At the Michigan Union Brewing Company and the Ann Arbor Brewing Company, Ann Arborites could pick up beer by the pail.
The Ann Arbor Brewing Company at 416 Fourth Street was the only brewery in the city to survive Prohibition. Yet its product was not greatly valued in its hometown. "It was considered good only for putting out fires," claimed the late Carl Horning in a 1995 interview.
It was a favorite of townsfolk for 67 years
"I feel real bad that I've celebrated my last birthday there," says Gottlob Schumacher, a former owner of the Old German, who turned ninety-one on January 29. After almost fifty years of working seven-day weeks, the restaurant's current owner, Bud (Robert) Metzger, is closing the business and retiring.
A Real Family Restaurant
Just before World War II, Antoniette Yanitsky and her eight children ran a small restaurant at 515 East William. With the whole family plus in-laws and friends pitching in, they kept Yanitsky's open from seven in the morning until eleven at night, seven days a week.
With the repeal of Prohibition, Gust Sekaros turned his cafe into a bar
Guy Bissell and the early years of Ann Arbor's restaurant trade
Between 1905 and 1909, the number of restaurants in Ann Arbor doubled--all the way from eight to seventeen. One of the newcomers was the Royal Cafe, opened in 1909 by Guy Bissell at 316 South Main.
Restaurants weren't a big deal early in the century. "People didn't go to restaurants like they do now," recalls Elsa Goetz Ordway, whose family owned the Goetz Meat Market on Liberty. "As a child I can't remember ever going to a restaurant." Bertha Welker, who was a teenager growing up on Sixth Street when the Royal Cafe opened, never went to a restaurant as a young woman, either. Frieda Heusel Saxon, whose family owned the City Bakery on Huron, remembers that they might run out for a quick bite at lunch, but they didn't eat in restaurants for enjoyment.
In 1909, saloons still far outnumbered restaurants in the city. (There were thirty-seven in 1909.) But they were mainly men's hangouts. Families who wanted to socialize around eating entertained at home or, as a special treat, went out to an ice cream parlor. Ordway remembers that the favorite spots for Sunday afternoon ice cream treats were Trubey's and Preketes's, both on South Main.
The Royal Cafe wasn't intended for the sweet tooth or the drinking crowds. Despite its fancy name, it was what Guy Bissell's daughter, Eleanor Gardner, describes as a "casual restaurant," with a quick-service counter, a few wooden tables, and a simple menu. The bill of fare offered nothing stronger than coffee (five cents), and the only sweet item was griddle cakes (ten cents).
Bissell ran the restaurant himself, doing the cooking with the help of his father, Ira, whenever he was in town. (He divided his time among his three children.) Bissell's wife, Marie, stayed at home with their small children, Eleanor and Clarence, and also cared for her mother, Frederica Bernhardt.
Bissell was just twenty-six when he opened the Royal Cafe. He was born in Ludington, Michigan, the son of an English father and a German mother, and raised in Ypsilanti. He left school after the eighth grade and moved to Ann Arbor when he was eighteen. He worked as a bellboy at the American Hotel (now the Earle Building) where he also slept, and held short-term jobs, including positions as a laboratory technician and a clerk at Overbeck's Book Store. He and Marie Bernhardt were married in 1904.
Bissell's only professional cooking experience before opening his own restaurant was a short stint as a baker for Bigalke and Reule, grocers and bakers, at 215 E. Washington. Gardner says her father learned cooking from his mother, who taught him German specialties.
When the Royal Cafe opened, most of the city's restaurants were on campus or clustered around the courthouse. For a time, it was the only eating place on Main Street other than the tearoom at Mack and Company, Ann Arbor's big department store, at the corner of Main and Liberty. Workers at nearby businesses were probably the nucleus of its customers. The biggest business in the vicinity was the Crescent Works Corset Manufacturers (where Kline's department store is now); others on the block included meat and grocery stores, dry goods and millinery shops, a plumber, a hardware store, an ice company, and an undertaker.
One year after the Royal Cafe opened, five more restaurants were listed in the city directory. The cycle of growth continued, and by 1911 there were twenty-five. That year, the Royal Cafe moved across the street to 331. A year later, Bissell moved it across town to 609 Church Street to serve the college crowd.
The frequent moves were typical of the period. Restaurants had a fast turnover rate and rarely lasted long enough to pass down to the next generation. (The longest-lasting of the 1909 restaurants was Preketes's, later named the Sugar Bowl.) After two years on Church Street, Bissell was bought out by the university. He never again ran a restaurant.
