When people go to a restaurant, they mainly are looking for three things to make dining a pleasant and worthwhile experience: good food, good service, and a good atmosphere.
Those three key ingredients weren’t always in abundance at the Skybox Sports Grill since it opened in Highland Township in April 2009.
“We were known for inconsistency and long waits,” explained owner Kim Kibner. “We were relying on the wrong people.”
Kibner first got into the restaurant business a few years ago. It had been her ex-husband’s dream, but Kibner admits they weren’t really familiar with the restaurant business.
And over the past year, the Skybox has been struggling.
However, the restaurant is now looking to make a comeback and has a game plan to do so, according to Dave McManamon, Kibner’s new business partner who joined the Skybox team after he heard about the restaurant’s recent troubles.
“I see this restaurant as an opportunity. I see a lot of possibility, lots of potential. I want to help turn this place around,” said McManamon, who is no stranger to restaurants.
He got started in the business back in the 1980s and is the “Dave” in Dave and Amy’s, located in White Lake Township.
“Dave brings a lot of experience and knowledge. He also brought in a new chef, which has already made a significant change,” Kibner said.
Bringing in a new chef was all part of McManamon’s game plan for the Skybox Sports Grill.
“Fresh food and prompt service … we want to focus on good service, food, and atmosphere,” he said.
One of the first things McManamon eliminated was pre-prepared entrees and frozen foods.
“We’re doing a fresher approach,” he said. “Anything breaded is now hand breaded to order. We are focusing on the basics for bar food — keeping the sports theme of the place — with wings and such.”
While the new menu continues to have all the main staples of all-American bar fare, it has been revamped to reflect the fresher approach, including the newly added shrimp and oysters as part of the appetizer lineup.
For the main event, Skybox offers prime rib and steaks, fish and pasta, burgers and sandwiches, not to mention Mexican cuisine.
In keeping with the sports bar theme, each table is served a basket of freshly popped popcorn.
“That’s our bread,” McManamon said. “Instead of a loaf of bread, we give popcorn. It fits the atmosphere of the place.”
There is also a “Little League” menu for those 10-years-old and under.
And on Sundays, the kids eat free. For every adult entree purchased, one Little League meal is free.
That’s another thing Kibner and McManamon would like to bring back to the restaurant — family dining.
“We want families to come in and enjoy dinner together,” McManamon said.
And it’s not just families that Kibner and McManamon are hoping to lure back.
“We want to get the people back who used to come in here all the time,” Kibner said. “We’re focused on getting them back.”
Added McManamon: “There’s a new atmosphere here where the customer is key — the way it should be.”
Skybox also offers a full bar with 10 different beers on tap, and has different specials depending on the game and the day.
Physically, the atmosphere has elements of openness and warmth with a variety of seating options that include booths, short tables, high tables, bar seating, and even couches.
“It’s a nice, cozy atmosphere,” Kibner said. “We even have a VIP area with couches, so it’s like sitting in your living room watching the game. It was very popular during the Super Bowl.”
The Skybox provides a fun atmosphere for any sports enthusiast, with memorabilia everywhere you look — flags and jerseys, photos and plaques, and even stadium seats from Tiger Stadium. There’s even a working scoreboard from the recently-closed Highland Middle School.
Jerseys from local middle and high schools hang from the ceiling, including those from Highland Middle School and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
“We have local kids who bring in their jerseys to hang up, and we are always looking to add more,” Kibner said.
And of course, no sports bar would be complete without TVs. The Skybox has 14, including in the bathrooms so you never miss any of the action, according to Kibner.
Perhaps one of the most unique and fun aspects of the Skybox Sports Grill can be heard during Red Wings games.
“We have horn like the one in Joe Louis (Arena),” Kibner said. “And when the Red Wings score, we sound it. If we don’t blow it right away, we get chants for the horn.”
With a new partnership and menu, the Skybox is aiming for fresh start. However, it has another challenge that is not so easily remedied. Its location at 2825 Highland Road just west of Duck Lake Road isn’t bad, except there’s a building that blocks it from the view of Highland Road (M-59) motorists.
“We get people all the time who say they drive by here every day and had no idea we were here,” said Kibner.
But that’s just one challenge that can be remedied by word of mouth.
For now, Kibner and McManamon are focused on getting back to basics.
“If we get the basics down, the rest will just take care of itself,” McManamon said.