Leelanau News and Events

The Riverside Inn Reopens April 7 With New Ownership; Leland Wine & Food Festival Moves To The Leland Lodge

By Emily Tyra | April 4, 2022

There is a bustle along the still-thawing banks of the Leland River this week as The Riverside Inn culinary team prepares to welcome guests back for the 120th season.

The Leelanau Ticker has an exclusive first look at The Riv’s refresh under new ownership, plus a quick preview of a revamped format for the Leland Wine & Food Festival, returning in June.

A group of local investors purchased The Riverside Inn from longtime owner and steward Kate Vilter, and have partnered with newcomer Northern Michigan hospitality group Fernhaus to launch its 2022 season.

“Summer of 2021 brought new ownership to The Riv for the first time since 1997 when Barbara and Kate Vilter purchased the property,” shares Jamie Kirby, VP of marketing for Fernhaus, who adds that keeping the inn’s nostalgic pull for locals and visitors was a guiding light. “We have worked hard to strike the balance between preserving the timeless history of The Riv, while also sparking excitement for the future.”

The Fernhaus portfolio includes The Mill in Glen Arbor, The Riverside Inn in Leland, and a handful of other regional food/beverage projects coming soon.

The Riv’s reimagined menu comes from executive chef Chris Rutkowski, who joined the Fernhaus team this winter.

Followers of Rutkowski’s culinary career know his artful, technique-driven cuisine from both Willow in Harbor Springs and his farm-to-table taco restaurant The Cantina in Charlevoix. At the end of last season, he also opened NoMi Sushi bar in downtown Charlevoix. 

He tells the Leelanau Ticker that he’s excited to also work closely with farmers and a culinary team on this side of the bay, dreaming up dishes that pay homage to both “the integrity of The Riv and the hyper-seasonality of Northern Michigan.” (A taste: a falafel dish that is a love note to heirloom carrots, and a house-cured salmon with asparagus salsa verde worthy of spring in the County.)

The restaurant reopens Thursday April 7, with lodging to follow late in May. This is an earlier open date for the dining room than in years past, says Kirby, to allow accessibility and a first look for locals.

In that spirit: Starting opening day, The Riv will host a convivial 4pm-6pm Thursday Happy Hour through May ($2 off beer, wine, and cocktails every Thursday). Also to celebrate the shoulder season, the kitchen will host Sunday Suppers (two special entrees and a select bottle of wine for $65) starting Sunday April 24 through May.

General manager Jen Kareck is among The Riv's returning staff: “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what makes this place so special. The Riverside was established in 1902…this year’s opening is no different. We plan to continue to nurture this institution while bringing in fresh ideas and energy.”

One new addition last summer that is returning in June: The Riv coffee cart serving Madcap coffee, mimosas, bloody Marys, and pastries on the river patio. “This is one of the most peaceful, serene spaces in Leelanau County, even in the height of July,” says Kareck. “So having the coffee cart means more people can come enjoy this setting during the day.”

Ryan Murphy, Fernhaus director of food and beverage, says he is continuing Vilter’s leadership with the wine program and will be “bringing naturally made, thoughtfully made wines to the market here, and a focus on wine as an agricultural product.”

He adds that “we have great bartenders who have owned the cocktail program for years, working seasonally to make syrups and tinctures in house.” For a spring salut? A refreshing arugula gimlet. “It gives you that springy green note and is perfect for The Riv: a classic, then adding a little twist of seasonality or locality.”

Fernhaus president and Elk Rapids-based designer Kelsey Duda also has a complete guestroom remodel underway upstairs: “something exciting and fresh, really inspired by Fishtown.” The palette includes fishermen-bib yellow and the muted blues and greens of the shanties. “Instead of pulling from another coast, I wanted to keep it here.”

Duda shares they will be making updates to the restaurant interior next season, but first she is talking with a “design council of locals that have loved this place for a long time. There are very strong feelings — especially towards the restaurant — and I want to keep it feeling like the inviting neighborhood space that it has always been, just putting our mark on it.”

Also in Leland: After a two-year hiatus, the Leland Wine & Food Festival is back, Saturday June 11, with a venue change and special “come-and-go” entry for 2022.

Due to continuing construction in the Leland Harbor and Fishtown, the 35th Leland Wine and Food Festival will take place at The Leland Lodge, up the hill from Main Street. The festival, hosted by the Leland Chamber of Commerce, is offering “come-and-go” wristbands that allow guests to leave to explore the beaches, shopping district and Historic Fishtown, and return to the main event as many times as they wish. 5-Ton Tours will offer festivalgoers rides between the village and The Lodge.

The Leland Lodge will host non-stop live music at the festival which also features 12 Leelanau wineries, a brewery and various local food vendors. Tickets are $30 advance and $40 at the event.

Photo by J Zevalkink Photography

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