By then the city had twenty-seven restaurants. Eleanor Gardner says her father quit because "the restaurant business got too big for him." It's hard to imagine what he would think of the city today, when the Observer City Guide lists more than 200 restaurants, half a dozen of them in the 300 block of South Main. The original Royal Cafe is not one of them; it's now part of Fiegel's Men's and Boys' Wear.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Gardner was born the year the Royal Cafe opened, and has no firsthand memory of it. But this old interior photo reveals that the menu was heavy on protein: steak, bacon, pork chops, salmon, and sardines. It offered no fruit and only one vegetable: baked beans. Prices ranged from five cents for drinks, to five and ten cents for sandwiches, to fifteen to forty cents for dinners, which included coffee, potatoes, and bread and butter.
His Main Street parlors and westside factory were summer favorites
In the days before home refrigeration, ice cream was a rare delicacy. Available at only a few places in town, it was usually consumed right where it was made, either at an ice cream parlor or at summertime ice cream socials. "We didn't have ice cream much, recalls senior citizen Florence Haas. "It was a treat for us when we were kids."
When Ann Arbor's senior citizens were children, an important purveyor of this treat was Justin Trubey. He was proprietor of Trubey's Confectionary, first at 116 South Main (1909-1916) and then at 218 South Main (1917-1923), and later owned the wholesale Trubey Ice Cream Co., 438 Third Street (1923-1932).
Justin and Sarah Trubey moved to Ann Arbor in 1909, probably to be near good medical care, since their son, Harold, was sickly as a child. They came from Jewell, Ohio, where Justin had run a grocery store and Sarah had been postmistress. Trubey's brother, Barevius Trubey, owned a creamery in nearby Sherwood, which was most likely where Trubey learned to make ice cream.
Trubey took over an existing ice cream parlor on Main Street. Assisted by his wife and son, he made ice cream and candy on the premises and also served light lunches. At the time, ice cream was steadily gaining in popularity. Although known to Europeans since Marco Polo brought a sherbet recipe home from the Far East in the thirteenth century, ice cream was rarely consumed by the general population until the middle of the nineteenth century. That was when a string of inventions—first the hand-cranked ice cream freezer, and later electricity and commercial refrigeration units—made ice cream quicker and cheaper to produce.
As it became more available, various methods of serving ice cream were devised. Most innovations started as the solution to a problem. In 1880 the ice cream soda was invented by Detroit's Fred Sanders when he substituted ice cream for plain cream in a carbonated drink because his cream supply had turned sour. The sundae followed in 1890 as a replacement for sodas, which some responsible citizens considered too stimulating for Sunday consumption. The ice cream cone surfaced at the 1904 World's Fair, when an ice cream vendor ran out of bowls and began wrapping the ice cream in waffles.
Trubey's ice cream parlor met all these tastes, selling cones, sodas, and sundaes as well as plain ice cream. Its main competitor was the Sugar Bowl restaurant across the street. The Sugar Bowl was fancier and sold a larger variety of food, but many of Trubey's customers, especially children, felt more comfortable in the simpler establishment. According to Edith Kempf, "Trubey's was not fancy, but it was thought to be very clean. And the ice cream was very good."
Freida Saxton remembers that she "lived for" visits to Trubey's. On Sunday afternoons her dad would give her a dime. Then, accompanied by girlfriends, she would walk to Trubey's from her family's home on First Street and order a bowl of tutti-frutti ice cream—a multi-colored, multi-flavored concoction of vanilla ice cream and candied fruit.
After fourteen years of operating the ice cream parlor, Trubey decided to concentrate on the manufacturing end. In 1923 he moved his equipment to a factory he had built behind his home at 438 Third Street. The confectionary on Main was taken over by Mack and Co., the department store next door, who used the space to expand their dry goods department.
Trubey's ice cream factory was a very primitive operation by today's standards. Its equipment consisted of two ice cream machines and a sink. The only employees were Trubey and his son, Harold, who by that time had married Elsa Aprill, an employee of the ice cream parlor.
Harold Trubey's son, Bob Trubey, remembers watching his father and grandfather make the ice cream. He says they used a liquid mix to which cream, sugar, and flavoring were added. Vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate were the mainstays, although in later years they experimented with more exotic flavors like pistachio. After the ice cream was made, it was placed in the cold storage room, which the Trubeys had insulated with 4-inch-thick cork. Ammonia coolant was piped through coils in the room from a compressor in the basement. An office in front also served as a retail outlet, mainly for neighbors.
