28 years ago, Ross Simpson and his partners borrowed a bunch of money from the City of Battle Creek and transformed a historic train station from a boarded-up eyesore to a destination downtown restaurant.  Along came the pandemic and government shutdown of restaurants, and suddenly the place empty once again.   But Simpson, who with his wife Julie are the sole owners, got with his banker and took advantage of the shutdown.

The first order of business was to get Clara’s on the River safe and ready for customers.  That meant putting in automatic doors, faucets, and flush valves, soap and towel dispensers in all six bathrooms.  That cost $25,000.

The old carpet had to go.  Ross says they’re working from East to West in the long, long structure.  Crews are still putting the finishing touches on a couple of rooms.

When you drive into Clara’s main lot, there are a lot of changes!   There’s a “Car-Hop” area along the Library Parking lot side where you drive in just like at the old A & W, and staff will come out to wait on you.   There’s a spot for Curbside service.  Call in your order and they’ll bring it out.   Simpson is also building a special entrance and pay station, just for Curbside service.

There’s also a new sign, automatic entrance, and outside waiting area.

Inside, they’ve re-worked the seating, added directional signage to help route guests safely, and added hand sanitizer stations throughout.

The menu is different.  Gone are the heavy, 17-page plastic jacketed menus.   Most all of the favorites are still there, but the menus are now on a single-use paper menu, with a separate laminated drink menu.   And there’s more!

  • Silverware and condiments are pre-packaged.
  • Wireless point-of-sale ordering devices.
  • Touchless credit card devices.

And during the shutdown, Clara’s has re-built and reupholstered booths with new vinyl seat covering, removing all cloth surfaces to allow proper sanitizing between each guest seating.  They’re re-painting booths a nice shade of blue.  “After 28 years of mauve, I was ready for a change,” joked Simpson.

One area that didn’t need much attention was the outdoor patio where Terry Lower and friends play music outside, Wednesday through Friday from 6 pm to 10 pm.   The band starts July 1st and continues through August with Lower and some of the most talented musicians in Michigan, including drummer Larry Ochiltree, vocalists Edye Evans Hyde and Lana Hoffman, and many others.

Music at Clara's-Photo by Tim Collins-TSM

And there’s one more big improvement at Clara’s.   Ross Simpson is renovating the tower clock….again.

Simpson fixed it once before, 28 years ago, at a cost of $8,500.  This time, it’s $19,500.  All four sides will be working once again.  The new unit will be installed as soon as a boom truck can be located.  The recent storms have put bucket lift trucks in great demand.

Clock tower at Clara's in Battle Creek. Photo by WBCK/Townsquare Media.

Facemasks are required for entry and travel throughout the restaurant, though they may be removed upon your being seated at a table. You will notice that our staff are required to wear facemasks and gloves. Facemask rules are strictly enforced at Clara's.

Please do not enter our restaurant if you or a family member you live with have currently tested positive for Covid19 or if you or any member of your party have any symptoms of Covid19

Read more in Ross Simpson’s letter on Facebook.