This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: The Cherry Hut
The Cherry Hut is somewhat of a local legend, especially in Benzie County. And the truth is, when I was a child I came to The Cherry Hut with my grandmother who grew up in Thompsonville and summered on Crystal Lake. So technically, it’s not a place I’ve never been. The reason it makes my list of 10 Places I’ve Never Been is because my husband — a Benzie Central graduate — has never been. That seems like an injustice that calls for correction. And this is the perfect opportunity.
I stopped in early in the afternoon to chat with the owner, Andrew Case, and get a bit of The Cherry Hut history. It has been many years since I visited with my grandmother so I was surprised at how different it looked from what I rememebered. There’s a small souvenir shop offering jams, jellies, and cherry themed merchandise up front where diners search for something to take home to share. Behind the counter the owner was busy helping guests interested in purchasing a pie to go.
After introducing myself and explaining the story behind my 10 Places I’ve Never Been series Andy offered to show me around and share his family’s recipe for restaurant success.
The Cherry Hut opened in 1922 as a roadside pie stand at the base of Warren road on the shores of Crystal Lake. There’s a large painting on the wall above the windows in the front room that illustrates their humble beginnings. In 1937 the Kraker family moved their pie stand into the town of Beulah on US-31, where it remains. At that time The Cherry Hut offered only outdoor dining at umbrella-topped tables where guests could enjoy picnic-style fare with their cherry pie.
Over the years the size of the patio has become smaller and smaller as requests for indoor dining and air conditioning have become more prevalent. Now a few umbrella tables remain behind the white picket fence, but the majority of guests choose their 150-seat indoor restaurant.
Leonard Case began working for the Krakers in 1946. His role as "Jam Boy" left him in charge of their growing product line, a role he fulfills to this day. Leonard bought The Cherry Hut in 1959 and it’s been a family business ever since. His son Andy now handles day-to-day operations, but Leonard is on-site everyday and still a vital part of the The Cherry Hut restaurant.
There were a few things that I noticed the moment I walked into the restaurant, and the one that really caught my eye was how clean, neat and organized it looked. Every empty table was perfectly set with Cherry Hut placemats, silverware and napkins. The floors were immaculate, chairs pushed in, neat as a pin. So it came as no surprise that attention to detail is something The Cherry Hut strives for in every way.
The Cherry Hut places guest service at the top of their priorities. Their staff is trained in the proper and traditional forms of service. Women are served first, the silverware is replaced with each dish, and the tables are properly set. "It’s the little things that add up to make the difference," Andy said. The customers appreciate the details too. Including the fresh flowers and cherry handsoap in the the bathrooms.
After chatting with Andy in the afternoon, I returned later that evening with my family for dinner. I was anxious to try some of the dishes that had been suggested by our Traverse Traveler fans on Facebook and Twitter including the Cherry-Chicken Salad and the Cherry-ade.
My five-year-old loved the giant smily-faced logo that greets each guest on their placesetting. In fact, his name is Cherry Jerry the Smiling Faced Pie Boy. And he’s just as old as the restaurant.
Cherry-Chicken Salad is what I ordered. According to Andy Case, he can’t say for certain, but he believes The Cherry Hut to be the originator of Cherry-Chicken Salad as it’s been on the menu here longer than anywhere else. As an entree it arrived with two huge slices of cantaloupe a pineapple garnish and a moist homemade cherry muffin on the side.
My husband ordered the Plevalean burger and side of fries. Plevalean is also a cherry-product, made by the Pleva family in Cedar. The Cherry Hut is one of few restaurants that serve Plevalean burgers as they have to make the trip up to Cedar in person to buy it. When topped with cheese, bacon and all the fixins you’re missing some of the healthy benefits of Plevalean. Still, my husband said it one of the best burgers he’s had.
The kids and I had to have their famous Cherry-ade. The secret to this popular drink is that it’s made from the juice of pie cherries. Mixed with water and lemon juice this pink drink tastes like cherry pie in a glass. Very sweet, but delicious.
A trip to The Cherry Hut wouldn’t be complete without purchasing a cherry pie to-go. You might be surprised to know on an average summer Saturday they will sell 500 pies a day! During the week that drops to around 300 pies. Not too shabby. They’re small pies, maybe 8", but they sell for only $8.25. And you better come in person, because they do not ship their pies. But you can pick-up a frozen one if you’re headed on the road.
We brought our pie home to enjoy. I remember only a few trips to The Cherry Hut with my grandmother. She always ordered the Chicken Pot Pie for dinner, and we took our pie to-go. A trip to The Cherry Hut has become a tradition for many families who visit Benzie County. In fact, that’s their slogan, "A Northern Michigan Tradition Since 1922."
If you haven’t been to The Cherry Hut I’d say it’s about time to check it out. Their prices are fair, portions are generous and the staff has been trained in excellence. We had fantastic service there. It’s non-smoking (as is every restaurant in Michigan) and alcohol free. The Cherry Hut is open seasonally from Mother’s Day through the third weekend in October.
Visit The Cherry Hut at 211 N Michigan Avenue in Beulah, Michigan (that’s on US-31 in case you were searching for street signs). You won’t need reservations, but if you need to call dial 231.882.4431. While they don’t sell pies online or ship them they do have a large mail order business for their jams and preserves, so visit their website at www.cherryhut.com. Stop by and say hi on Facebook too. As with all my 10 Places locations, The Cherry Hut will be listed on the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
That makes 9 Places I’ve Never Been. If you’ve been following along this summer my 10th place is a Mystery. On September 6th I’ll announce that location, so stay tuned…