Harold Trubey's other son, Dorwin Trubey, remembers that after classes got out at Bach School on Fourth Street, groups of his classmates would sometimes follow him over to his grandfather's factory two blocks away. Justin Trubey would welcome the young delegations by giving each child a freshly made "smile," today called a Dixie cup.
Most of Trubey's ice cream was sold wholesale. Using Dodge trucks, which he said always started best, he delivered ice cream all around town, to stores and restaurants, sororities and fraternities, traveling as far afield as Groomes Beach at Whitmore Lake. The trucks weren't refrigerated, so the ice cream was packaged in heavy 5-gallon galvanized metal containers placed inside a wooden crate and surrounded by ice with rock salt sprinkled on top.
In 1932 Trubey's merged with McDonalds Ice Cream, a Flint firm with a branch on Main Street near the stadium. Two years later, Justin Trubey died of cancer, but Harold continued with McDonalds for the rest of his working life. The Trubey factory building continued to be used, either for small manufacturing operations or for storage.
In 1978, when John and Elsa Stafford bought the building and remodeled it, they found the 4-inch cork insulation in the cold storage room still intact and one of the walk-in coolers still there—remnants of the building's original use.
Summertime Ice Cream Socials
In the early years of the century, ice cream socials were eagerly anticipated by children seeking to supplement their meager ice cream consumption. Before she was old enough to go to ice cream parlors, Bertha Walker remembered that her main source of ice cream was ice cream socials held at the German Park off Madison, near her family’s home on Sixth Street. Her dad gave each of the kids in the family a nickel, and they would line up to buy the confection at a shanty set up for the purpose. They found the ice cream quite satisfactory, although vanilla vas usually the only choice.
Frieda Saxton remembered going to wonderful raspberry socials out Dexter Road, just past Maple. The annual event was a fundraiser for the Masons, hosted by a Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, raspberry growers who were very active in the group. Eating fresh raspberries over ice cream was a treat she looked forward to all year.
Edith Kempf remembered that Ann Arbor churches did not host ice cream socials, but left that activity for the country churches. Her favorite was one that is still going, as of this writing, at Bethel United Church of Christ, near Manchester.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Trubey ice cream factory was actually an old horse barn with a cinderblock addition. The area closest to the street was sectioned off for an office, and the back was made into a walk-in freezer room, with the rest of the cinderblock area used for production. The second story was added by present owners John and Elsa Stafford, who now use it as a carpentry shop.
Grub for the workingman
Back in the days when Courthouse Square was the center of town, Prochnow's Dairy Lunch, at 104 East Huron, was strategically placed as a casual eatery for the many workingmen in the area. "Everyone in town ate there," according to Derwood Prochnow, second cousin of Theodore Prochnow, the owner of the restaurant from 1902 to 1929 and 1937 to 1940.
The county's Victorian courthouse (1887-1955) sat in the middle of the block surrounded by grass and trees, and it had identical entrances on all sides—Main, Ann, Fourth, and Huron. Anyone leaving from the Huron Street door could see Prochnow's Dairy Lunch right across the street. An interurban stop, a row of busy stores sandwiched between the Allenel Hotel and the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, the courts and other government services all drew people to that block. Morrie Dalitz, driver for and later owner of the Varsity Laundry (on Liberty where the Federal Building now stands), remembers Huron Street between Fourth and Main as "busy and vibrant."
Prochnow's Dairy Lunch was tucked in behind the Farmers and Mechanics Bank in a building so narrow that there was no room for tables, just a horseshoe-shaped counter. However, the restaurant boasted many accoutrements that today are de rigueur for fancy yuppie restaurants: pressed-tin ceiling, ornate cash register, marble counters, wainscoting on the lower wall, and fancy mirrored coat racks.
Theodore Prochnow is remembered by his cousin as "not tall, about five-nine or five-ten. He walked with a limp because he was crippled in one leg, but he was a strong man. He ran the Dairy Lunch for years as the number-one operator." The kitchen was in the back. Dalitz remembers the sight of Prochnow cooking away, a cigar hanging out of his mouth.
Prochnow opened the restaurant in 1902, when he was only twenty-seven years old. He began in partnership with Otto Schaible, but by 1909 he was the sole owner. He operated the restaurant until 1929 when, tired of the daily grind, he sold it and started the Prochnow Food Specialty Company. But in 1937 he was back at the restaurant. The interim owners, first Fred Slade, then Raymond Smith and Thomas Fohey, weren't able to make a go of it during the Depression.
