After nearly forty-seven years in business, Judy Merkel welcomed customers to Wolverine Food & Spirits one last time on August 23–the day of the Chelsea Community Fair parade. Merkel says the Wolverine has always been a favorite gathering spot on parade days, but this day was “bittersweet … the warmth I’ve felt from the community is incredible.” She sold the restaurant to Speedway, and it will be razed for a 24-hour gas station and convenience store.
Merkel and her husband Joe, who died in 2013, purchased the business when they were both twenty-one years old. Their three children grew up at the restaurant. “I started out washing dishes from the time I could see over the sink,” says Judy’s son, Mike Merkel. “I tarred the roof, fixed the water heater, whatever my dad needed. It’s been a blessing to run a family business, but this gives Mom a chance to retire and enjoy the rest of her life.”
James Bollinger came with his family to sit at his regular table one last time. “It’s starting to get emotional … I’ve been coming here since 1977–since I got my driver’s license,” he says. Bollinger calculates that he has ordered 1,711 beef dinner plates for Thursday lunches. But for him the restaurant was more than just a place to eat. “Joe Merkel was like a second father to me,” he says.
At a two-top near the front door sits Alice Dreyer, ninety-three, and her daughter, Susan Trombley Jesop. In the 1970s, Dreyer was a waitress and bartender at the Wolverine–and her daughter also worked here for a few years. “I wish I could get up and wait tables right now!” Dreyer laughs as she observes the busy waitresses from her seat. “It feels good to come back and get hugs and have people remember me.”