In Northern Michigan, a Small Cafe Weathers a Global Pandemic

The New Bohemian Cafe sits at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula in Northport, Mich. After owner Kevin Murphy closed his doors due to COVID-19, the community pulled together to give his small business their biggest sales days ever.

Kevin Murphy
Kevin Murphy

For many small businesses in northern Michigan’s resort communities, it’s about waiting out the winter and cashing in on the summer and fall months as seasonal residents flock up north.

Following Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, there’s already been some economic fallout for businesses built around seasonal tourism in northern Michigan.

It’s created a unique set of challenges for a small business like the New Bohemian Cafe in the small village of Northport — home to just over 500 year-round residents at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula north of Traverse City.

Kevin Murphy owns the New Bohemian Cafe with his wife Amy. He says the cafe sits about 26 people and stays open year-round to provide job security beyond the lucrative summer season.

“We’re an atypical business,” says Murphy. “We designed our cafe around a need in our community.”

Murphy says he closed ahead of Whitmer’s order to shutter all bars, restaurants and cafes earlier this month, leaving him with the burden of maintaining payroll for his small core staff of four.

“One of our goals is to provide year-round jobs for people, so we have a small core staff that we didn’t want to put out of work.” — Kevin Murphy, New Bohemian Cafe

When he put out a call for customers to put a “down payment on their future orders” by buying gift cards to the cafe, says Murphy, he was overwhelmed with the amount of financial support the New Bohemian Cafe received.

Nearly $12,000 in gift cards were purchased since the cafe closed its doors earlier this month. The total eclipses any total sales day the cafe had had while their doors were open to the public.

“All of our staff got a paycheck last week,” says Murphy, who says he’ll be able to maintain his payroll through April 4th. “We were only able to do that because of the generosity of our loyal customers who stepped up. It was a grassroots thing.”

Click the player above to hear the New Bohemian Cafe owner Kevin Murphy talk about the challenges of operating a small business during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date

WDET is here to keep you informed on essential information, news and resources related to COVID-19.

This is a stressful, insecure time for many. So it’s more important than ever for you, our listeners and readers, who are able to donate to keep supporting WDET’s mission. Please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.