85 years and two fires later, this Michigan restaurant is still thriving

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The Mountain in Black River, Michigan, has been in the same location since 1936. The business has survived two structural fires, a recession and a pandemic.
Courtesy of Shannone Bondie

BLACK RIVER – Through two structure fires, a world war, a recession, a global pandemic and 85 years of history, The Mountain Inn has remained a constant in Black River, Michigan.

Tucked away in the northeast corner of Alcona County, most Michigan residents don’t even know the small community exists. But for the hunters and locals who frequent Alcona Township – 900 residents – The Mountain is the perfect place to relax.

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It has been that way since 1936, when Oliver and Roseanne DeRocher opened the business at the corner of US-23 and Black River Road. They saw in the tavern the replacement of several local saloons which closed their doors after the end of the hard days in the village.

The business opened in August. It burned to the ground in November.

The Dining Room at The Mountain Inn has been extensively renovated since the company's third iteration was built after a devastating fire in 1955.
The Dining Room at The Mountain Inn has been extensively renovated since the company’s third iteration was built after a devastating fire in 1955.
Courtesy / The Mountain

Reconstruction and resilience

The couple wasted no time reopening. The tavern was rebuilt in the spring of 1937, this time with lodgings attached to the bar for Rose, Oliver, and their son, Oliver Jr.

During World War II, the Mountain Inn was nicknamed “the perfect place to go.” People from all over the country arrived to play cards, slot machines, dance and socialize. In the 1940s, he was best known for his homemade chicken dinners served at the bar.

But on a freezing Saturday night in 1955, a fire broke out in the residence.

The patio of the Mountain Bar and Grill in Black River, Michigan.  The restaurant is tucked away in the northeast corner of Alcona County.
The patio of the Mountain Bar and Grill in Black River, Michigan. The restaurant is tucked away in the northeast corner of Alcona County.
Courtesy of Shannone Bondie

“Ms. DeRocher, working in the taverns section, was the first to notice smoke coming out of the kitchen of the neighboring residence at around 10:39 am,” the clippings of The Alpena News read. “Some 10 to 12 tavern patrons at the time made efforts to pull a garden hose to the residential section, but the electricity, allegedly cut off by the fire, did not power the electric pump and the water supply.

Turley Thompson, one of the Ossineke firefighters, said an oil tank, with a capacity of about 275 gallons, exploded near the kitchen, spraying hot oil on the roof of the building and people nearby. Police said that in addition to the rustic wooden construction of the tavern, the fire raged through the building “like a firecracker”.

By the time the fire was under control, Thompson said, more than 100 people had gathered at the scene and cleaned the gas station (nearby) and the cottage (attached) of furniture and appliances. State Police said the quick fire action and concrete construction of the gas station and residence were apparently all that saved her from the nearby hell. “

In total, the fire caused $ 30,000 in damage, only partially covered by insurance. Still, the owners told reporters they plan to rebuild immediately.

An original stone fireplace from 1936 remains (right) at the Mountain Inn.  The chimney survived two structural fires that destroyed previous versions of the building.
An original stone fireplace from 1936 remains (right) at the Mountain Inn. The chimney survived two structural fires that destroyed previous versions of the building.
Courtesy / The Mountain

The third iteration

The Mountain was rebuilt in five weeks and existed in the same building that stands today. The business continued to thrive into the 1950s and 1960s, a prime location for food, drink, and socializing. But in 1967, after three decades, Oliver and Rose decided to sell.

According to the current owners, it was the only bar in Michigan to be in the same location for such a long time.

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Between 1967 and 2012, there were 10 different owners of The Mountain Inn. The building has undergone renovations, including the addition of a north wing. For a brief period, the name changed to The Harbor Inn, but quickly returned.

In 2012, the tavern found itself in difficulty. Jim DeRocher, grandson of Oliver and Rose, and Dan Gauthier, grandson of the first settlers of Black River, mobilized.

“They kept it for the family, for the Black River legacy, because that’s where they came from,” said current owner Anthony Jekielek. “They both have several other businesses. They’re into construction and concrete, so it wasn’t their forte, but they did it to save it.

This is where Jekielek, a longtime local hunter and customer of The Mountain, makes history.

Owners Anthony and Liz Jekielek pose for a photo shortly after acquiring The Mountain Inn, now The Mountain Bar and Grill, in February 2021.
Owners Anthony and Liz Jekielek pose for a photo shortly after acquiring The Mountain Inn, now The Mountain Bar and Grill, in February 2021.
Courtesy / The Mountain

The mountain bar-grill

“Honestly, it was kind of like my waterhole,” Jekielek said. “I would come here between hunts and eat something, something to drink and meet the staff and the general manager. I told him if there was ever an opportunity to buy the place let me know.

“I’m a chef and have had several restaurants in the suburbs of Detroit, and I said I would like the opportunity to make it my retirement concert, where I could come here and have a good restaurant. I wanted to bring more quality of food and options to the table as that is all that was lacking in this place.

For several years, Jekielek has extended its offer. But it wasn’t until the last hunting season, during a pandemic, no less, that ownership changed.

“Three years ago my wife and I bought a home on Hubbard Lake, about 15 minutes north of here, and this is now our home,” Jekielek said. “We actually moved here last year. And during the hunting season, the owners received an offer from someone else.

“I was actually hunting in New Mexico, and when I came back the GM said, ‘Are you ready to buy this place?’ And I said, “Yeah, but it’s COVID and it’s been a crazy year.” And she said, ‘They have an offer coming up.’ I said I wanted to buy it, full price, no questions asked.

Three days later, the agreement was signed. Nine months later, The Mountain Bar and Grill has more than doubled its turnover.

“It’s more of a destination place now,” Jekielek said. “People drive two or three hours away. They come from Oscoda, Tawas, Bay City, Traverse City, Grayling. They know they can come here, enjoy the atmosphere, have a great meal and great service and make it a night out.

Mountain Bar and Grill's menu options include Detroit-style pizzas and breadsticks, in addition to steak, pasta, tacos, salads, and sandwiches.
Mountain Bar and Grill’s menu options include Detroit-style pizzas and breadsticks, in addition to steak, pasta, tacos, salads, and sandwiches.
Courtesy / The Mountain

The menu includes signature dinners like steak and pasta, Detroit style pizzas, sandwiches, tacos, salads and burgers.

“It used to be mostly fried food,” Jekielek said. “We brought Detroit style pizza to northern Michigan, and no one else is doing it here. Every bar here is made up of burgers and a round pizza. But it is taking over by storm.

This is Jekielek, Michigan’s second historic business.

“There really is a lot of history here,” he said. “Everyone gravitates to the northwest and west of the state along Lake Michigan, but there are a lot of hidden gems on the east side of Lake Huron. These hills have not changed. Jim DeRocher’s father, when he saw The Mountain burn for the first time, walked down the hill and saw it engulfed in flames.

“Those hills, all you see, has always been there.”

– Contact journalist Cassandra Lybrink at [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.

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