Prochnow served full meals, mainly breakfasts and lunches, but nothing fancy. There was no liquor, and it was not the sort of restaurant people went to evenings or on dates. In fact, it was "men only," according to Bertha Welker, who remembers the restaurant well because her older sister dated an employee, Ben Oliver. "It was a men's luncheon place," Welker explains. "Women didn't go out much in those days."
Derwood Prochnow describes the fare as "food the workingman wanted, food that filled his ribs"—meat, potatoes, gravy, and vegetables. He reports that Prochnow "didn't monkey with salad." Dessert was homemade pies. Overall, he rates the food as "good grub."
Dalitz gives a dissenting opinion: he remembers once finding a cigar butt in his oatmeal. Feeling sick, but not wanting to offend Prochnow (who was a good Varsity Laundry customer), Dalitz just stepped out for some air until he felt better. "I couldn't eat oatmeal for a long time after that," he recalls.
Dalitz remembers that pancakes, both regular and buckwheat, were Prochnow specialties. He also remembers revolving specials according to the day of the week—for instance, "terrible liver on Thursday." According to Dalitz, the draw of the restaurant was the low prices.
Of course, a mainstay of this kind of casual restaurant was coffee. Derwood Prochnow says that the Dairy Lunch was famous for having "the best coffee east of the Mississippi." His cousin bought it in barrels from a supplier in the East and put his own label on it. One of the main offerings of Prochnow's specialty food business was the coffee.
The Dairy Lunch customers were mainly people working or doing business in the area—at the courthouse, the Farmers' Market (then located on the Fourth Avenue side of the courthouse), or the many businesses on Prochnow's side of the block. These included two telegraph offices, two cigar stores (one reputed to run a betting operation on the side); a photography studio, real estate offices, a barber, a tailor, and a cab company.
Dalitz remembers other customers: farmers coming to town for the day, truck drivers, milk wagon operators, construction workers, and policemen who worked nearby in the old city hall at Huron and Fifth (kitty-corner from the present one). While there were other food places on the block, they were not in direct competition. Court Cafe served more snack-type food, like sandwiches and hamburgers, while Candyland's specialties were sweets and ice cream treats like banana splits and tin roofs.
Prochnow finally left the business for good in 1940. He died four years later. During the years he was feeding Ann Arbor, other Prochnows were also making their marks. His cousin David, father of Derwood, owned the Prochnow Grocery Store at 208 South Ashley, next to Hertler's. Another relative, Walter Prochnow, started Ann Arbor Buick in 1923.
Today, the block where Prochnow's Dairy Lunch was once part of a busy business district has been swallowed up by two monumental buildings, the First of America Bank, facing Main, and the Courthouse Square Senior Apartments facing Fourth. The small gap between them where Prochnow's once stood is now First of America's parking lot.
It returned to German hands when it became part of Metzger's restaurant
One German-American family followed in the footsteps of another when Metzger's German Restaurant expanded into 201 East Washington in 1991. The brick building with the eye-catching turret that overlooks the corner of Washington Street and Fourth Avenue was built in 1883 by butcher J. Fred Hoelzle.
Hoelzle (1859-1943) came to Ann Arbor when he was seventeen and went to work for butcher John C. Gall at his store on East Washington where Austin Diamond is now. Hoelzle married a relative of Gall's named Alice and took over the business when Gall retired. In 1893 he moved down the street to the new building at Fourth Avenue and renamed his shop the Washington Market. A 1905 promotional booklet about Ann Arbor boasted that he "supplied the tables of Ann Arbor with the best meat that the world produces, makes the best sausage on the market, keeps poultry and fish in season, gives a clean cut and full weight, is impartial and obliging and has the confidence of the best citizens."
Hoelzle advertised as a "dealer in fresh and salt meats, lard, sausage of all kinds." The salted meat he treated right on the premises. The sausage he also made himself, probably from authentic German recipes handed down from Gall. The fresh meat, brought in whole or in halves, was slaughtered in a space dedicated to this activity on the banks of the Huron River, east of the Broadway Bridge, and stored in big walk-in ice boxes behind the store. It took strong delivery men to lift the huge ice blocks, ranging from twenty-five to 300 pounds, into place almost at ceiling level.
When Hoelzle moved into his new building, his was just one of eighteen meat markets in downtown Ann Arbor. Without transportation or good home cooling, most people shopped daily for fresh meat, preferably at a store within easy walking distance of their homes or jobs. Saturday nights were especially busy, with farmers coming into town to stock up on supplies and townsfolk buying meat for their big Sunday dinners.
