Mackinac Island is known for its world-famous fudge. There are 13 fudge shops right downtown!
But there are twice that many liquor licenses on Mackinac. The island is smaller than four square-miles, and even most of that is a state park. Yet, there are 27 bars, restaurants and places to stay with liquor licenses.
No wonder Mackinac has more liquor sales per capita than any other county in Michigan. Of course, it’s not only the year-round residents doing the drinking. Mackinac’s food and wine scene is a big draw for the million-plus visitors who come to the island each year – whether it’s to enjoy fine dining, an iconic Mackinac dessert or a pub crawl in a place where motor vehicles are prohibited.
All the great food and drink makes you think, though. Just exactly how does everything get to the island’s kitchens if there are no delivery trucks allowed?
We asked Veronica Dobrowolski, general manager of Arnold Freight Co., how it works:
Q: Since you can’t truck all that food and beverage to the island, how does it all get here?
A: Turns out, most of it actually does get here on a truck. A truck riding on a ferry boat from the mainland to the island.
“Every morning at 6:30 a.m. we have the Gordon (Food Service) and Sysco trucks drive onto the boat (in St. Ignace) and we transport the trucks to the island,” Dobrowolski said. “We float the trucks to the island and they drive off of the boat onto the coal dock.”
Q: So, all that food really is delivered by truck. What happens after the trucks drive off the boat?
A: Well, the trucks drive off the boat onto the dock. They don’t drive around the island and make deliveries.
“The coal dock is the only dock where trucks can sit there and unload,” Dobrowolski said. “They will palletize everything according to where it goes. The Mackinac Island Service Co., they’ll have a team of horses and a dray there, and the food is loaded onto the dray. It’s like a big wagon. Two horses pull it and there’s one driver. They take it onto the street and deliver it. They move everything form the docks to the (restaurants, bars and hotels) with horses.”
Q: How often do the shipments come to the island?
A: Six days a week in season, Monday through Saturday, from late May through the end of October. Arnold delivers food in the early morning, beer and liquor in mid-morning and U.S. mail in the afternoon. Plus, there’s hay, horse feed, lumber, appliances, furniture – anything and everything people need on Mackinac. The island’s other ferry operators, Shepler’s and Star Line, also ship freight to Mackinac.
“We typically do four round-trips a day,” Dobrowolski said. “The big delivery is in the morning with the two food trucks. The goal is to get all this freight delivered before the streets get congested.”
Q: What happens in the winter?
A: About 500 people live on Mackinac year-round, and many others visit the island during the off-season for Christmas, New Year’s or a winter weekend away. Food and beverage comes by ferry when the water isn’t frozen, or by plane into the island’s airport.
“We were able to navigate through the ice up until Jan. 18 was our last day this year,” Dobrowolski said. “We’ll run ice to ice (from when it breaks up in the spring to when it freezes again in the winter). Everyone typically tries to stock up once they know the ice is forming out there. They stock up on supplies as much as they can.”
Q: What makes you the proudest about shipping freight to the island?
A: “It’s a vital part of Mackinac Island,” Dobrowolski said. “Without us being able to get the freight to the island, the establishments wouldn’t be able to operate. We take pride in being reliable and getting food and beverages to the island on time. And just continuing to be efficient. It operates like a well-
Next time you enjoy a delicious meal or a fine beverage on Mackinac, give a nod of thanks to the truck drivers, boat captains, dock workers and, yes, the horses, too. They all work together to make your Mackinac experience truly unique and especially tasty. Cheers!