MT Bellies celebrating 25 years

How do you celebrate 25 years in business? Why you throw a party! M.T. Bellies is doing just that.

John Clark has been busy planning for a weekend filled with Big Food, Big Fun! The party, 25 years in the making kicks off Friday, May 25/2018, at 2 p.m. with Street Pharmacy, The Rythum Hounds featuring the Hoover Bros along with Max and Gordo.

Heading into Saturday starting at 1p.m. the Skins start the day off followed by The Duelling Pianos featuring Sandy Vine and Rob Killian. To rightly top the night off will be Elton Lambie’s Kitchen Party. The party continues on Sunday under the big tent with live music and an M.T. staff reunion, along with the Walter James Duo.

Anyone looking for a little nostalgia can go on-line to the M.T. Bellies website and peruse the photo gallery and view the original menu.

A lot of the menu is still here 25 years later from appetizers, sandwiches, and burgers Clark reminisced as he went over the menu.

“We are bringing back a few items for our 25th and we’re selling them at 1993 prices,” Clark said. “We still have the ‘Eat it All Challenge,’ it used to be a 64 oz steak, now it is a 2.5 pound burger with bacon and cheese.”

When asked why he decided to start M.T. Bellies he said, “no one would hire me and I needed a job, and with no employable skills, I decided to become self employed. All kidding aside I was in the industry on and off since I was 15 flipping burgers at the DQ back in 1975 making $1.45 per hour.”

Eventually his parents got into a hotel and he and his brother and sister went and worked with them. Then the family came to Welland where they owned the Aqueduct from 1984-1988.

When the restaurant closed and everyone went their own way, Clark stayed in the industry and opened a place called Smart Alecks. From there Clark noticed a void in the market place, nobody was doing what they were doing in 1993. Clark worked with Leo Robbins, of the original restaurant where M.T. Bellies is now located, which used to be called Family Robbins.

“A very kind gentleman who really help us get on our feet in the beginning. He knew how tough it was running a restaurant. He had just gone through it and knew how difficult the restaurant business could be,” Clark said speaking of Robbins.

Then there was the name, where did the name M.T. Bellies come from? Ironically from his 4-year-old niece. Clark was babysitting one time and they were drawing with crayons and she said she had an empty belly and I had some trucker friends when they are not carrying anything they write M/T. and added Bellies and thought “Hey that would be a good name for a restaurant.” And years later it is still a good name.

“We opened the doors on Thursday, May 27 after spending six weeks renovating the place,” Clark said.

After running out of money, they had to open the doors and they were busy.

“We were terrified opening the doors. You build something you invest your heart and sole into it and you hope that people will embrace it. You open the doors and hope people come in, will they like it, will we do a good job.”

Clark said it is like a roller coaster, first not knowing if people were going to come, then it switched to will the staff show up. When M.T. Bellies first opened they had a staff of 35 and soon had to add an additional 25. In 2007 the kitchen was expanded by 1200 square feet.

For ten years Clark has been giving back to the community in a huge way with his “It’s A Wonderful Life Gala” proceeds for the first five years went to the Welland Hospital Foundation. The last five years have benefited the United Way with more than $150,000 raised in the ten years. Clark has also run a golf tournament for the Welland YMCA raising more than $100,000.

“When the chips are down the people of Welland, know how to rally around those in need. It’s a very giving community, caring community, they’ve been good to us,” Clark said.  “We want to express some gratitude to those who have helped us out.”

After opening the restaurant in May of 1993, that following New Years Eve in the lobby, Clark married the love of his life Rebecca. This may have been the start to what Clark describes as a real catalyst for building relationships and that is something they are really proud of there.

At one point they were up to 11 staff marrying staff. Countless staff marrying guests, who have met through there. There have been about a half dozen proposals done with the rings and the whole bit. Clark plans on running a few contests throughout the remainder of the year. One will be along the lines of telling where you met your spouse.
This year will also bring change to the dinning room. A renovation has been planned, as it has been over 10 years since the last one.

“It’s time to reinvest in our business. We are firm believers in that when we reinvest in our business it gets received well. We want to stay current and hip and all of those things.”

The weekend party “is open to all of our guests and friends”

“We will be recognizing about a dozen staff that have been here ten years or better, including three that are 20 years and better,” Clark said. “We are going to take a bow, tip our hat and thank everybody. Have a big party and think about what we are going to do this year”