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GTPulse: Glen Arbor Restaurant Serves 10,000th Duck

Randy Chamberlain never wanted to own a restaurant that was known for a signature dish. He wanted a restaurant where the menu would be constantly changing and no one dish would remain a fixture. This dream of not having a signature dish has been dashed, and that’s not a bad thing; Randy just sold his 10,000th signature duck confit last Wednesday.

Randy and his wife Mari Chamberlain opened Blu in Glen Arbor in 2008. Randy is the chef and Mari runs the dining room. Randy dreamed of being able to write a different menu every few weeks so he could always offer guests something new.

“I wanted it to kind of be a chameleon of a restaurant, which for the most part it has been.”

The duck confit has been successful because of Randy’s dedication to making it perfect. Perfection for duck confit comes from a centuries old technique that he uses based on preserving the meat. Before refrigeration and artificial preservatives there were only a few methods for food preservation. Foods were heavily salted, cured and stored in cellars. Randy has been honing his duck confit for over 20 years now.

“As I was learning how to do it over the 20 years previous to Blu, I was eating a lot of other duck that other people were making and I wasn’t happy with it. So I was on a quest to perfect it. When we started Blu I knew I had perfected it. People were crazy about it and it became that thing that I could not take off.”

The duck confit craze at Blu inspired Randy to start tracking how many ducks were sold. Randy and Mari were in year two at Blu when they went through the restaurant’s POS system to find out how many ducks they had sold so they could start giving out cards with numbers on them to the guests who ordered duck. Many upscale restaurants serve their signature dishes with a serial card so guests can have a keepsake or feel special. This novelty of numbered cards worked great for the duck confit at Blu.

“A lot of people claim they have cards in the 100s or 200s, and I know that’s just not possible. It was somewhere around 1000 when we started issuing the cards.”

The cards are the only souvenir one can take away from Blu. There are no postcards or t-shirts for sale, so people take their serial numbered duck cards seriously. They’re treated as lifelong keepsakes. For every 1,000 ducks sold, Randy will change the picture on the card.

The last time Randy had hit a milestone in duck sales was when he sold his 5,000th duck. Out of excitement he began advertising on Blu’s Facebook page that the 5,000th duck was going to be sold soon. The advertising worked well in filling up the dining room, but didn’t work well for reservation times.

“It got to the point where we knew it was going to happen this night and several tables of people were in here in the restaurant and they all wanted that card and my wife was running the dining room that night. It got to the point where people weren’t ordering because the servers were telling them, ‘oh we’re three away, we’re two away.’ They were waiting. It threw the whole timing of the dining room off and Mari was furious with me.”

So duck No. 10,000 wasn’t advertised until after the fact. The lucky diner who received the monumental duck wasn’t just a random customer. Serendipity came into play and the man who ate the 10,000th duck was a grandson of one of Randy’s old friends, Franz Berlacher I.

“Franz and I used to sit in here after the restaurant was closed and have a drink and just talk about meat. He was someone I could really talk food with.”

Franz Berlacher’s grandson Franz Berlacher III received the numbered duck by sheer coincidence, and what a sweet coincidence it was. Franz I frequented Blu and would bring in cuts of meat for Randy to try, especially odd cuts, before his passing. Franz III being the recipient of such a milestone for the restaurant was special for both Randy and Franz’s family.

Who knew that duck could bring people together in such a way? Randy, of course. His perfected duck confit is something that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the region, and maybe even in the U.S. If you haven’t tried duck, make sure your first time is at Blu.

“I love it when people say, ‘I’ve never had duck before. It was amazing!’ And my response is usually, ‘you picked a good place to try your first one.”

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