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Mike's Restaurant - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

Why the Locals Love Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.

This popular South Coast dining spot offers something for everyone in a most welcoming, family-friendly setting

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 7/23/2019.

Prime rib, New England clam chowder, salad and bread from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Prime rib, New England clam chowder, salad, rolls and dipping oil from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven.


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If a dining out spot could be a best friend, Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven would certainly earn top friendship honors in the South Coast of Massachusetts region.

Few achieve outstanding classic old school restaurant status quite as well as Mike's. It seems like everyone locally knows about Mike's as a place to enjoy big portions of prime rib, lobster and pasta, as well as delicious New England clam chowder at low prices in a homey atmosphere. Call it a local landmark, but that only describes one facet of this beloved dining out spot.


Before ever setting foot in the restaurant even suggests something wonderful. The old-fashioned restaurant sign with a bright red lobster and the words "Italian, Seafood Pizza, Specializing in Prime Rib" timelessly hangs on the cedar-shingled restaurant building from the 1940s that was, before Mike's, a diner and a chicken house. That sign and the parking lot packed with cars ultimately lead to a special overall dining experience.

Mike's Restaurant, Fairhaven, Massachusetts
Outside at Mike's Restaurant.

Inside, the spacious dining rooms with
low-pile pattern carpets, barn board, high booths to the sides, tables in the center, 70s style wall sconces, tiled ceilings with retro fans, pictures of New England scenes and old-fashioned windows with mullions creates a nostalgic shield from a modern society. The world simply returns to a simpler time when at Mike's yet, at the same time, the restaurant possesses an uncanny ability to meet 21st-century customer dining out preferences..

Many loyal long-time and newer employees lend familiarity, professionalism and a collective down-to-earth nature --  similar in nature to a diner where friendly small-town conversations authentically flow between staff and customers.

"We have had many career employees here for more than 20 years," said Lyn Metivier, owner and general manager at Mike's Restaurant. "The industry tends to spit and chew people out. I prefer to hire career waitresses here. They generally have pride in what they do and serve as ambassadors to the restaurant. We are a family here. Waitresses aren't a dime a dozen."

One of the waitresses, Darlene, has been employed at Mike's more than 40 years. Lyn's son, Ian, 33, also works at Mike's helming the bar. Lyn, knowing the social aspect is just as important as the food and the comfortable living-room-like atmosphere at Mike's, can be seen all around the restaurant. From instructing first-time lobster eaters on how to open a lobster to greeting and talking with the customers, Lyn is like a caring mom making sure this very large family is happy with everything.

The menu, also featuring a front-cover picture of a bright red lobster as well as a ship, looks like something from those large, long-lost Cape Cod family-style restaurants that many thought were gone forever. Thankfully, this type of restaurant still remains 30 miles west of Cape Cod as a family-style restaurant that, to many, serves as a seafood restaurant, steak house and Italian restaurant under one roof. The locals and travelers come here to feast on the regionalized five basic food groups: lobster, prime rib, New England clam chowder, Italian dishes (including pizza) and surf and turf -- the latter with 18 different combinations available.

Mike's comes across as the classic townie restaurant where everyone seems to know each other.

"We are homey," said Lyn. "We are not fancy...People love coming here for steak and potato, a salad, fresh seafood and chowder."

Mike, Mike, Mike and... Lyn

For a restaurant that looks so familiar, Mike's possesses some unique qualities, as well as head-scratching anecdotes. For starters, three of its past owners were named Mike. The late Mike Costa was the original owner of Mike's before giving way to Mike Cormier (a fisherman who owned a lobster boat) who, in 1976, created the full-service Mike's Restaurant that customers see today. Mike DeForge and the late Gene Oullette took command of Mike's in 1990. Before purchasing the entire restaurant Lyn bought in as a partner 10 years ago with Daneen Eilertsen who, like all previous owners after Mike Costa, were former employees of the restaurant. That is another element unique to Mike's: when the owners retire they sell to employee(s).

Beside the abundance of Mikes having run the restaurant, Mike's also possesses another unique quality: They do not serve any fried foods -- unusual for a neighborhood restaurant near the coast specializing in seafood, as well as traditional comfort foods.

