It is said age and wisdom trump youth and enthusiasm. This is not the case at Willow in Harbor Springs.

Chef Chris Rutkowski, Executive Chef Daniel Rutkowski, and General Manager Caitlin Yike

Daniel Rutkowski, the executive chef at the newly opened Northern Michigan restaurant, is a Metro-Detroit native and formally trained Culinary Institute of America graduate. Initially, he thought about calling Traverse City home but was impressed with the beauty of the Harbor Springs area. He found the ideal location after searching for more than a year and a half at 129 E Bay St.

After purchasing the building, formerly Mustang Wendy’s, Daniel renovated the restaurant floor to ceiling. When you walk through the door you’re greeted with subtle tones and clean lines. The space is inviting and modern.

Joining the young chef are his brother and former Spiaggia-Chicago chef, Chris Rutkowski, and girlfriend, general manager and craft cocktail maven, Caitlin Yike. Daniel believes having a strong, close-knit core keeps the machine running smoothly. 

Daniel is accustomed to busy kitchens. He was the executive chef at Motor City Hotel and Casino in Detroit. Wanting more creative control, he decided to start his own restaurant. At Willow, he contributes to every detail, from the locally grown flowers on the table to the place settings and wine and beer pairings.

The name of the restaurant fits the space—simple yet refined.

Inside the new Harbor Springs restaurant

When asked about the restaurant name, Daniel talks about his love of the outdoors, drawing inspiration from the Tunnel of Trees, and one of Michigan’s oldest trees, the black willow.

From the name of his restaurant to the photos of Northern Michigan landscapes on the walls, Daniel emphasizes his strong sense of community. “Your community is going to support you if you support your community,” he says. His goal for Willow is to use as many local farmers and ingredients as possible. Future plans include buying a farm to grow all of the vegetables Willow will serve. “As much as we can buy locally we do,” Daniel says. 

Daniel is confident foodies will flock to Willow’s high-end but approachable menu.

Halibut, baby zucchini, fennel, and sauce carrot

Working as chefs for so many years established high standards for Daniel and his brother, Chris. They complement other restaurants such as Alliance and Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and feel they are bringing that creativity in food to Harbor Springs and the surrounding area. The duo hopes to showcase refined food in a light and fun atmosphere.

Willow’s signature bouquet cocktail

“I want people to be happy when they eat here and have a good time. If the food coming out of the kitchen is always consistent and always good, the front of the house will have a better experience, and people will keep choosing to walk through the door.”

Willow in Harbor Springs is currently available for lunch and dinner service with plans to include breakfast/brunch in the future.

Current Summer Hours

Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. 9 p.m.

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Photo(s) by Meaghin Rose