If you’ve ever witnessed someone having lunch at PC Junction for the first time – or if you think back to your own first visit – then you know how difficult it is to choose a favorite moment.
Outside, an array of activities – from racing pedal carts through the woods to visiting a friendly pig – beckons kids (and kids at heart) to stop and play awhile. Inside, your eyes flash about, finding something new to observe with every glance. And if you’re able to snag a seat at the counter (cleverly made from mismatched, repurposed doors), your food order will arrive atop the miniature railcars of a model train. Whether you’re 2 or 92, it’s impossible to hold back a smile at not only the genuine delight of being served a cheeseburger and Coke by rail, but also the entire ambience.
Perhaps that’s because a visit to PC Junction, the train-depot-meets-farmyard-fun restaurant in Baileys Harbor, isn’t meant to be about enjoying just a moment, or even just a meal. It’s about having an experience at a place that’s about as down-home Door County as it gets and a little off the beaten path.
Which is on purpose.
Situated at the corner of county highways E and A – known as Peninsula Center, thus the “PC” – PC Junction welcomes a fair number of patrons who were told by friends, family members or vacation social-media groups to check out the “must-stop” depot. But there are also plenty of people who, by happenstance, stumble upon the curious-looking property while driving through the Door County countryside.
“Initially, a lot of people questioned being out at Peninsula Center,” said owner Bill Hanusa, recalling those early days when he was scouting the county for a place to open his own business. “But how can the center be bad when you’ve got all this goodness around you?”
Back in 1997, when Hanusa first saw the property that would become one of the most-visited spots in Northern Door, that “goodness” included a vacant building surrounded by some apple and cherry trees. Where many saw a daunting project in a less-than-desirable locale, Hanusa saw a blank canvas on which to paint his Door County dream.
“I knew that if I was going to do something in Door County, it was going to be something for the kids,” said Hanusa, who describes himself as the “vision person” in both his business and his marriage. “I’m the ‘Hey! We could do this!’ person, and Denise [his wife] is the one who is more pragmatic about actually doing it.”
But it was that vision that guided some of the earliest projects on the property. As some of the old barns and buildings came down, the wood was salvaged to build the new ones. In fact, a walk around the grounds surrounding the restaurant reveals an abundance of repurposed materials. This not only saved the pocketbook of the fledgling business, but it also illustrated a set of values that Hanusa wanted his family’s livelihood to reflect and to instill, very intentionally, in his own children.
“I wanted my kids to grow up with some farming values, and I felt Door County had that,” he said. “Even if they ended up being business people, I wanted them to know the values and work ethic of the family farm.”
In fact, many of the outdoor activities at PC Junction stem from the agrarian lifestyle that Hanusa wanted to create for his family, with additional inspiration coming from favorite childhood pastimes such as 4-H and Little League baseball. From creating “Piggly Field” and sharing beloved Rosie the pig, to offering pedal carts and oversized checkers, Hanusa had his youngest customers in mind.
Jack and Carrie Kelly of Kenilworth, Illinois, first brought their children, Katie and Conor, to PC Junction when they were 4 and 2 years old, respectively. Their favorite activity? Racing the pedal carts through the trees.
“Mom and Dad raced them, too,” Carrie said. “Eventually we got tired, but the kids kept going and going.”
Adults can kick back with a beverage outside, either while waiting to be seated or enjoying a pizza from the after-hours on-site restaurant known as the Pizza Czar. Meanwhile, kids entertain themselves with a ride on the seesaw, a pickup game of basketball or pretending to conduct the big wooden train in the yard.
Hanusa has his son, Tyler, to thank for the train motif.
“The idea for the train aspect came from my son being infatuated with trains and going to train depots when he was younger,” Hanusa said. “Whenever we saw anything train related, we had to stop.”
The theme resonated with a lot of other children, too.
“My younger son, Robert, went through years and years of a train obsession,” said Anne Swoboda of Whitefish Bay.
When Swoboda’s mother first told her about the restaurant, it became a must-do activity on the family’s next visit to Door County, and even though there hasn’t been a real train depot in the county for more than 50 years, a train-themed restaurant on the peninsula just seems to fit.
“The ambience of PC captures something very ‘Door County,’” Swoboda said. “It’s a throwback in so many ways, from the counter service, to the simple menu, to the ice cream at the counter. The nostalgia, quaintness and joy of something simple is what makes PC special.”
Today, even though Swoboda’s sons are entering their teenage years, PC Junction continues to find a place in the itinerary of every family vacation, simply because it’s fun.