By Pat Maurer
The Wilhelms, Dan and Becky, recently opened the new Trails End Restaurant and Bar in Leota. The couple came to the area from Melvindale, a downriver suburb of Detroit four years ago when they purchased what was then a vacation cottage.
Weekend trips changed to a permanent move for Becky three years ago when daughter Megan, son-in-law Joe and their three children moved up and bought the place next door.
Until he retired as the Melvindale Fire Chief a little over a year ago, Dan was a weekender here in Clare County. Then he made the move and joined the rest of the family in the north country.
He took it easy for a while volunteering as a Little League and Basketball coach for 9 to 10 year-olds. He didn’t quite stay retired for a whole year, however. He and Becky bought the former Riverside on December 10 and opened for business on December 28.
They added seven more TVs, upgraded the bathrooms, added new lighting, chairs, barstools, a new sound system, new entrance and even a unique “ax” door handle. “We are already planning more renovations in the spring,” Becky said.
The rest, as they say, is history…
The Wilhelms aren’t new to the bar and restaurant business. Dan said he has owned six of them in the downriver/Detroit area over the years.
He learned to cook over a ten year period when he was the “rooky” on the Melvindale Fire Department. “Everything had to be fresh for those guys,” he said. “Firemen are picky. If you tried to serve something canned it went in the trash.”
That is the philosophy at Trails End. “We pride ourselves on serving fresh food,” Becky said. “Our hamburgers are all handmade from fresh ground beef,” Dan added, “never frozen, and we put our own batter on fresh chicken for our Broasted chicken.”
“Our chili and all our soups are homemade,” Becky said, “and we have different specials every day of the week.” They also have a fish fry every Friday featuring fresh cod and their very own batter.
The fresh Broasted chicken is something new in Leota. “If you were here in Leota and wanted to order out, it used to be your only choice was pizza. Now people have a choice because we served Broasted chicken to go,” Dan said.
He said to serve real Broasted Chicken, you have to be licensed and trained in a special class. “We marinade our fresh chicken for 12 hours; drain it for 2 hours and bread it two hours before cooking it, then it is deep fried in our Broaster, and it comes out extra juicy and delicious.”
Trails End has lots to do too. There’s free pool on Monday, pool leagues Wednesday and Thursday, Open Mike on Wednesday and Karaoke Thursday and Saturday.
Something unique at Trails End is the boot and mitten warmers next to the fireplace for the snowmobiling patrons. “The kids love that,” Becky said.
Dan and Becky have five children and 14 grandchildren with many of them living all over the country.
Trails End is guaranteed to keep the family in Clare County busy. They are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to around midnight on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to about 2:30 a.m. on weekends.
Dan and Becky own the place, but both families work together at the business. Megan cooks and Joe helps cook. “He makes a really great chili,” Dan said. Even the grandkids help out by cleaning up the yards and doing other chores around the business. “They always ask to be paid on Mondays,” Dan said. There are also five other employees.
If you enjoy fresh homemade food served in a cozy fireside room, you might want to take a trip to Leota, but come early. Dan said they served 360 pounds of fresh cod last Friday night…
Just take M61 west from Harrison, turn north on Old State and head north for about eight miles. They are located at 10141 Finlay Lake Road in Leota. The phone number is 989-539-9644.