Darrows Restaurant - A Mack Extension

It was 8:00 a.m. Don Darrow had been at his son Randy’s restaurant for over an hour. Complementing, his breakfast of sausage links and coffee was a stack of buttermilk pancakes with the condiments, milk and brown sugar. “My wife, Theresa, hopefully won’t catch me with the brown sugar.” “I have sugar.”

  I learned that morning, he’d been eating breakfast on that corner for over 4 decades. What today is Darrows’ Restaurant was in the fifties the Darrow Home.

  Mr. Darrow, offering breakfast, on Randy, claimed his father converted the family garage into a hamburger stand the same year the Mackinac Bridge’s construction was completed.

  The sign on their new business read Darrow’s Drive-In.

  It didn’t take long before their business began to flourish, and soon the old family garage was being overhauled and expanded, and eventually the home would be torn down in favor of a new expanded menu including chicken & shrimp baskets, malts, coney islands, hamburgers with curb service via car hops.

  Ordering a cup of coffee and English Muffin, I looked at Darrows Restaurant pie display case. For years, I have stopped in for a piece of their homemade pie and fresh coffee. In fact, the restaurant is renowned for their homemade pie. People have driven from more than a hundred miles away, an afternoon’s drive, for a Darrow’s down home meal; topping it of with a piece of their homemade pie and ice cream before returning home.

  That morning, there was cherry, blueberry, lemon marangue, banana & chocolate cream, strawberry-rhubarb and pecan.

  “Does Mrs. Darrow make all the pies,” I asked?

  “She did for awhile. We now have a baker, Mike Henry, from Cheboygan who comes in at 1:00 a.m. and works until 6:00 or 7:00. He typically bakes 50-60 pies and 150 loaves of bread daily. He just left for home before you arrived.”

  “Does his quality pie comply with your and Mrs. Darrow’s standards?”

  Mr. Darrow went on to explain how Mrs. Darrow has taught Mike how to bake pies the way she was taught, with the crusts being made from scratch, and more secrets, including caring about the quality of the product they’re serving.

  Theresa Darrow is the mentor of the kitchen. She is teaching the staff what former employee Edna Parker had taught her.

  After breakfast Mr. Darrow toured me through their kitchen, which was nearly the size of the seating area. Introducing me to the “big boss” as he labeled Mrs. Darrow, she pointed out how their gravies are made from their own homemade rue, and their soups are made from their own base. She, without hesitation, gave all credits to Mrs. Edna Parker, for teaching her everything she knows about cooking.

  Mrs. Parker retired at the age of 62 and went to work for the Darrows until she was 85. Raised on a farm, Mrs. Parker and her sister Hazel, who too, worked for the Darrows, had learned to make their own lard, miracle whip, gravies, etc. Mrs. Parker became a cook for a logging camp, and taught her profession to Mrs. Darrow through the course of her 23 retirement years. Mrs. Darrow continued, “Mrs. Parker in 23 years did not miss a day of work, no matter how ill she was. She was so dedicated, and at the age of 85, when becoming more forgetful, and no longer working for them, she would still walk everyday from the Dairy Queen to their restaurant. Each morning she would crack a few eggs and realize she could no longer do the job. She then would have breakfast, and Mr. Darrow would drive her back home.” “Yes, I credit her with all our homemade pies, gravies, and soups. She taught me everything.”

  Mr. Darrow was not always in the restaurant business. He owned Ford Motors in Cheboygan, but by and by, as his parents began weining themselves from the business, more and more demands were made on Mr. Darrow, which determined the sale of his business.

  Their son Randy, too, had other endeavors. He relocated downstate for a decade, but the Darrow Restaurant Roots which nurtured him, lured him back to Mackinaw City. He would elect to carry on the fine Darrow tradition of homemade quality, as it was now time for his parents to retire.

  The restaurant was wide awake now, with tourists from around the world coming in for their homemade foods, and with Randy and Scotty behind the grills, and a crew of waitresses that worked like pistons running in a car engine, each performing in a synchronous fashion.

  Mr. Darrow brought me to their home overlooking Lake Michigan-Huron and the Big Mack. A full length and width wall mirror reflecting the bridge and the two great lakes immediately attracted my attention as it would anyone’s walking through their door.

  I imagined the couple had spent far more time in their restaurant than in the place they call home, as being not unlike Mrs. Parker in their retirement years.

  Their son Randy now owns the restaurant, and, most likely, he still calls mom the “big boss.” Both Darrows arrive daily to the restaurant no matter how well or ill, and working as if they were not retired. Mrs. Darrow continues to teach her knowledge that she learned just a generation before to a new generation.

  A month had passed since meeting with Mr. Darrow for breakfast! It was nearing dusk. I was completing my delivery of the latest issue of the Great Lakes Pilot to Mackinaw City before heading back to Citgo Truck Stop in St. Ignace where my trailer now empty was parked. Usually, the Holiday Inn and Darrows are my first stops in the city, coming off the bridges exit, Darrows, has been since its construction, an extension of the bridge itself. In driving directly to Gaylord and Indian River first, and coming from the south my usual first two stops became my last two.

  Pulling into the drive, Mr. Darrow was taking down the American Flag, not letting it touch the ground.

  I asked, “do you do this every day?”

  Meekly he confessed, “Nearly everyday, yes!”

  Reflecting back to our conversation, and the number of times the restaurant was expanded to accompany their still increasing perennial clientele; I sensed future generations of Darrows would continue to honor their family tradition of offering good hearty, wholesome food at family affordable prices, as their tradition is handed down from generation to generation. Another, hard working American small business family who has made it the “old fashion way!”

  Bringing in a third bundle of papers, upon Mr. Darrow’s request (“they go through them fast here”) I snapped out of my reverie when hearing his gentle but deep voice again!  “Would you like a piece of homemade pie with ice cream and a cup of fresh coffee, before your next stop?”