Polly and I and our son, Tom, enjoyed breakfast this morning at Muer Kitchens, the cutesy little eatery next door to the New York in Harbor Springs.
Along with our second cup of coffee, we had the pleasure of chatting with Susie Muer, the proprietor. A truly delightful young lady, she is the scion of the famous Detroit Muer family which operated the fabled Joe Muer’s Seafood Restaurant on Gratiot Avenue
She shared with us the news that Muer Kitchens will soon be serving dinners as well as breakfast and lunch. We shared with her the fact that Polly and I were among the guests at the old Joe Muer’s the night Joe closed up after seventy years of family operation.
How well we remember the many, many Friday nights when every Catholic in town could be found crowded around the bar at Muer’s, lubricating our palates in anticipation of the whitefish, lobster, perch, or whatever else had come ashore that morning.
Getting a drink at the bar was always a challenge on a Friday night. One had to exchanger elbow jabs with the likes of Vince Brennan, Jack Kelley, Jerry Cavanaugh, Dick Maher, Jim Ryan, Larry Fitzgerald and yours truly.
Those were the days of the so-called Irish Mafia, better known as the Detroit Murphia, when Red O’Neal could muster an army of Catholic school boys to hand out leaflets at polling places all over the city.
The Muer name reached a pinnacle of expansion when Joe’s younger brother, Chuck was in his prime. Chuck had the dream that the Muer name and tradition of hospitality would prosper in places other than Gratiot Avenue.
And he succeeded, not only in suburban Wayne and Oakland Counties, but in such exotic venues as St. Armands Circle in far away Sarasota. Popular restaurants from Grand Rapids to Palm Beach, like Charley’s Crab, Meriwethers, Big Fish and Blue Water Inn attested to the skill and savvy of Joe Muer’s kid brother.
Among his most spectacular achievements was the 1978 conversion of the majestic Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station into an elegant restaurant he christened The Grand Concourse. An 80,000 square foot historical landmark, built in 1901 and incorporating Victorian and Edwardian styles, it was a major hub for transportation in the Eastern United States. In 1974, the building was listed on the national register of historic places. The Grand Concourse remains a tribute to Chuck Muer’s vision and courage as it is, more than four decades later, one of the finest seafood restaurants in the United States.
On March 12, 1993, Palm Beach restaurateur Chuck Muer and his wife Betty, both 55 — left the Bahamas on “Charley’s Crab,” a 40-foot-long boat, along with lifelong friends George and Lynn Drummey. They traveled into the path of a major storm and, despite a 16-day search, were never seen again.
Susan Muer remembers how she and her six siblings struggled to cling to hope as the Coast Guard searched for three days and friends searched until March 28. About six days into the search, Susan recalled, “I realized my parents were gone because there was no way they could have survived on that water. At some point, your logic takes control.’’
The Muer family’s restaurants, were later sold and six of the seven Muer siblings got out of the restaurant business.
The one exception was Susan. She confesses that cooking is in her blood; she loves the pace of serving meals and the interchange with people that makes the restaurant business so exciting and just plain fun.
I couldn’t help being impressed by her enthusiasm and optimism. Did she think that her little kitchen could compete with the established and beloved New York restaurant next door?
We’re just forty seats, she said with a grin, and we don’t have table cloths.
And they don’t have Susan, I thought as I told her that Polly and I would be back on May 27th to celebrate my 87th birthday.
I may even buy a drink for the house to celebrate her new liquor license.