"Baked, stuffed, steamed, sauteed -- we do not have a Fryolator," said Lyn. "So that means no French fries, either, We offer so many other fresh choices that not having fried foods does not hold us back."

The cozy bar -- separated from the two main dining rooms -- remains a popular local draw for those who love basic beers, many wine choices and, ultimately, a sense of community filled with local talk.

"People come in and will wait for a seat at the bar on the busiest nights because they love the atmosphere and camaraderie so much it is worth standing in a crowd on a Friday night just to get those coveted seats," said Lyn. "Our bartenders are some of the best around who go out of their way to make everyone who sits there feel welcome and happy to be a part of it."

Bar at Mike's restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
The bar at Mike's Restaurant. Photo credit: Mike's Restaurant.
"I think much of our appeal is that we have something for everyone," added Lyn. "We have the foods people love. We have a bar. There are no minimums or plating fees. People can bring in their own cakes for celebrations. We don't want to be just a destination. This is a place you can come back to a couple of times a week. Some people come here five days a week!"


Lyn could have chosen another career but, after starting at Mike's in 1995 as a bartender, ultimately felt a calling to stay here despite some time away from the restaurant. Mike's, however, had become firmly implanted in her career DNA.

"Although I left the business on several occasions to pursue other endeavors, Mike's drew me back to my 'home' when I had the opportunity to buy in as a partner," said Lyn.

Staff at the homey Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Lyn (center) with staff from left: Korie Oliver, Alli Isherwood, Hannah Lewis and Sam Henriques.

Lyn is not one of those "Let's change everything" type of new owners, knowing the value of what customers like at Mike's and its household-name local restaurant status.

Customers have asked Lyn, however, if the restaurant name will change.

"I always jokingly reply that I would change my name to Mike before I would change the name of this iconic restaurant," said Lyn.

How Mike's Restaurant Caters to the Traditional American Appetite

NY sirloin topped with garlic butter sauce
New York sirloin topped with garlic butter from Mike's Restaurant. Photo credit: Hannah Lewis.

Mike's delivers what the people want, and does it exceptionally well. Also, while Mike's doesn't offer many main course vegan meals, they can always come up with dishes based on customers' needs.

For the most part, Mike's Restaurant has ultimately stuck with what works best -- and that's a great thing. Why reinvent the wheel when a restaurant like Mike's is so driven to a commitment to excellence?

"The menu has pretty much stayed the same," said Lyn. "If you got chowder here 10 years ago, you can get chowder here now. At the same time, some recipes have changed because tastes have changed."

Mike's makes its food from scratch and sources much of its seafood locally like the scallops brought in "right off the boat" from Nordic Inc., just down the road at the bridge that separates New Bedford and Fairhaven.

The New England clam chowder is freshly made -- full of tender clams and cream, potatoes and butter to create the magnificent whole, full-bodied taste. Mike's Clam Chowder earned a best chowder award as a favorite amongst locals at the annual New Bedford Chowder Festival.

"Many of our customers can't go home from Mike's without having our chowder," said Lyn.

New England clam chowder from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
New England clam chowder from Mike's.

Mike's brings Surf and Turf to the top of the New England food chain. Here, one of the combos featuring lobster, prime rib and chowder proves that point...

Surf and Turf featuring lobster, prime rib and chowder from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Prime rib, lobster and chowder headline the menu at Mike's Restaurant. Photo source: Mike's restaurant Facebook page.

There are 20 possible surf n turf combinations with meat choices of sirloin steak, prime rib, Filet mignon or tenderloin tips and seafood choices of baked stuffed shrimp or scallops, steamed whole lobster, Alaskan king crab or, the most decadent, "lazy man's" lobster.

Of course, the 12 ounce prime rib can stand on its own as a main dish with its heaping portion of juicy meat and salty au jus. The open-faced sandwich is as tender and flavorful as it gets -- and with juices soaked into the bread for added goodness.

Prime rib from Mike's restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Prime rib.

