News Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Douglas diner opens doors

By Scott Sullivan
Happystance, Katie Fris’s dream for restoring downtown Douglas’s intermittently empty 8 Center St. into a daily breakfast and lunch diner, opened last week after lots of labor.
People packed indoor and outdoor tables during peak hours of the eatery’s 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. day, with Fris and crew accepting well wishes, praise and flowers when they had a chance to come up for breath.
Longtime local resident/restaurateur Fris started renovations last fall on the building’s 2,400 square feet of ground-floor Commercial space, hustling through paperwork hassles and periodic structural surprises when tearing into it.
“We got here!” she exulted last Thursday, sweaty with hair tied back while cleaning after closing and getting ready for tomorrow.
The prime site catty-corner to downtown’s Beery Field park has been through several openings and closings since Chap’s (1998-2006) closed its doors for the last time.
There was a brief-lived Italian restaurant, Center Street Bistro, a Kismet Bakery outlet and most recently Bistro 44 to fewer than 2-year tries as an Italian restaurant, Center Street Bistro, a Kismet Bakery outlet and most recently Bistro 44, owned by now-retired 30-year Douglas policeman Tino Reyes (Badge No. 44) and wife Heather, serving American and Mexican breakfasts through lunch from March 2021 to the 2022 season’s end.
The structure itself, per historians Jack Sheridan and Jim Shmiechen, was built in the early 1900s as Ben Wiegert’s Model Grocery and shows up on a 1910 Sanborn Fire Map with separate entrances to buy food and drugs.
A 1923 photo, wrote the historians 19 years ago, suggests the grocery business had fallen into hard times, and might explain why, by the 1930s, the Wiegerts had converted the space into a Douglas Café kitchen-restaurant only.
It was well known for pies and cakes, they went on, with its applesauce cake, kept in a glass case at the rear of the serving room, a favorite.
Records show Jan Van Liere bought it from Gerri Van Meter in 1998 and ran it as Chaps through 2006. Others since have had less luck.
“I’m excited and a little nervous coming ‘over the bridge,’” said Fris, who last worked as part-owner of The Southerner in Saugatuck, on starting physical work last fall.
“When I was a kid, this space was the Douglas Dinette and the Auction House, the lunch-breakfast center of downtown Douglas,” Fris went on.
“The town’s changed now, like everything, but I think not just locals will enjoy having that option back,” she continued. “Tourists and guests will too.
“I see great possibilities, with a popular children’s park and all-ages event space across the street, varied shops and attractions all around, nearby available parking, unlike downtown Saugatuck, which sort of is saturated.
“I see a popular, comfortable place for whole families, as well as individuals, to be.”
She then hoped to host a soft opening by late April or early May before the Memorial Day weekend grand opening, but “we had to get everything right,” she said.
“We have nice open patio in back, which I don’t think has been used in 30 years,” Fris went on. “I see other creative opportunities as well.
“I can’t, and don’t want to, hide the fact something’s going on here again,” she said last fall, noting Main Street-facing windows being replaced ringed by caution tape on the sidewalk.
“It’s in the process of becoming new again,” she said.

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