Beyond the fudge: Mackinac Island’s unique food and wine scene

You might already know about world-famous Mackinac Island fudge. And when you visit, you’ll see it everywhere. In fact, there are more than a dozen fudge shops right downtown.

But did you know there are twice that many liquor licenses on Mackinac Island?

Even though it’s smaller than four square-miles and 80% of Mackinac Island is a state park, there’s still room for about 30 bars, restaurants and places to stay where you can get a drink on Mackinac Island. No wonder there are more liquor sales per capita than any other county in Michigan!

Of course, it’s not only Mackinac Island’s year-round residents doing the eating and drinking. Mackinac Island’s food and wine scene is a big draw for the million-plus visitors who come each year to enjoy fine dining, an iconic Mackinac Island dessert or a Mackinac Island pub crawl in a car-free community.

All the great food and drink makes you think, though. Just exactly how does everything get to Mackinac Island’s kitchens if there are no delivery trucks allowed?

We asked Veronica Dobrowolski of Arnold Freight Co. how it all works.

How Mackinac Island Bars and Restaurants Get Supplies

Freighter Leaving Mackinac Island – Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
Photo by Tom Chambers

Q: Since you can’t truck all that food and beverage to Mackinac Island, how does it 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 Mackinac 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 on Mackinac Island?

A: Well, the trucks only drive off the boat onto the dock. They don’t drive around Mackinac 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 shipments come to Mackinac 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 Island. The other ferry operators, Shepler’s and the Mackinac Island Ferry Company, also ship freight to Mackinac Island. “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 on Mackinac Island?

A: About 500 people live on Mackinac Island year-round and many others visit during the off-season for Christmas, New Year’s or a winter weekend away on Mackinac Island. Food and beverage comes by ferry when the water isn’t frozen, or by plane into the Mackinac Island airport. “We’ll run ice to ice (from when it breaks up in the spring to when it freezes again in the winter),” Dobrowolski said. “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.”

Cargo on Dock – Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
Photo by Tom Chambers

Q: What makes you the proudest about shipping freight to Mackinac 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-oiled machine.”

The next time you enjoy a delicious meal or a fine beverage on Mackinac Island, 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 Island experience truly unique and especially tasty. Cheers!

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