Mike's packs its lobster rolls with plenty of locally-sourced lobster meat. The standard three oz. size will please a normal appetitie but for those a bit hungrier, the double meat (6 oz.) and the lobster sub at over a half pound of meat will more than suffice. Mike's offers a cup of New England clam chowder with each lobster roll served...

Lobster roll and chowder from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Lobster roll with New England clam chowder.
Photo credit: Hannah Lewis.

Seafood selections abound at Mike's, including baked scrod, baked stuffed shrimp, baked scallops, Scallops Casino (topped with crab meat stuffing and crumbled bacon), grilled swordfish, blackened blue swordfish, stuffed quahogs, Alaskan king crab legs and various salmon dishes. This salmon with lobster sauce dish is clearly a winner...

Salmon with lobster sauce from Mike's restaurant in Fairhaven, MA
Salmon with lobster sauce.
Photo credit: Hannah Lewis.

The seafood casserole is a customer favorite with scallops, shrimp and scrod topped with crab and lobster stuffing and baked with white wine and lemon juice. The locally-caught lobster can be ordered in various sizes: as a single, twin, triple, "Lazy Man's Lobster Saute" or "Lobster Saute with stuffing."

Heaping portions of Italian food remain a popular draw at Mike's including baked lasagna, lobster ravioli, veal picatta, chicken and broccoli alfredo and the seafood trio scampi with shrimp, scallops and lobster meat...

Seafood trio scampi from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Seafood trio scampi. Photo credit: Hannah Lewis.

Also featured at Mike's: an Italian Pu Pu platter for two with baked lasagna, ravioli, four meatballs, two Italian sausages, linguini with meat sauce and garlic rolls.

Mike's pizza is also a standout, clearly one of the tastiest bar pizzas in southern Massachusetts with the right mix of cheese, tomato sauce and toppings within a thin crust. On a busy night, Mike's will often serve more than 100 pizzas.

Vaggie pia from Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.
Veggie pizza from Mike's.
Photo credit: Hannah Lewis.

For dessert, the Mud Pie stands as one of the most beloved treats with a gooey chocolate sauce, a buttery crumbly chocolate crust, coffee ice cream and Oreo cookies! Some opt for other desserts, however, and they would be rightly justified -- case in point, the molten lava cake...

Molten lava cake from Mike's restaurant in Fairhaven, MA.
Molten lava cake. Photo credit; Hannah Lewis.

Conclusion

Mike's Restaurant will never be mistaken for a trendy restaurant but rather one that has permanently trended with locals and vacationers for the long run. It is a place to fill the appetite, feel comfortable, get great value for the money and enjoy good times with family and friends in a relaxing atmosphere. Lyn has seen three Mikes and a Gene make something out of this place. She has witnessed people who met here and became best friends -- with many leading to marriage and starting families -- and the generations that followed them to Mike's. A few former employees have even gone on to great success with restaurant ownership like Fairhaven twins Matt and Mike Menard, of the Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough, Mass.

Mike's might have a locally fabled history, but there are no imaginary fables here -- just a real place with real people spanning many decades who care about each other and the food selections that proudly reside in the category of "something for everyone." It's a restaurant as straightforward as its name -- staff and customers would never want it any other way.

"When I got a job behind a desk, I hated it," said Lyn. "I was a shy kid and now here I am owning a restaurant and being social with everyone. Although it can be overwhelming at times, it has been great. I have 50 employees here and feel responsible for them and my customers. That's what matters to me most. I've watched kids grow up. We have a couple in their 90s who come here all the time. They can't cook at home, so they come here for a nice affordable meal. People love nostalgia, the seafood, a good steak with potatoes. It makes me happy to see them happy. It's a nice place to be."

Mike's Restaurant is located at 390 Huttleston Ave. in Fairhaven, MA. Tel. 508-996-9810. Web site: http://www.mikesfairhaven.com. Also log onto Mike's Restaurant Facebook Fan Page for more information.



Next small business story to enjoy reading: Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass. (Cape Cod)

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Great old school restaurant in the New Bedford, Mass. area: Mike's Restaurant in Fairhaven, Mass.


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