.
So when presented with a chance to unleash her creative juices on improving the facade of her building with a city grant, Bell jumped at the opportunity.
The 1940’s-era building was in need of a facelift.
“It was about updating and upgrading. The facade was so old,” Bell said. “We knocked out walls and found windows in the walls. Cinder block was falling apart inside the walls. It was a mess.”
New Baltimore is one of many communities in Macomb County that offer facade improvement programs. New Baltimore awards up to 50% of the total cost of a qualified facade, with a maximum grant of $2,500 per project. Center Line, Clinton Township, Eastpointe, Mount Clemens, Richmond and Roseville all have similar programs.
Bell moved into the building, formerly a clothing boutique, in 2016. She bought the building in January of this year. The beach theme comes from her love of the Florida Keys. Bell said every time she returns to Michigan after a trip to the Keys, she’s filled with ideas, which she adds to her restaurant. It very much has a sand and sun vibe. With their location just a couple of blocks from Anchor Bay, the theme fits in well with the surrounding community.
And the community has supported her endeavors. On The Bay Bistro was named winner of the Best Unique Store in 2020 by The
Voice newspaper in its Best of the Best contest. It was nominated for the best macaroni and cheese in 2021 in Macomb County Planning and Economic Development’s Best Mac in the Mac contest. In other Macomb County programs, it won $1,000 in the Shop Local Macomb contest in 2021, and it was nominated for best Hidden Gem in the 2023 Macomb Business Awards.
True to her nature, Bell and her husband, Joe Young, went overboard, no pun intended, upgrading both the front and the back of the restaurant. New windows and doors were added to the front, and an outdoor patio and gate were added to the back. So far, they have invested more than $5,000 in the facade improvements. The pair also plans to add a 30-foot x 30-foot second level deck on the back of the building. Bell said the plans have already been approved by the city.
Bell learned the New Baltimore facade improvement program doesn’t offer grant money for work already completed. But the pair does plan to make additional facade improvements soon, replacing old brick and stonework. They will apply for the grant before that work begins.
Investing in the facade improvements has already paid dividends, according to Bell. Profits are up 32% compared to last year. On The Bay has surpassed two million hits on Google, and its list of followers on Facebook continues to grow.
So, what have her customers had to say about the improvements?
“They love the improvements. They say you guys never stop,” Bell said. “People tell us all the time they feel like they’re in the Florida Keys. I go to the Florida Keys all the time and bring back inspiration. I met and married my (first) husband there and buried him there. And Joe and I go there.”
Bell said the Anchor Bay Chamber of Commerce has been “immensely helpful” with helping her restaurant grow, and she credits Macomb County Planning and Economic Development Senior Business Developer Hali Lenney with making her aware of the Facade Improvement Grant funding.
“The support has been amazing. I don’t know about these things. I don’t have time to go looking for these things,” Bell said. “She’s (Lenney) always letting me know about the things that are there and that we can apply for. All of the connections I’ve been able to make – I’m blessed.”
To learn more about Facade Improvement Grants and whether your community offers them, contact Macomb County Planning and Economic Development at 586-469-5100.