Faces in the Crowd: Paul Weissend

November 4, 2019

While attending the Whitehouse Music Festival at the end of September, I was introduced to Paul Weissend, the owner of the Whitehouse Restaurant. He looked at me and said, “I know you: Mushroom Swiss burger, onion rings, and coffee.” I was surprised when he remembered my usual order because I only ate there two or three times a month. After explaining who I was, I asked Paul for an interview, and he agreed to one, which was held in a booth in his restaurant a few days later.

Paul was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1982. At the age of 4, his family moved to Flint, Michigan. He attended Coolidge Elementary School in Flint and Southwestern High School, graduating in 2000. Throughout his high school years he played football, and he was a member of the National Honor Society.

After graduation, he attended Kettering University, working toward a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Paul also worked for TRW Electronics, an e-commerce distributor of electronic components. After one year in college, he decided it wasn’t for him, so he joined the Army in 1999. His basic training took place in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Then he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where he was trained to be a Heavy Machinery Operator.

After completing AIT, he was deployed through Fort Dix, New Jersey, to Kuwait, where he was assigned to drive a 5,000-gallon fuel truck to refuel Army vehicles stationed and fighting in the vast desert area. Of course, this was an extremely dangerous job – a direct hit from a missile would easily lead to annihilation. Paul said he did experience a number of ricochets during his tour of duty. After serving four years, he was returned back home in 2003.

After returning home, Paul worked at several different jobs for the next 19 years. He attended Mid-Michigan Community College, majoring in Radiography. He earned certification to be an X-Ray Technician. He worked at a hospital in Midland for 3 months, but soon learned that “the hospital setting was not for me.” For a time, Paul operated heavy machinery on the 30,000-acre Rawson Farms in Farwell. He spent another 3 years working for Spartech Plastics. Off and on throughout these years, Paul also worked at the Whitehouse Restaurant.

In 2012, Paul took on a managerial position at the Whitehouse Restaurant, helping his Mom. His step-father retired. In 2016, his Mom put the place up for sale, and Paul decided by purchase it.

Originally, the restaurant opened in 1935, and it will celebrate its 85th anniversary next year. It is the smallest restaurant in Michigan, but in the annual “Best of the Best” review, it never fails to be voted the best in burgers. Located on 613 N. McEwan in downtown Clare, it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, its fame rests in the 16 different varieties of hamburgers that are available. Many of them are standard burgers, such as Cheeseburger, Bacon Cheeseburger, and Mushroom and Swiss Burger, but many of the others are found only here, such as Olive Jalapeno Cheeseburger, Irish Burger (with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing), Country Burger (with country gravy and cheddar cheese), Cherry Burger (with cherries, jalapenos, walnuts, and Swiss cheese) Peanut Butter Burger (with peanut butter and mayo), Philly Burger (with cream cheese, green peppers, sautéed onions and Swiss cheese), Olive Burger (with olives and American cheese), and even a meatless alternative served on a grilled Kaiser.

They’re also famous for their home-made soups, with a different one available every day. On Facebook, the restaurant has over 5,300 likes, and a similar number of followers. Out of more than 500 comments, only a very small number gave it less than 5. A typical comment says, “I love the variety of soups that are always delicious and the burgers are the best and priced right.” It has a rating of 4.7 out of 5.

Also in 2016, Paul met Lauren Davis, with whom he remains in a relationship today. They currently have a 7-month-old daughter, Bonita, who was named after Paul’s grandmother, Bonnie. From a previous relationship, they have Chloe, 14, who is now the President of the Student Council in her Clare School. They also have Cooper, 10, who also attends Clare School.

Paul is the 9th owner of the restaurant, which has always been owned by families. Currently, Paul employs 3 amazing employees: (1) Julie Foss, who has been a cook at the restaurant ever since 1970; (2) Jackie Henry, who has worked there for 39 years; and (3) Janet Krueger, who has been cook and waitress of 16 years (she formerly worked at Lake Restaurant on US-115). Thus, Paul’s employees continue to play a major role in carrying on the long-standing tradition of the Whitehouse Restaurant.

Currently, Paul has a long-range plan for the Whitehouse Restaurant – keeping it in existence as it is until its 100th anniversary in 2035, and then tearing it down and rebuilding a larger version of the same restaurant.

In 2009, Paul started growing industrial hemp for medicinal purposes on a 5-acre plot of land. He recently received good news – the hemp meets all state requirements for use as an alternative for veterans suffering from various illnesses.

Paul is very much a community-oriented resident. He is willing to help anyone in the community who needs help. He is a member of the Kiwanis in Clare, and he supports a number of charities related to schools and veterans.

I asked him if he could be anywhere else but here, right this minute, where would he be. He replied, “In the Alaskan wilderness.” He loves the outdoors and nature, and he would love to have the opportunity to become “unplugged and clear-headed.”

I asked him how he would describe himself in 3 words. “Stoic, Generous, and Loyal.” On the other hand, those around him would describe him as, “Intimidating, Generous, and Loyal.”

I then asked Paul if he had any pet peeves. He replied, “Shallow socializing.” He disliked small talk and thought it was meaningless. He admitted that he has a small circle of friends with whom he likes to converse and enjoy true friendship.

He loves farming and gardening. Trees are special to Paul; they are able to adapt to change long before humans do. In fact, Paul showed me a tattoo on one of his arms: a tree that runs the full length of his arm. He is obviously an outdoor man who enjoys hunting, fishing, skeet shooting, and pheasant hunting. He loves the camaraderie of the friends who join him in these activities. Two or three times each year, he attends veteran’s events as well.

Paul also likes to play euchre and cribbage. Although he hasn’t played much in the last couple of years, he also shoots pool and owns his own cue. Since I myself loves to shoot pool, I will challenge him to a few games soon.

I asked him if he had a special motto that he lived by. He responded, “Always Stay True to Yourself.”

Paul says that he is happy to part of the community, and he certainly enjoys “giving back.”

In closing, I quote a comment that I found on the internet. “The food at the Whitehouse Restaurant is exactly when you would expect: good and full of flavor from a well-seasoned grill. Diner perfection! So if you’re looking for a little place with big flavors and an even bigger personality, go to the Whitehouse. Don’t worry, you won’t need security clearance. Just a few bucks in your pocket.”

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