Julie’s Park Café opens at 6:59 am, but when the coffee’s made the door is open. If a local or tourist happens to wander in a little early, they will be warmly received and served up a steaming cup of joe.
This is just one thing that makes Julie’s inviting. Add to that the close-knit staff, smiling new owners and a large menu with breakfast all day for a better understanding of what makes Julie’s a draw.
Sande and Shane Solomon enter their second season as the new owners of Julie’s café. Not much has changed, however, on the menu, with the staff, or with the regular customers that just can’t get enough.
Shane says, “The biggest thing [we noticed] when we ate there – the numerous times we did before we purchased [Julie’s] – was the atmosphere. You walk in and you feel like you belong there. You feel like you’re welcome, no matter what.”
Part of what attracted them to Julie’s in the first place was location. Right at the entrance to Peninsula State Park, it makes for an easy pre-hike snack or post-park meal. Additionally, Shane and Sande don’t have to go far to take their dog for a walk at the end of a busy day.
“Being right next to Peninsula State Park really attracted us to Julie’s. It fits our personalities. We like to be active, so being right there, it fits us. The cuisine definitely works well for us, too, because we’re more casual people,” Sande says.
Debra Hadraba, Julie’s restaurant manager, returns this summer for her 11th season. She agrees that part of what makes working at Julie’s so great is being close to the park, where she can take a break and walk the trails.
“Julie’s is unique. We really know so many of the customers. They are regulars that come back to Door County every year, and locals, too,” says Hadraba. “It’s nothing like what I’ve experienced working in restaurants before. We really get to know these people.”
Julie’s large menu, with well over 150 selections, means that there’s something for everyone. They can easily accommodate vegetarians or those with food allergies, and they have gluten-free menu options. The menu ranges from burgers, steaks, and French fries all the way to steamed rice and vegetables or a fresh salad.
“When people come in and their faces light up because they’ve been walking around for two days trying to find a good gluten-free or vegetarian meal, and they find us and say how fantastic it is, it makes it all worth it,” Shane says.
The park draws in hungry hikers and bikers, especially on rainy days when campers stake out Julie’s for a lazy afternoon out of the rain. Others are drawn in by the availability of breakfast all day.
“Once we start a meal, we never stop it,” Shane says. “By dinner you have the entire menu to choose from.”
Though people order the Door County cherry salad more often, Shane says the coconut chicken salad is one of their most refreshing and popular menu options. This healthy dish combines grapes and nuts with the coconut-crusted chicken, served with a bowl of fresh fruit and the salad on the side. The Solomons are also making a concentrated effort to include as much local produce on the menu as possible.
Shane says, “We do the best we can to get the freshest greens and produce that we can from Door County, as well as all of our fish. We try to keep it as close and local as possible.”
Their Saturday night special has long been a favorite, enough so that some regulars drive over an hour to eat it. “Our cherry barbecued ribs on Saturday night are very popular,” Shane says. “We have a couple that drives up from Green Bay – a younger couple, in their 30s – every other Saturday to get their fixing of barbecued ribs.”
Most of the regular Julie’s customers have carried over with the new ownership. Mary and Mike Musinsky make sure to stop in during every visit to Door County. It’s one of their favorite places. “You can get a nice, home-style cooked meal, and it’s reasonably priced. The restaurant is very clean and the wait staff is always friendly,” Mary says.
Mary added that Julie’s daily specials are what she and her husband like best. She’s particular to Monday’s meatloaf, while her husband loves Tuesday’s pot roast special.
Though the food has remained fairly constant under new ownership, subtle shifts can be detected. This summer the Solomons added the Door County cherry burger to the menu. For this, they take local dried cherries, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese and melt it all on top.
Don’t miss Julie’s amazing pies, made in house. Also for sale are their homemade barbecue sauces. They are adding the Black Forest Barbecue Sauce (a mixture including chocolate and cayenne) along with the Cherry Barbecue Sauce (regularly served on the Saturday night ribs). It’s easy to take a little taste of Julie’s home with you.
The Solomons have a great philosophy toward keeping the atmosphere at Julie’s inviting. “Fifty percent of our job to make sure that we’re keeping the customers happy, and the other fifty percent is keeping our employees happy. Maybe that sounds really unbalanced. But keeping our employees happy greatly reduces the amount of unhappy customers we have,” Shane says.
He continues, “We’re firm believers in [the idea that] once we get people in, we’ll bring them back…Come and let us speak for ourselves, and let us show you. We love what we’re doing and it comes through in our employees, our food, and the establishment itself.”
Whether you’re a hungry hiker, biker, out for an early morning fishing expedition, or just looking for some good food at a reasonable price with impeccable service, Julie’s won’t let you down.
Driving downtown Fish Creek, you can’t miss Julie’s Park Café. Just look for the big purple chair. Chances are Sande and Shane will be there, smiling as always, ready to brighten to your day.