Cal Foster, who as a teenager worked at Merchants' Delivery, a horse-drawn delivery service, remembers picking up orders from the Washington Market. They were packed in wooden crates--which he describes as "heavier than the devil"--and delivered to student rooming houses, sororities, and fraternities.
Hoelzle sold his business in 1926, but continued to work at other meat markets as long as he was able. The building continued as a meat market under a succession of owners until the late 1940's. In the 1950's it was Sun Cleaners, then Martin's Gems and Minerals, and most recently, Harry's Army Surplus, until Metzger's expanded from next door in 1991.
Metzger's was founded in 1928 and moved to 203 East Washington in 1936. Founders William Metzger and Christian Kuhn both grew up in the village of Wilhelmsdorf, in southern Germany. They left to escape the inflation that wracked Germany in the 1920's. At Metzger's father's bakery in Wilhelmsdorf, customers needed a bushel of money just to buy a loaf of bread.
Metzger's first Ann Arbor job was at the bakery of his sponsor, Sam Heusel. (Heusel, the grandfather of radio personality Ted Heusel, sponsored most of the bakers who came during those years.) Metzger went on to work at the Michigan Union as a pastry chef (his pot washer was Bennie Oosterbaan). Meanwhile, Kuhn worked on a farm near Saline, then as a janitor at the U-M Hospital, and finally as a cook at Flautz's restaurant at 122 West Washington (recent home of the Del Rio).
When Kuhn's boss, Reinhart Flautz, decided to go back to Germany, Kuhn and his friend Metzger rented the space and started their own restaurant, the "German American." Kuhn was the cook and Metzger ran the dining room. The German American was right next door to the Old German restaurant, then still being run by founder Gottlob Schumacher. (Fritz Metzger, William's brother, bought it in 1946. A third brother, Gottfried, who also came over in the 1920s, ran the Deluxe Bakery, and, until he retired, made the dark pumpernickel bread served by both the Old German and Metzger's.)
Business was booming when Kuhn and Metzger started in 1928, but a year later the Depression hit. To survive, the partners had to serve three meals a day, 364 days a year (they closed for Christmas). Metzger's wife, Marie, helped with waitressing, cleaning, cooking, and public relations. Their workday started at 6 a.m. and ended at midnight. Luckily, the Metzgers and Kuhn, a bachelor, lived above the restaurant at both its locations, so they could usually go upstairs midafternoon to take a nap.
In 1936, Flautz returned to Ann Arbor and wanted to reopen his old place. Metzger and Kuhn moved two blocks down, to 203 East Washington, and reopened as "Metzger's German American." By 1937, the business was doing well enough that the family decided they could close on Sundays. When World War II came, they further decreased their hours, opening only for dinner because help was so hard to find. Food was also scarce, and meat was rationed. Even after the war, Walter Metzger, William's son, remembers people waiting to buy meat at the next-door butcher shop in a line that went all the way down to Huron Street.
When Walter Metzger returned from World War II, he began working full-time at the restaurant. (He had started at age ten, washing dishes, cutting beans, peeling potatoes, and even pouring beer and wine at the bar.) In 1959, Kuhn and William Metzger retired, and Walter bought his father's share. Kuhn sold his share to his nephew, Fritz Kuenzle, who stayed until 1974. Walter's son, John, joined in 1975, becoming sole owner in 1986. Walter, although retired, still helps out a lot.
It was John who arranged for the expansion next door into the old meat market. His goal was twofold: to preserve the historical appearance of the building and to make the two parts work together. He redid the outside to match old photographs, while inside he continued the decorating scheme of steins and other German memorabilia from the original restaurant.
The most dramatic change, at least to passersby, is the cow weather vane on the turret. In Hoelzle's day, a cow weather vane proudly indicated what he sold, but it had long ago disappeared. John and Walter Metzger had been looking for a replacement for some time when relatives found a perfect one in Boston and gave it to them to celebrate the opening of the expanded restaurant.
In 1999 Metzgers closed in Ann Arbor and later reopened in Scio township, thus continuing the family tradition another generation. Their Washington Street store has been used for several different restaurants, but one thing has remained; the cow is still on the roof demonstrating the history of the first two occupants.
[Photo caption from book]: Post World War II students enjoying a night out at Metzer’s. Note the formality of their dress. “Courtesy of Walter Metzger”
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